The patterns on your grandma’s wall?

Expected reading time: 9,5 minutes

You are at your grandparents, not really listening. Your grandmother is talking to your family about some old family friend whom you hardly know. You are distracted, so distracted you start looking at her wall. She has a nice wallpaper of old roses. What’s the deal with that? Why does she love those re-occurring roses on her wall?  That is quite boring right? You see a rose and then another one, oh no it’s the same one. How boring!

But in fact, you are the one who loves patterns as well! Actually, you can’t live without them. Your whole life is built around patterns. We have patterns in many, many forms in our life. We adore patterns, we build our society on them, our health is determined by them. This blog is not to explain every pattern everywhere but is just to show how omnipresent patterns are in our lives. But first we need to talk about patterns themselves, what are patterns? Because both objects and behavior can have patterns, it is quite hard to define what a pattern is. Nonetheless, with every definition there is, you will find words like “re occurrence, regular, or repeated” describing patterns. With repetition, the object or its’behavior becomes predictable, thus making it a pattern. I am listing a few patterns below to show the omnipresence of patterns. I will try to argue why we love patterns that much, and at last I will explain what we can learn from patterns.

Science
The only thing we do in science, is finding patterns. Relating one variable with the other is trying to find a pattern. If you want all your subjects to respond to a drug, you are trying to find a pattern in the responses of your subjects and the administration of the drug. Astronomy is just finding patterns as well. Waves and frequencies are patterns, solving math is finding patterns. Every statistical test is based on finding a pattern within a data set. All science is patterns.

Music
The thing we all love is music. Everyone has a song they love. We don’t discuss it that often, but music is nothing different from ongoing patterns of drums, guitars, vocals, and other instruments. The sounds made by the instruments need to be in sync for us to enjoy music. If someone doesn’t follow the rhythm (pattern) of the song, we just can’t stand it. If there is no pattern in the song, it is just noise to us. Actually, they tried to make pattern-free music, which was almost impossible. It took a mathematician (specialized in prime numbers) quite a while to find it. You can find the song here.

The fractal pattern of Romanesco Broccoli

Daily life
What have you been doing today? Is that something similar to what you’ll do tomorrow? Quite likely. If you have a job or go to school, the pattern of your life is quite distinct. Students or travelers might have a less rhythmic life on daily basis. Nevertheless, if you look at a weekly basis, or a year, you will find distinct patterns there. Patterns are habits, patterns are routines, how many habits do you have? Following patterns makes life easy, we can’t do completely different things every day, that will destroy us with exhaustion.

Body
Our body is very rhythmical. Our hormones respond always on the same way to sunlight, food or just through our biological clock, known as the circadian rhythm. If you follow a regular pattern in your sleep it actually increases your well-being and happiness (link). As you know, women have a very rhythmical menstrual pattern. Sleep, hormones, and the menstrual cycle are all dependent on our circadian-rhythm. Shift-work, or just weird day-night rhythms have a hugely negative impact on us. Diabetes, obesity, cognition, Alzheimer, cancer, and many other diseases have been associated with the disruption of our circadian-pattern (link and link).

Problem solving
Finding patterns is what we all do to solve something ourselves. If you look how rats learn to press a button to get food, that’s pattern recognition. A clever detective is trying to find a pattern to catch a murderer. With implicit learning, you try to find a pattern without someone telling you the pattern. Psychological tests like sequential learning, which is used to determine your IQ, is pattern recognition. (Sequential learning; determine the next number in the row: 1,1,2,3,5,8,?)

Nature
Nature is full of patterns as well. Everything in nature has a pattern. Look at a tree. Look how many patterns you can find. Many tree’s, plants, and flowers are beautifully organized. Nature is structured through fractals and through the Fibonacci sequence. If you are aware of fractal patterns you recognize them everywhere. I will write a larger post about this in the future. Nevertheless, as will quote Wikipedia: Natural patterns include spirals, meanders, waves, foams, tilings, cracks, and those created by symmetries of rotation and reflection. Nature is just a big collection of patterns.

Design
It is no question that we love patterns in design and fashion. The roses on your grandma’s wall, on your Louis Vuitton bag, on your carpet are patterns. For some reason, love to see them around us. When you Google “pattern” you’ll find thousands of fashion websites before finding anything remotely related to my blog. Damn, we love patterns, there is even a pattern in the way I wrote this blog.

