Recursive sushi

On Facebook yesterday, this wonderful instance of recursive sushi:


A hosomaki with several hosomaki embedded within it. (Maybe it should be called a homomaki.) This could of course be continued, with an even larger nori-wrapped roll containing several rolls like the one in #1.

This image came to me from Dan Everett. And then there’s a story.

On Dan, from Wikipedia:

Daniel Leonard Everett (born 1951 in Holtville, California) is an American author and academic best known for his study of the Amazon Basin’s Pirahã people and their language.

… Everett eventually concluded that [Noam] Chomsky’s ideas about universal grammar, and the universality of recursion in particular, are falsified by Pirahã. His 2005 article in Current Anthropology, titled “Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Pirahã,” has caused a controversy in the field of linguistics.

And on recursion:

Recursion is the process of repeating items in a self-similar way. For instance, when the surfaces of two mirrors are exactly parallel with each other the nested images that occur are a form of infinite recursion. The term has a variety of meanings specific to a variety of disciplines ranging from linguistics to logic. The most common application of recursion is in mathematics and computer science, in which it refers to a method of defining functions in which the function being defined is applied within its own definition.

… Linguist Noam Chomsky theorizes that unlimited extension of any natural language is possible using the recursive device of embedding clauses within sentences (Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. 1965).

… The idea that recursion is an essential property of human language (as Chomsky suggests) is challenged by linguist Daniel Everett in his work Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Pirahã: Another Look at the Design Features of Human Language, in which he hypothesizes that cultural factors made recursion unnecessary in the development of the Pirahã language.

Recursive definition in math, illustrated by the Fibonacci numbers:

0 is a Fibonacci number, F(0);

1 is a Fibonacci number, F(1);

Given successive Fibonacci numbers F(n) and F(n+1), F(n) + F(n+1) is also a Fibonacci number, F(n+2).

That gives us the sequence 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, …  The point is that the definition in a sense “uses itself”.

In syntax, a clear instance of recursion is clause embedding:

I don’t believe it.

I don’t  believe [(that) Kim said that].

I don’t believe [(that) Kim said [(that) Sandy understood it]].

Boxes within boxes.



7 Responses to “Recursive sushi”

  1. Randy Alexander Says:

    I don’t understand homomaki? I would think more something like hosomakimaki.

  2. gary Says:

    Land-o-lakes butter and Morton salt use the same ecursiveness, and are far less off the beaten path

  3. David Johnson Says:

    It reminds me of basalt in long hexagonal columns, or sliced hard candy.

  4. Monroe Thomas Clewis Says:

    Not to be outdone, Westerners have concocted “turducken:”

    Turducken is a dish consisting of a de-boned chicken stuffed into a de-boned duck, which is in turn stuffed into a de-boned turkey. The word turducken is a portmanteau of turkey, duck, and chicken. The dish is a form of engastration, which is a recipe method in which one animal is stuffed inside the gastric passage of another.[1]


  5. Alan Says:

    Reblogged this on Hodophilia and commented:
    I had sushi with the girls at Surfers’ Paradise a few days ago. Then I saw this. Makes me want to make sushi again. I believe Woolworth’s has the makin’s. I shall check it out.

  6. kevinbcohen Says:

    Thank you for all of the recursion pictures–I fully credit you in my lecture notes, which I just plugged these into!

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