A friend used this phrase recently, and I confess I had to look it up, it’s meaning having been only half-remembered, since I must have last heard it at school. Which is a curious paradigm, since I find that a mise en abyme is, inter alia, is a play of signifiers within a text, of sub-texts mirroring each other, like a film within a film, endlessly repeating an alternative virtual reality, like Gödel’s eternal braid. The image that springs to mind is from one of the Hannibal Lecter films of a moray eel, turning endlessly, a living Möbius strip.
We revisit the past, but imperfectly. Data is lost and the reality on second visit is never quite the same as at first. Hemingway once wrote that ‘the past is a foreign country’, but our past is familiar in a detached, reflective sense, small wrinkles in the continuum of reflections change the way we now see what was once so familiar. Theological praxis, on the other hand, is supposed to work in reverse; the ‘cloud of unknowing’ rolls away and things which seemed fuzzy and vague take on sharper clarity.
This in mind, I found myself musing about mathematics, symmetry and intelligence. Gödel’s great contribution was that all logical systems of any complexity are, by definition, incomplete; each of them contains, at any given time, more true statements than it can possibly prove according to its own defining set of rules.
Gödel’s theorem has been used to argue that a computer can never be as smart as a human being because the extent of its knowledge is limited by a fixed set of axioms, whereas people can discover and hence make use of unexpected truths which sometimes surprise them. It plays a part in modern linguistic theories, which emphasise the power of language to come up with new ways to express ideas. The implication is that we can never entirely understand ourselves, since our minds, like any other closed system, can only be sure of what it ‘knows’ about itself by relying on what it in reality knows about ‘itself’. Is consciousness, then, merely a superset of the Universe?
The hall of mirrors eventually distorts the image beyond recognition. Put another way, it makes the science of lying almost as precise as Euclidean geometry.
‘we work our jobs, collect our pay.
Believe we’re gliding down the highway when in fact, we’re slip slidin’ away.’
The image is of a strange loop. Kind of….