"Anything you can do, I can do META!" was a quip that Samuel Hahn, then of ESL, tossed out once at a dinner (ca. 1991, San Jose, California). In the conversation Sam was responding humorously to some rather philosophical musings about programming higher-order functions (functions that build other functions) in LISP or Scheme. He said it as a cute play on the words "Anything you can do, I can do better," and claimed to have heard it from someone else, probably in the Stanford computer science department.
But the taunt "Anything you can do, I can do meta!" has a lot more going for it than that. "Meta" in this context means "beyond" --- something that transcends the common level of things.
All real progress comes from transcending the ordinary, from rising above the usual state of affairs and thereby discovering new, higher-level structures. On an elevated plane, one can see how myriad special cases are unified into a single powerful pattern. One can capture complexity and control it. One can, with cleverness and hard work, self-transcend --- and come to understand a multi-level system by using it to talk about itself. That's the magic secret of Gödel's Theorem, and of consciousness and intelligence.
Saturday, May 08, 1999 at 17:36:54 (EDT) = Datetag19990508