I came across this a few days ago and thought it was worth sharing, Wikipedia has a list composed of lists that are themselves lists. Here it is.
To try and conceptualize this1 we can start at the lowest level. Here is Wikipedia’s list of accounting journals. That list is itself one item in Wikipedia’s lists of academic journals. So the lists of academic journals is a list of lists, and one of those lists is the list of accounting journals. With me so far? Great. So the list of lists of academic journals is, itself, one of the entries in the list of lists of lists.
Mostly this is amusing, but it’s also seriously interesting to me. I often wonder about meta-ness.2 As in: how meta can you go? It seems like there isn’t any genuine reason why you’d need to have a list of lists of lists of lists, right? I feel like there’s something about three that makes it complete. Random other example, I’ve done research on learning in the past, and we talked about: learning, learning-to-learn, and learning-to-learn-to-learn. Again: the first two are pretty straightforward. You can learn math. You can also get better at learning math, which is learning-to-learn. And you can sort of think of abstract methods of getting better at refining your study techniques, which is learning-to-learn-to-learn. But surely there isn’t a fourth level, is there?
I can’t tell if three levels is enough in some objective sense, or if humans just give up at three levels ’cause it’s hard to keep track of anything past that in a concrete sense. The way you can instantly recognize the difference between the quantity three and the quantity four just by sight, but bigger numbers like 15 vs. 16 require some abstraction to work with.
Then again: maybe this is just a limitation of human experience. Ever wonder what it would be like for extra-terrestrials to be smarter than humans? It’s a sci-fi concept we talk about a lot, but what would a super-smart alien intelligence really look like? A lot of the time we depict it (in books or movies) as either rapid calculation and logical inference, like a computer (think of the mentats3 in Dune) and other times it just gets mystic and weird (like the new movie, Lucy). But maybe what it would look like is a group of people who could talk about learning-to-learn-to-learn-to-learn with total ease, as though the concept made perfect intuitive sense. And maybe they would have a list of lists of lists of lists and think it was as ordinary as a grocery list.