Friday, April 18, 2014


Humans have this need to find order in chaos, to find patterns in the fire hose of data that comes at us every day.  We see faces in our burnt toast, apocalyptic messages in our calendar. I pulled this image off the WJTX4 Facebook page, but it's been wandering around all week.  Yes, this week's dates, if written in this way, are palindromes...  AND??

Scientific American points out the there are biological reasons why recognizing patterns could be advantageous for survival.  You can read more about it here.   

Apophenia is defined as "the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data."   

In fact, we have lots of other words describing our finding of patterns in the randomness of our lives.  Try karma on for size, or fate, deja vu, coincidence, or faith. 

But not all of the patterns we find are actually important.  This week's palindromes are actually a human construct, a pattern created solely by our own calendar and the way in which we choose to represent the information.  April 17, 2014 is not a palindrome, nor is 04-17-2014.  The date written as 4-17-14 is a palindrome, but so what.  Numbers are cool, but in this context, not particularly meaningful.

As we consider the patterns in our lives, it is important to remember the intersection of our need to create them and the complexity of our environment.  The structures of leaves, the spirals of shells, these are patterns that are not human constructs but are inherent in the fabric of our universe.  Similarities found in architecture are human constructs that mimic these patterns inherent in nature.  We have found that the structures of nature are often far sturdier that the ones we create ourselves. 

A long time ago Disney created a lovely video that explored the intersection of patterns, both natural and human.  If you have a half an hour, you can watch it.  Donald Duck in MathMagic Land is one of my all-time favorites.  Enjoy. 

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