Cocaine for the Mind

Of Stuff and Patterns

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Fractal of Mandelbrot Set. Sourced by Wikimedia Commons.

Patterns are what are recognized in the universe. No one would be able to imagine how to identify an object, “stuff”, without recognizing the pattern associated with it. If one knows how a pencil looks like, and one sees another object that looks like a pencil after detecting similar attributes between the objects—a pattern—one might assume the second object is a pencil as well. Patterns are not merely checkerboards and quilts—patterns, in a sense, are everything. They make everything what it is. An, perhaps extreme, analogy would be that patterns are to the Higgs field as “stuff” is to fundamental particles; patterns are what give “stuff” its meaning, just as the Higgs field gives fundamental particles their mass. Patterns are axiomatic in the universe, even more especially when regarding human cognition, since it’s all humans have between themselves and the “real” universe. The concepts of deduction, induction, association, reverse engineering—all come from pattern analysis. To the human brain, patterns are an intrinsic part of the universe, just as is 1+1=2, E=mc², and the speed of light in a vacuum being c (which, by the way, are all patterns in and of themselves).

Firstly, there are two extremely important concepts to understand. The first is that organisms are a product of their evolution, and as such, are limited by it. Just as humans cannot see ultraviolet light, as insects can, or hear higher frequencies of sound, as bats can, they have a greater capacity for noticing patterns than their less-capable animal cousins. The second is that, due to this limitation, human understanding of the universe is inherently crippled by it; there is an inherent bias in being a human.

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Julia fractal. Sourced by Wikimedia Commons.

There are also two fundamental terms to be dealt with: The first is “stuff”—the second is “pattern”. “Stuff” is possibly the most generic term describing the existential that there is, which is good. The second word, “pattern”, describes (for lack of a better term) everything. “Stuff” is what “patterns” can stick to. You don’t know “stuff”. You can’t know “stuff”. To observe “stuff” without a pattern would be looking at a shapeless mass—but even that is a terribly incorrect statement to make, since even a “shapeless mass”, mentally—visually—has a shape. Truly shapeless mass is incomprehensible, just as as color you can’t imagine is incomprehensible. However, you can know its pattern, and through it then come to know an object.

Regarding the basic idea of the premise, patterns are differences in something (“stuff”) and being able to apply the differences as a particular rule, of a particular paradigm.

There is no such thing as mono information. The smallest amount of information must be binary—at least according to what our evolved brains think. Simply put, this is because, in order to be information, there must exist delineation between signals in order to create…a pattern. You cannot use a string of 1s as information. It would be, not just intelligible, but nonsense, for all parts of the string would be equal, therefore unable to describe anything except its own lack of description.


One could, however, separate them with a space, thus delineating and creating the possibility to transmit information.

11111111 11 111111 1111 1 11111

What one uses to delineate between signals is arbitrary. Instead of using spaces, one could use zeros. As well, the language used, or number of 1s and 0s used to comprise information, is as well arbitrary.


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Julia fractal. Sourced by Wikimedia Commons.

A line of 1s could be considered “stuff”, while the 0s is the “pattern”. In some sense, a string of 1s could contain the information to describe how to bake delicious cake, but without a delineating factor to separate signals it would be impossible to know it; it would be simply noise. Patterns are the adjectives, whilst “stuff” are the nouns—a red car without the red is not a red car. A car without the car is not a car.

Observing different organisms, one is able to better understand what pattern perception is. There does exist a gray area within this subject, unfortunately—for example, jellyfish are able to sense the world around them, yet they have no brain. Many plants, as well, can identify patterns: Where the sun’s location is in the sky and being able to follow it as it paths across it. Where molecular and pattern identification via chemistry—without intellectual input—begins and where intellectual, cognitive pattern identification ends is a doctoral thesis in itself.

Humans have a famous obsession for attempting to find patterns where there are none. The face of Jesus on…something…is a classic example. In fact, one of the most common attempts of pattern recognition in noise (noise meaning lack of information) would be seeing human faces where there are none. A face on Mars. A face on a mountain. A face on a cloud—and this is where it ties with, and where the bias begins; the evolution of the human brain. The human brain has evolved especially to recognize human faces and, specifically (or especially) emotional displays it performs. As social creatures, it presented an evolutionary advantage in being able to better understand what one’s fellow troop member was thinking. Humans didn’t evolve to understand a dog’s or tiger’s facial characteristics, nor swim under the sea, nor fly in the air. Humans didn’t evolve to do or understand many things, though the capacity is indeed there due to coincidental factors; we can swim in the sea unaided, and we can think intelligently enough to create flying machines. However, for all capacities that are there that formed coincidentally, there are orders of magnitude more capacities that humans, unfortunately, do not possess—ones easily noticed would be the lack of ability to see beyond visual light, or lack of ability to breathe underwater. But what if our brains were somehow able to be twice the size—or, if the idea of a grotesquely shaped head is unattractive and unappealing—what if our brains had twice the number of neural connections? What if there were no corpus callosum, but the brain was one, solid, contiguous unit? What if….

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Julia and Mandelbrot Fractals

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Mandelbrot set fractal. Sourced by Wikimedia Commons.

There is a wonder when dealing with fractals, and that is the wonder of unlimited pattern recognition. We have all zoomed in using Google Earth…and zoomed in, and zoomed in, and zoomed in, until we couldn’t zoom in any more. The pleasure derived from recognizing the patterns that appeared, as they appeared, was a joy. And what if one could do that…forever? The idea of infinity is intriguing to many, for an assortment of reasons—though mainly innate human want. We want. And how we want it.

And fractals present this. They are a never-ending repetition of patterns. If there were any combination of two things that could be as tantalizing as sex and food, it’s pattern recognition and infinity—and fractals fully embody that combination. By adding color to fractals, i.e. by assigning numbers a color, the aesthetic dimension of fractal art is exponentially raised with spectacular results.

Fractals are aesthetically pleasing due to the human mind’s constant vigilance for finding patterns, whether it is in the most simple pattern of the golden spiral with its golden ratio, to the more intricate Mandelbrot set (named after Benoit Mandelbrot) and it’s endlessly complex branches and beads. Human intelligence and ingenuity comes from pattern recognition, and, as being highly visual creatures, their eyesight, while famously not the “best” of the animal kingdom, is relied on far, far more than their other senses. Fractals are the ultimate manifestation of a visual pattern, for they are an infinitely repeating pattern. The universe being, or seemingly being, finite, due to human comprehension being finite, and the human propensity to search for and analyze patterns, creates the luring attraction towards fractals and their infinity—fractals seemingly to be the ultimate form of, and to some, with the exception of the human face, the most attractive forms of patterns—somehow existing in this finite universe, being comprehended by a finite mind.

Mandelbrot set fractal. Sourced by Wikimedia Commons



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