Thursday, June 19, 2008

Pattern Recognition

After discussing whether Pamela Anderson is predator or prey (with R. on “Familiar Stranger” comments, below), I got thinking about how and why we recognize patterns (faces, expressions, etc.).

Here’re a handful of my condensed thoughts on the matter--or, my inital attempts to make a pattern out of the swirl stirred up in my brain.

1. It serves human survival (like, on the savannah where we evolved) to be able to recognize patterns:

zebra zebra zebra zebra
zebra zebra zebra zebra
zebra zebra lion zebra
zebra zebra zebra zebra

2. Behaviors that increase payoffs (such as food) and decrease cost (say, blood loss) we often experience as pleasure, as play.
Surprise, variation, and practice hone our pattern recognition skills.
Thus, we enjoy games based on pattern recognition:

Duck, duck, goose. (Or gray duck.)

1, 3, 5, 7…

3. Storytelling, which serves social bonding (and hence increases payoffs), also works with pattern recognition:


4. When the pattern games get more complex and less easy fun (bigger payoffs, bigger costs), we call them something else.
For instance, the Olympics, calculus, literature:


5. The less immediately recognizeable the patterns are (or the less equipped we are to read them), the more likely we are to find them threatening. Lion? Zebra?
And that's why some ill-equipped people don't like Pamela Anderson to read academic books while she wears a bikini.


barrett said...

Is this a joke?

73+ 73+ 73+ Idiot
73+ 73+ 73+ Idiot
73+ 73+ 73+ Senile
73+ 73+ 73+ Idiot

Decrease cost (blood loss)??
I am lost, you're the boss

ddip said...

All I could think of as I read this post was that people with autism have significant difficulty recognizing patterns that seem obvious to nonautistic people. This usually translates into intense focus on details without being able to recognize the associated big-picture patterns. For example:


In a classic diagnostic test, autistic folk would see all the H's in the pattern above, but not the big overall S shape. (This was in a recent book about autism.)

All this to say that pattern recognition (and the ability to zoom out to the big picture)is part of what we include in our determination of mental/intellectual/developmental health.

ddip said...

Aaaack, the pattern below was meant to be an S but it's turned into an E. You get the idea either way.

Rudyinparis said...

Jesus, how do you come up with this stuff? I think as some people have an extra leg when it comes to eating, you have an extra leg when it comes to thinking. How do you even get to that place?

Barrett, you cracked me up, too!

The "husband+wife+lover" and then "husband+wife+lover+train" made me laugh out loud. It's also somehow reminiscient of a logic proposition that I'll always remember from Logic 101 that went:

1. You're young.
2. You're beautiful.
3. My plane leaves in 15 minutes.

I was baffled then, and continue to be baffled, as to how this represents any aspect of symbolic logic, yet there it was, in the textbook and everything.

I do think you're on to something.
1. Survival.
2. Games.
3. Myths.
4. Suspense?
5. Pamela Anderson reading an erudite book.

fresca said...

Barrett: Sorry, that was a bit obtuse, eh?
I love to try to pare ideas down to the bone, but sometimes I don't leave enough meat on the bones to display the larger context (like, what animal am I even talking about?).

So, what I was envisioning here was human survival on the savannah (maybe I should add "on the savannah"?) where our species first evolved--hence the zebras and lions.

The increase payoff would be the ability to hunt/gather food with minimal cost, such as blood loss, i.e. getting attacked by a lion.

Does that clear it up?

R.: I find this stuff dyring my tons of child- and work-free time during which I muse on the bright bits and pieces I drag home to my magpie nest.
(In other words, I am "unambitious" and non-hard-working, so I have a lot of free time to think!)

I had written a while ago about blogging and evolutionary psychology (I was wondering why we find blogging pleasant--and thinking it was an outgrowth of storytelling, which has social payoffs in increased group cohesion through shared myth, etc. and therefore would be something that is socially selected/encouraged).
This post is an outgrowth of that--musing on how human behavior evolves, same as biology does, in response to varying conditions and seeking the same sorts of things: to maximize benefits and to minimize costs...

This (evolution of social behavior) seems to be popular these days because I keep noticing bits and pieces of it floating around, which I'm sure has hugely influenced my thinking. (Maybe it's new? I don't know because I never formally studied science & sociology.)

For instance, Malcolm Gladwell's neat-o 12-17-07 article in the New Yorker:
None of the Above; What IQ Doesn't Tell You about Race is all about how changing social conditions have led to what is called the Flynn effect (after James Flynn, the guy who noted it in the 1980s and writes about it): an overall rise in IQs.
But this is because modern societies increasingly value and teach scientific abstract thinking, which is what the IQ test measures in the first place.
So kids grow up more fluent in such thinking (a kind of social evolution) than their parents who didn't have to navigate the Internet...etc.
Cool, eh?

I do love this stuff.
Seems to me you're no slacker at it either.
My plane leaves in 15 minutes? Ha!

fresca said...

DDIP: I too was thinking of Autistic Spectrum Disorders! --and especially of the problems caused when you can't read the emotional patterns on people's faces.

bink said...

But what's missing here is the picture of Pamela Anderson reading the book...

fresca said...

Your wish is my command, oh Binkster.

Anonymous said...


Jeez, womyn, I can't keep up with ya! Wonderful responses. Having been an "outside of the box" thinker all my life that I can remember, having worked over the years with many folk of various ages/abilities on the Autism and other Communication Disorder Spectrum, having loved Groucho Marx's slapstix and witticisms--here's my quick take on all this:

I, too, had to think about what you meant by the decrease cost/blood lost phrase. I immediately took it to the biological level of the savannah, the ocean, the jungle, the home, the office, the street, wherever...Lions and zebras and bears and primates and hominids--oh my!! Who eats or pursues who[m?] and under what circumstances/pretexts motivated by which perceptions!? "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." Is Pamela Anderson predator as well as prey? To me, yes, and that's what makes her sexy in the biologically advantageous way, not the Barbie doll fall over cuz you're topheavy and have no feet way. The hide and seek and chase and run aspect of animal attraction, which can be figurative as well as physical... Then, I got all freaked out cuz I was trying to see the "S" figure ddip was referring to and finally realized she must've meant "E", which, indeed she later sent. Whew!! And the husband, wife, lover made me associate intimate, sanctioned characters/roles in real life and fiction. The addition of "train" to the string made me think "things one could--but would prefer not to be--run over by! My plane, train, automobile, Moped or spaceship takes off in 15 minutes: Rudy, maybe Groucho had a hand in contributing to your Logic 101 textbook! Fresca, Barrett, Bink and all others, you all are helping ease the pain of my long term unemployment, with intellectual/spiritual/artistic cyber-enrichment!

Muchas Gracias!


fresca said...

Stef: I'm late responding because I was in Milw. and had limited online time, but wanted to say thanks for your good comments.

Re Ms. Anderson being BOTH predator and prey: I thought of Cher who says in "Pret a Porter/Ready to Wear" that she is both a victim and a perpetrator of the lies of the fashion world.

If some of us don't expect these women to be self-consciously aware of their bimboesque roles, that just shows how dim we can be--they are actresses, after all.