More patterns I am not discussing:

  • History
  • Earth’s climate
  • Structure of books/text/stories
  • Evolution
  • Hierarchical structures

Born to recognize patterns
We can’t distinguish ourselves from nature. If nature is full of patterns, than so are we. Over the past years we tried to distinguish ourselves from nature, but our love for patterns is still present and very useful. When we see something moving towards us, we are very quick to recognize the pattern of this thing (like a predator). When we see an anomaly in the things we expect (like a snake between some sticks) we see a distinctive pattern which is the snake. Without seeing patterns we can’t survive.

Conscious, yet neglected patterns
Patterns became so clear to us that we tend to forget them. In my opinion, I feel that the presence of patterns is often neglected. Although they are omnipresent, people just take them for granted. We can do a lot more by recognizing the patterns everywhere. It might be that because patterns are so omnipresent, that we just forgot about them. Just as we forget about the oxygen in our sky. Because everything is patternlike we kind of lost sight of it. However, it could also be that we don’t like to be that consciously aware of the patterns around us. On first sight, you might think that patterns make life dull. Patterns mean that you are doing or seeing the same thing twice or three times, or even a thousand times. Nobody likes to think about the fact that every day is the same day. So as a proper response, we just neglect the dull patterns in our life.

Not everything is a pattern, or is it?
We are very good in recognizing patterns but there are things we can’t grasp. We call this thing: noise. In science we call this noise, in real life we call this noise. However, we might also call this “an impulsive holiday”. If you work every day, and one day you decide to go for a holiday, this disrupts your pattern. If a scientist looks at your data, he will call this event “noise”. However, if you go every year on this same holiday, it becomes a part of your pattern. So you might understand, that it is quite hard to distinguish noise from patterns. Noise might be a pattern which we don’t recognize, thus we label it as noise. However, it also could be just noise. The question is whether noise exists (also called randomness). Scientists have actually a hard time to create real random noise, because almost everything is a pattern eventually. Whether noise exists is almost one of the biggest questions of life. This question concerns a determined world, and free will, a popular philosophical topic. We don’t have the answer yet.

How stupid is life if everything is a pattern?
I did a lot of self-study and analyzed my data over and over. Within my data, and thus my life, I found a lot and a lot of patterns. At first I was disappointed how predictable my life was because I had that many patterns. I wanted to be special, I didn’t like the fact that I was quite predictable. Waking up the same day and doing everything all over again seems quite stupid as the picture below suggests. But is it? I think is not that stupid. I believe that with every day we are discovering new things within the patterns we are used to. For example, we have a ranger that walks every day through the same forest. But we also have the tourist that walks through the same forest but only for one day. You might argue that they both see exactly the same things but I disagree. Over time, a ranger will zoom into things that he has seen before. He will discover new patterns within the patterns he already knows, he will see the daily variations of the forest, he will know when the rabbits are active within the forest, he will see more details of the many leafs of the forest, he will understand the larger ecosystem of the forest. An average tourist will just tell you “well, that forest was nice”. This is just as your job/studies, your stupid uncle might not understand that you aren’t bored to death by your job, but you are aware of details within your specialty that your uncle isn’t even aware of. He doesn’t even know these details exist!

But be aware
The fact that patterns are everywhere amazed me. The more you focus on reoccurring patterns, the more patterns you’ll find. But be aware!  You might become prone to see patterns that aren’t really there. An example is Pareidolia, where you recognize things that aren’t really there, like animal shapes within

The face on Mars

the clouds or “the face on Mars”. These examples are obvious ones. However, there are more occasions where we do this. Suspecting someone of murder makes it more likely that you’ll attribute normal acts as suspicious. The more you love a certain person, the more likely it is that you love the things that this person is doing (although they might not be that wonderful). These effects are simply called biases and are ultimately about making patterns when they aren’t there. This might be causes by one-sided information gathering, or by a narrow-minded viewpoint. There is even a bias for seeing a pattern in everything called Aphophenia.

Conclusions
I showed you many sorts of patterns in many different areas. Patterns are omnipresent, but we still don’t know whether everything is a pattern eventually. Seeing too many patterns might even cause you to be biased about many things. Nevertheless, it is almost impossible to make music, to perform science, or even to life without the use of patterns. But we also love the presence of randomness, if it’s not too much. That drives us crazy. Nevertheless, I still don’t know where patterns end and noise starts. But I am afraid we will never know this. We’ll keep and keep on trying to find them.

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