Robert G mentions recursion in another post in this forum which reminded me of an email I wrote to James Lawley last month on the subject. Robert goes in a slightly different direction with his post so that's why this is not a direct reply. Pardon me if the writing is not fully clear or elegant - it matches my understanding of the subject at the moment.

The other week, I found a piece in a tutorial about working with Javascript (link in References below) that seemed to relate to what happens in a Clean Language session when there is apparent looping going on. The tutorial was about recursion and I think it may give us insights into the question/answer process that could form a practical model for working with clients.

First, what IS recursion?

In the writer’s words:
A recursive function is the function which at some point of execution calls itself.” (other definitions in References below)
Note the difference between this and a loop.

A loop runs like this:
A, B, C… Z then starts at A again.
whereas a recursion runs:
A, B, … then at some definable point before C calls itself
A, B, … and then calls itself again
A, B, … then again
…until some criterion is matched whereupon the sequence completes with C…Z.
A looping sequence just follows one step after another until it arrives back at the place it started. A recursive sequence contains a choice point where a decision to start again is made on the basis of some criterion. It only allows the main sequence to complete when the criterion is satisfied.

Quoted example:
When we experience recursion for the first time, we are usually puzzled. An example of recursion is a magazine cover showing a TV screen showing a magazine cover. The image within an image would be repeated few times before becoming too small to see.

Another example is walking between two mirrors. The mirrors are causing mutual recursion. The reflection in the mirror is repeated several times, each one smaller than the previous, before becoming too small to see.
Metaphorically speaking, I think of a recursion as a spiral inside a loop, rather than just as a loop. It can be made fractal if the criterion is designed to be infinite.
“Each recursive call must simplify the problem, leading one step closer to the base case(s).

“If the function simply called itself it would never terminate. To end the recursion every recursive function has to have at least one base case.

“A Base (or Stopper) Case is simple to calculate or has a known solution. It does not require any further recursive calls, and therefore stops the recursion.

"The base case helps build the solution for the whole problem.”
What might be the relevance to our field?


Are repeating patterns of behaviour exactly the same each time they repeat? Are they looping or recurring?

Double Binds

Before I achieve outcome #1, at a certain point outcome #2 is ‘called’ which prevents #1 before it can complete. At a certain point in #2, #1 is called and prevents #2 – like two interlocking spirals, forming a figure-of-eight or ∞ (infinity sign).
Each time the cycle runs, the bind becomes more bound, happens quicker, simplifies until the person reaches homeostasis: 'damned if I do, damned if I don't'.

I think there a recursive element here. If there is, how might modelling that recursion help to unbind the bind?

Desired Outcome

How is our questioning already structured (or could be structured more effectively) to use recursion? Could we achieve closer attention to outcome from facilitators and better results for clients?
For example, if we make the base case (or focus) a D.O,
which questions could be used to ‘call’ the D.O?
”And when [current focus of attention],
what happens to…
where is…
is there a relationship to…
what would you like to have happen when what you want is…
[Developed Desired Outcome]?”
Necessary Conditions

These have a recursive nature in that they keep returning to the 'same place' but things have changed each time because a new criterion has been found until all have been found and the process can move on. Have a look at what James did in the Zannie video: 6 times I think he asked the question 'Is there anything else that needs to happen for [D.O]?'

The Recursion article: