Dane. Designer.

Old Blog

Pattern Keys

X-Ray Skull

Enjoyment is your brain rewarding you for recognizing and combining complex and semi-complex patterns in new and—to the brain, because it helps it survive—interesting ways; good brain, here’s a twinkey.

Recognizing patterns and acting on previous experience of similar patterns is what our brain does. Poke the bear with the stick, it attacks. That’s bad. Thus, do not poke the bear with the stick. Lesson learned.

It’s a feedback loop of pattern recognition:”(I recommend On Intelligence if you want to know more about how this feedback loop in particular works. Great book.)”:.

Anyway, the thing is, in the early years of our lives, we learn like a motherfucker, so to speak. The brain trains itself through the feedback loop, to better steer around that hopeless meat sack to which it is attached and on which it is reliant, for energy.

The learning curve is in most cases logarithmic. That is to say, it starts out flat, and then grows steeper and steeper as you move along the length of it. This is a variation on the law of diminishing returns, and it’s a real bitch. You’ll know it from back when you were in school and you were actively forced if not up the curve, then at least along the long axis of it…

Aaanyway, the great thing about the brain is, of course, that it stores your previous experiences, for comparison with the input from the feedback loop.

If there are no previous patterns—let’s call them ‘pattern keys’—which match up with the new input (“what is that noise?!”, “What is he doing!?”), your brain will do its best to cover the embarrassment up by throwing whatever remotely similar patterns it has back down the feedback loop to quickly get to grips with what exactly it is you’re watching, hearing or feeling. “Is that a broken engine? Rock grinding rock? Nope, turns out its the attack call of a bear. Pattern key recorded… Now, RUN!”

The net result of this, is that when confronted with the unknown, people resort to what they know, to shed light on the unknown. Not a big surprise there. They don’t do this because they’re stupid, or because they’re smart. But because that’s what the brain does. “How can I solve this, using only available tools and this input?”.

From there on out, the brain uses the carrot and the stick to shovel those electrical impulses around in ways that might help create a new pattern key for this kind of input in the future. Frustration and boredom are the stick, pride and joy are the carrot. Enough stick and you’re likely to give up and spend your time on something easier. Enough carrot and you feel invigorated and inspired (and important…) enough to keep going and learn more!

Pattern keys are created by your brain from scratch. Though since they’re themselves created from previously acquired pattern keys, you can of course help their creation along. In other words, you might not know how to fix a car, but you know how to use a screwdriver, you understand hose pressure and that if something is hot or electrical, you shouldn’t put your bare-skinned fingers on it, etc.

With enough peripheral pattern keys, creating new ones from previously unseen input becomes considerably easier. Or: The more you know, the easier it is to know more.

And if you keep an ‘open mind’—that is, remain receptive towards the generation of new pattern keys, and not merely rely on the feedback loop to cover up new inputs with the good ‘ol trusty pattern keys—well hell, you might learn something new…

Keep this in mind the next time someone suggests you listen to his or her favorite band, read his or her favorite book (or comic) or tries to persuade you to take up opera.

It might not immediately seem like the thing ‘you’d do’, but where there’s smoke…

So remember: The more you know, there more you can know:”(This is not a free-out-of-jail card to slack on your quality control. Not everything that can be known is worth knowing. Truly.)”:.

Peace out, yo.