This is a term often associated with mathematics and computer science – I have been running across it recently while reading about artificial intelligence. Essentially what we are talking about here is self improvement through repetition. All musicians are familiar with this concept – it’s called practicing your instrument.
Practicing is most effective when there is a specific goal in mind. As a musician, the classic example is listening to a master perform something and then attempting to emulate it. This is recursive iteration – trying to play a piece of music from as many different approaches as possible, over and over, until you begin to refine a performance that will inevitably sound different from the original version, even though it was a direct attempt to emulate it. Whether it sounds better or worse depends on the skill, determination, and creativity of the one applying the recursive iterations.
Virtually all musicians go through this – The Beatles were originally trying to emulate Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Elvis – and of course they ended up sounding like none of them. That’s one of the cool things about recursive self improvement.
You never know where you are going to end up…