Humans are known for outstanding "pattern recognition." However, other organisms discern patterns we don't (e.g., snakes discern infrared and ground vibration patterns). There are more unobserved data patterns than observed ones. So, is it that observation ability is limited and all patterns are real? Or, does observation of a pattern within an ocean of endless possibilities make it real for us?

  • 3
    Survival adaptation. It is better (better survival chances) to think you see a tiger pattern in the brush and be mistaken than to not see the tiger pattern and be eaten. Our minds are wired to look for patterns. Aug 7, 2017 at 3:14
  • 1
    I think this question is better suited for cogsci.stackexchange.com Aug 7, 2017 at 13:06
  • 1
    "Patterns" are (more or less) "relations", and in Carnap's "Aufbau" (e.g., opencourtbooks.com/books_n/logical_structure.htm ) he argues that reality pretty much >>is<< relations. So, yeah, patterns are real things. Or else you can have a very long and elaborate debate about it (Carnap's book is 364 pages).
    – user19423
    Aug 8, 2017 at 6:47
  • Great question and very important. I'd vote for the second answer. Plato might argue that all patterns are real as unrealised or potential Ideas but I doubt this is what you mean by 'real'. It becomes a vital question if we consider that material objects are patterns. . .
    – user20253
    Mar 10, 2018 at 12:52
  • @PeterJ IOW, patterns really exist in the Universe, but only have potentiality until observed or recognized? This reminds one of potential and kinetic energy. And yes, you have gotten to the heart of why I asked the question, "if material reality is the result of relationships between patterns, but we only have the capacity to recognize a subset of these, what then is real?" This has huge importance for the study of information, quantum or otherwise. Mar 17, 2018 at 17:16

6 Answers 6


So, is it that observation ability is limited and all patterns are real? Or, does observation of a pattern within an ocean of endless possibilities make it real for us?

Both of these questions could be answered affirmatively, since the mediating factor for us human animals in our association of pattern-observations with science, is language - so there is the kind of pattern-observation inherent in animal life (including human life), and there is the kind of pattern-observation we associate with science, and commonly refer to. But that last kind is only a subset of the range of pattern-observations we humans actually use. So pattern-observation itself is a real phenomenon, but the kind of pattern-observation we associate with the conduct of science by humans, is really a concept, and even if we grant that it refers to a real "thing", it is at best only a subset of the range of pattern-observations available to us human animals.

  • I don't disagree, but as patterns are an arrangement of things, is the pattern itself also a "thing." Or am I presuming too much by thinking non-things are non-real? Aug 8, 2017 at 23:34
  • 1
    I do not think you are necessarily presuming too much - perhaps "something" becomes real to us when we have a consistent way of explaining its appearance to us... it is through seeing patterns in nature, that the need for an explanation about the occurrence of that pattern becomes real to us... perhaps it is not the pattern in itself which we need to take as "real", but the occurrence of the pattern, as observable to our senses, and we treat our observations as "real", in order to reach some knowledge about how to explain the fact of the occurrence of that pattern... what do you think?
    – l_ruth_
    Aug 9, 2017 at 10:07
  • I see. So patterns are the observable "symptoms" of something real, but not the real thing itself. This seems plausible. Please update your answer and I'll select it. Aug 13, 2017 at 15:20
  • This is the 'problem of attributes'. Assuming an underlying substance that is unobservable and without attributes (thus without pattern) is a popular solution. Kant endorsed it.
    – user20253
    Mar 10, 2018 at 12:56

What's a pattern?

It's a repetition of a shape, color etc.

So what pattern matching is about is just recognizing that some other thing has similarity to some other thing. This is how the logic works in computer vision as well.

If two or more things have similarities, then why ought they and the similarity not be real? To speculate that similarity does not maybe exist would be counterproductive and theoretical, because many things already happen to rely on the concept of similarity. Therefore it's not a fruitful question, just a hypothetical.

Try doing a simple task that requires pattern recognition. E.g. recognizing an object of which there are many (because such object is from a group of such objects and all such objects have similarities between them, which enables one to recognize them). Without such group recognition a lot of things just become impossible and complicated.


the interpretation of patterns can be a bit more complicated. For example statistical analysis of e.g. questionnaires may use pattern matching for analysis of the results. However, if patterns are used to make other judgements or predictions, then one ought to be cautious about whether the patterns really display the further claims. Or if they do display, then how believable/likely are they?

  • Are you then claiming that because I notice a pattern it is real? Surely the only real things also exist in the absence of observers, right? And what am I to believe if a another person notices patterns that I don't? That person could be better at recognizing specific patterns than me (someone versed in audio production) or could be schizophrenic. Aug 8, 2017 at 23:40
  • Are you suggesting that patterns are a human created illusion and if you remove human perception, then there's no pattern? Does not sound very convincing, nor does it sound practical. Also, the patterns do in some sense exist to computers as well as for some other animals.
    – mavavilj
    Aug 9, 2017 at 8:17
  • No. I'm wondering if patterns only exist in relation to observers whether human, animal, mechanical, or otherwise. Aug 13, 2017 at 15:19
  • Further, the fruitfulness or practicality of a question may not be obvious, but that is not evidence of absence. The first part of your answer is partially satisfying... I suppose what I want to get to is, "if similarities exist, but go unrecognized are they real? Or is it the noticing of similarity that which makes it manifest?" Mar 17, 2018 at 17:13

A pattern is anything that shows repeatedly. It's like redundancy. Try the following: write a program that finds the scheme in a number sequence. For instance: 5,10,15,20 ... First, try out some random operations with the numbers by associating any of them with a random calculation. Then do several of these operations recursively with backtracking and remember the variations already taken in consideration. Then do a matching. A match could be when the calculations result in zero. Then write the combined varied operations into an array list or, if that operation sequence is already in the list, increase it's evaluation score with the sum of the evaluation scores of the elements it was composed of. You start with basic operations and operators, for example small shapes you see. An operator is defined as a pattern associated with a movement. Human beings can imagine motion roughly according to Newton's laws or imagine other transformations, and they can see compositions of small shapes and mentally manipulate them with the operators. For recognizing pictures, use unsharp masking and afterwards sum up the differences compared to the shape that it has to be congruent with pixel for pixel for an evaluation score. The best solution is said to be the solution that processes the most information. This means that the best pattern has the most redundancy or best evaluation score. Like some sort of Ziv-Lempel, associating everything with everything and storing it in an alphabet and try matching the results with the input. Except here it are pictures. It could be text as well. Sorry for being so arrogant and speculative. I might be just a cretin who has the chance to just 'play' computer scientist on the WWW and is talking weird bullshit because their tricks might be their money.

  • +1 No need to apologize at the end. I assume you are saying by these examples that the patterns are real at least for us. Mar 10, 2018 at 15:57
  • I understand your methodological examples, but am unsure of the conclusion they lead you to. Humans design the program to find patterns we comprehend. Mar 17, 2018 at 17:04

Cause and effect is based on a pattern of correlations. Organisms are patterns, which thrive or decay depending how well they keep their pattern.

There is something measurable, how patterny. A jangling strike of a guitar, versus a harmonic chord. There are lots of mathematical tools for evaluating this, like Fourier analysis, fractal dimension, and entropy. Symmetry is a fundamental preference for us aesthetically, and linked to the deepest principles for understanding in physics.

Pattern is maybe all that anything ever is.

  • Sure... but isn't cacophony simply a "displeasing pattern?" I mean, the fact that we recognize it as distinct is a separate consideration from the aesthetic value we assign to it. IOW, one could assign patterns to two groups: organized and disorganized, right? Mar 17, 2018 at 17:00
  • Imagine applying that to architecture. Symmetry and order, and also what is conveyed, communicated, which is linked to intentions/purposes/function
    – CriglCragl
    Mar 17, 2018 at 18:13

1 A pattern is relative to a description; and we supply the description, which is usually tailored to human interests quite likely in many cases of evolutionary origin. If half the occupants of a street are murdered, one after another on successive nights, this is a pattern. At least the police will think so. But it is only a pattern because we link the occurrences in the light of our interests, our concerns. There are an indefinite number of respects in which the occurrences show no pattern at all so far as we are concerned : the height of the victims or their age or their voting behaviours will be ignored, all else equal. Our interests dictate the patterns we detect. Patterns of occurrence are constructed as patterns in light of our interests. No interest, no description, no pattern.

2 A different type of case is that of 'seeing' patterns in random phenomena. You might present me with a square of paper on which there are hundreds of disorganised dots. I 'see' a face among the dots. The 'face' does not exist in any sense independently of my perceptual patterning.

  • Okay, but does unrecognized pattern exist? I.e., if we have no interest in the pattern, isn't it still there, but unmanifest (to us) because of selection bias? Mar 17, 2018 at 17:07
  • 1
    The patterns in 1 exist whether we recognise them are not. I am sure there are many regularities in the world that we have not discovered or noticed - but they are still there. I'm less certain about 2-type patterns. I imagine a face in the dots; it is a product of my imagination. The dots are there whether I imagine anything or not but the face is purely a creation of my seeing the dots as a face. That help ?
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Mar 17, 2018 at 17:29
  • Yes. .. Well, the trick is in discerning type one from type two... or better, whether or not we can actually claim that 1 & 2 are different. Mar 17, 2018 at 17:53
  • 1
    I see your point. Discerning type one from type 2, even if they are different, presents problems. Proving that 1 and 2 really are different, since all patterns are relative to a description and all descriptions are products of language and conceptual schemes, is another matter. You have raised a deep issue. Just to have done that is an achievement. Best - Geoffrey
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Mar 17, 2018 at 18:20

It’s interesting you actually might be able to say that patterns are fundamental but not quite in the same way as matter and energy. Patterns are substrate independent information. Take a wave for example— think about a phone call..your voice isn’t literally being transferred through the phone..the pattern of the air compression wave is copied and transcribed into a corresponding transverse wave pattern with an electromagnetic substrate and the pattern is copied in the other persons device and the pattern is then reproduced in the compression of air on the other side. The information is contained in the pattern the substrate takes on not the substrate itself….but what actually IS the wave? It’s a transcendent pattern existing as an emergent fundamental but somehow outside of the matter and energy itself but also completely constituted of matter and energy.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .