Pattern Recognition, Ingenuity and Innovation

Nature exists by and through patterns. Nature follows patterns. That’s how it is, everything is built from and upon patterns, the building blocks of the understandable universe. Particles combine themselves into patterns to form atoms. Atoms combine themselves into patterns to form molecules. Molecules combine themselves into organic and inorganic patterns to form everything we are aware of. Patterns keep combining, clustering and triggering each other up to the emergence of new and more complex patterns (yes, that’s what they do), and through several layers of complexity to form the universe as we experience it. And so, chemistry emerged from physics; biology emerged from chemistry; and so on according to the evolutionary theory, which patterns were so well perceived and described by Charles Darwin. We, humans, also played along evolving the patterns that form us and eventually emerged into what we currently are.

Not surprisingly, we experience life through pattern recognition, one of our fundamental cognitive abilities. Our meaning-making brain combines its neurons to build patterns that represent and categorize everything we perceive and experience in life. We have become specialists in recognizing patterns. And, after enough practice and training, we even started creating our own patterns. That is how we came up with a number of material and symbolic artifacts, events and institutions, which evolved to be part of our culture.

As patterns keep combining and clustering themselves, and emerging into new, more complex patterns, increasing the systems’ complexity, we started developing some pretty intricate institutions, which, in turn, govern our civilized lives. And, as institutions become more and more intricate, we naturally got distanced from their origins, and their deep patterns become hidden patterns to us, and we start seeing only those patterns that are on surface.

However, if we wish to remain ingenious, if we wish to remain being innovators, we need to continuously search for those intrinsic reasons, hidden patterns that constitute the natural laws and human institutions. Because, when we understand those hidden patterns, intrinsic reasons and root causes, that’s when we take the driver’s seat. That’s when we start being able to shape, influence and decide on related future events. That’s when we can be ingenious, creative and innovative at our best.

Let’s see. For instance, the hidden patterns, the deep rules that currently govern the global economy are so embedded into our culture that we almost can’t recognize them anymore. Let alone question their value and validity. In a good example of how to dig up hidden patterns, cognitive scientist, Joe Brewer, pinpointed some foundational patterns upon which the global economy is currently built on (check his article here, for his detailed reasoning) and which we are constantly led to believe in. However, a closer look into these hidden patterns reveal that they may actually be highly questionable. So, here they are:

1- Economies must grow no matter what the cost;

2- All value must be measured in monetary terms;

3- Money is debt that must always be repaid with interest;

4- Rich people are morally superior to poor people.

These are the hidden patterns, the intrinsic foundations of our current global economy. What is not being revealed is that these patterns actually constitute the foundation for what has become a global mechanism to extract wealth from a vast majority and drive it to the hands of a privileged minority.

Nevertheless, no one is obligating us to believe in those patterns. It is mostly up to us if we wish or not to follow those implicit rules, those hidden patterns of economy. In other words, we can limit the impact of, or even eliminate those patterns from our lives, if so we wish. But, we do have to be able to recognize them in a first place. Otherwise, we are just helplessly following rules and ideas without even being aware of.

In this specific case, let’s start by reminding ourselves that industrial capitalism is a very recent institution — historically speaking. Just about some 200 years ago pretty much everyone was an “entrepreneur”, taking care of their own “business” (and with the advent of Artificial Intelligence, we might well be heading back to a more similar form of social organization — you can read more on this subject in one of our previous posts).

Anyway, likewise, there are several other human created institutions and artifacts which we tend to use and/or follow blindly, and which if we take a closer look at their hidden patterns, their root causes, we might end up realizing that we do not agree with them, or that it is not in our best interest to follow those patterns. And that there might be an opportunity for improvement right there, an opportunity to innovate.

So, the point is, if we want to remain being naturally ingenious, innovator animals, we need to continuously improve our ability to recognize patterns, to see the root causes of events, and understand the hidden patterns that govern whatever areas of interest we may have, and keep revising, improving, disrupting those patterns if and when necessary.

We must practice and improve our cognitive ability to recognize patterns — our pattern recognition ability — and use it critically to shape and re-shape artifacts, events and institutions.

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