What are patterns?
A pattern has some kind of recognizable repetition. It can be very simple and visual, like a tile floor:
or a brick wall:
or a honeycomb:
Patterns can also be complex, like these natural patterns based on Fibanocci numbers and the Golden Spiral:
or like this drawing by M.C. Escher:
In all simple or complex patterns you can see the repetitions, the organization, and the similarities between the parts. The similarities may be identical, as in the bricks, or they may grow, as in the spirals. There may be two interweaving patterns as in the fish and the geese, or you may look at it as a single repetition of a fish-goose pair.
There are other familiar patterns in other areas, such as in math. The number system is a simple pattern that starts with 0 and adds 1:
0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, …
For the sake of convenience, (who wants to memorize millions of different digits?) it then adds a bit of complexity by using place values of ten.
10, 11, 12, … 20, 21, 22, … 30, 31, 32
The number system based on 10's was invented to save us from the Roman number system of I's and V's and X's, which was very difficult to add and subtract. Place value is much better. Complexity, done right, can be convenient.
Another simple number pattern is the even numbers:
2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, …
A bit more complex is the Fibonacci sequence which adds the previous number to get the next number:
0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, …
Language also uses patterns. While English is not the best example, because it is a blend of many languages, the basic idea is that certain sounds are represented by certain letter combinations which combine to form recognizable words which make sentences which represents a complete thought. Those thoughts we put together to communicate meaning, suching as teaching others about patterns!
Why are patterns important?
If we had no patterns we would be left with their opposite—random chaos. We would have no dependable repetition, which means we would have no familiarity and predictability. We would have no organization, system, and structure. Instead we would have disconnected objects randomly jumbled or chaotically moving in all directions.
The laws of nature are not rules imposed on things. Rather, they are our best descriptions of the patterns of behavior that we observe. Instead of saying "laws of nature" we could equally say "habits of nature" or "repetitions of nature." If there are no patterns, then there are no laws, habits, or repetitions. Which means we are left with random chaos. We would have no order, no organization, no meaning, no purpose. The entire universe would be one undecipherable encrypted message.
Random numbers are at the heart of encryption. When you send an encrypted email or password protect your files, the goal is to turn your intelligent message into something that looks like random bits and bytes. Without knowing the key—the base pattern—you used to generate your random-looking data, a hacker could spend almost an eternity trying to guess your message.
As you can see in the image above, the pattern on the left is complex, but very organized. It is called Morse Code and was used back in the day to send telegraphs. The randomness on the left is pure noise. Or is it? Is a morse code message encrypted in it?
The point is this: Patterns communicate messages, but randomness hides messages. Randomness encrypts messages, while patterns decrypt messages.
What are progressive patterns?
Progressive patterns is a term I invented to try to capture the method the human mind uses to understand. We learn by connecting things into patterns and patterns into systems and systems into meaning. It never ends. Our mental and spiritual framework grows towards infinity as we learn more and more about everything.
Some people equate learning with memorizing and repetitive practice. Those are definitely parts of learning, but why memorize this fact or that text? Why practice this action or that routine? Those questions can only be answered by putting patterns together, such as individual's talents, opportunities, and motivations as well as societal needs and expectations. We memorize for a reason. We practice for a reason. That reason is based on patterns.
Therefore it is in everyone's best interest to gain experience in patterns, make connections, and think critically about their own thinking. If we don't do our own thinking, then someone else will do it for us.
Life in general, and each of our own experiences in particular, need to be decoded. The symbols we use to communicate, the events we go through, the observations we make, the thoughts and feelings we have continually go into our minds and convey to us a message. Once in a while it is very clear. Most of the time it is muddy and unclear.
The messages we receive are subject to inefficiences in translation and communication. Events in life are positive one day and negative the next. Our own biases and the opinions of others cloud our judgment. It is like having a lot of noise and static in our phone connection. All messages are subject to decay.
Patterns make the ink darker so that the message stands out clearer from the surrounding noise.
Messages are also subject to deceit. In this case, we are not talking about inefficiencies or ignorance. There are people who want to purposely falsify the truth so that they can push their own agenda.
False messages, just like truth, are subject to noise. Cutting through the static and learning the difference between truth and lie requires progressive patterns—weaving patterns together logically until the big picture makes itself clear.
Notice in the above examples that each one is a simple linguistic pattern known as a complete sentence. Neither of them can be taken at face value as true or false. We might be tempted to believe on or the other because a respected authority told us, but we really cannot know until we know the context—the external patterns surrounding each statement. In turn, we need to know the context of the context, which requires us to know the still bigger context. We cannot safely stop until we know the universal context. Progressive patterns keep progressing until infinity is reached.
As a very small example of this, let's say the series of random letters below represents life.
We keep studying and searching the series of letters using all sorts of methods until we find a sequence that appears intelligent, even if we might not understand it fully.
The every-other-letter pattern starting with the 4th letter says, See fifth backward. Well, what does that mean? We guess and we experiment until we hit upon the idea of reading every fifth letter starting at the end, then reversing them to make sense.
When we reverse the order of the letters, the message says, My kitten. Some of the letters are used in both messages, but they are tightly connected by the first revealing the second.
That was a very simple code, but it illustrated the point that patterns build and lead to other patterns if we are willing to see them and follow them. Along the way, we become better pattern recognizers. We become better cryptoanalysts decoding the encrypted messages of life.
But never do we trust our own analysis. Never do we ask others to believe our interpretations because we are "experts." We present the key to the pattern so that others can read the message for themselves. We don't hop, skip, and jump around and put letters together to invent a message.
The more simplicity, completeness, and consistency a pattern possesses, the more we can trust it. Better patterns give us higher confidence.
A person who progresses in their experience and capability of pattern discovery, becomes stronger, more independent, and more accurate, not less. After a while they no longer need a teacher, but become teachers themselves. This is true in any career field as well as life.
Progressive patterns elevate everyone to competence and equality.
What's the deal with all the rainbow colors?
The rainbow is a favorite illustration of mine to show the completeness, orderliness, and inspiration of well defined progressive patterns.
Quotes on good thinking, learning, and teaching
"Too often we... enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." ― John F. Kennedy
"If you think education is expensive, try ignorance." ― Derek Bok
"It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge." ― Albert Einstein
"Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve." ― Roger Lewin
"Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything one learned in school." ― Albert Einstein
"Knowing a great deal is not the same as being smart; intelligence is not information alone but also judgment, the manner in which information is collected and used." ― Carl Sagan
“Do not indoctrinate your children. Teach them how to think for themselves, how to evaluate evidence, and how to disagree with you.” ― Richard Dawkins
“The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks.” ― Christopher Hitchens
"Train the youth to be thinkers, and not mere reflectors of other men's thought." ― E. G. White
"Critical thinking is a desire to seek, patience to doubt, fondness to meditate, slowness to assert, readiness to consider, carefulness to dispose and set in order; and hatred for every kind of imposture." ― Francis Bacon
"Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness..." ― Michael Scriven & Richard Paul