July 8, 2009

Pattern detection

"Patterns are everything to us. We hunger for them. We revel in them. They are the basis for art, literature, music and much more in our lives. But a percepetual system that is so geared to wrestling patterns out of complex arrays of simuli is bound to produce some false positives. [...] Over time, natural selection probably favored perceptual systems and pattern detectors that were hyperactive enough to make their share of Type I errors [false positives]. In a perilous world, Type I errors tend to be less costly. And one of natural selections mottos has always been, "Better deluded than dead.""

~ Hank Davis in Caveman logic


  1. I think that sometimes this development of pattern matching has us seeking and finding meaning when there is none there. Sometimes stuff just happens. It doesn't mean that the universe loves us today or hates us today. It doesn't meant that this is a sign you should do something. It just happened.

    I have seen clients caught for years in needing an event to have some meaning rather than being purely random. I have seen people create a meaning that has a positive affect on their lives and I have seen people struggle because they could not find any meaning in their event.

    I think this pattern matching mechanism is at the cause of some of this inner conflict.

  2. Stuart Guthrie has written a very good book called Faces in the Clouds. It is, essentially, a cognitive theory of religion but is predicated on the cognitive bias to find meaning - or pattern - in the world around us. Fascinating stuff.


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