fundamental questions

These are some fundamental questions, probably without a definitive answer, but worth to be discussed:

Where do patterns come from?
What makes a pattern interesting?
What are the limits of pattern perception (at which scale or how we perceive/measure them)
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The first question is the most exciting for me. It loops with the third one, as both connect to animal perception and the evolution of pattern processing in human neurobiology. There are many ways to tackle what makes patterns interesting, but in the perspective of the evolution of pattern perception/recognition/production, there is at least the huge gap between the variety of ways patterns are put to use in contemporary society and the huge periods of time that have to be taken into account regarding the evolution of the neural abilities they presuppose.


Yes, i think in this topic there is a lot of to animal perception and the evolution of pattern processing in human neurobiology. I’ve trying to find references there are some in chapter 11 The musical spheres of consciousness of this book but I will to take a second read and see if there’s something that is worth to be discussed.


Hi al, first post from me here! - but we’ve been working with a lot of researchers who are looking into the evolution of patterns, for example this butterfly game where an edible species evolves to look like a toxic one as a side effect of a predators perception. In this case each component of these butterflies wing pattern has been linked to a specific gene sequence, so the biological basis is well understood.

One of the things that I find refreshing working with biologists is the total lack of anthropocentrism - they see our pattern understanding as just another species doing the same thing.


I love the game!

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Hey sorry coming to this late - have been preoccupied with writing and funding applications…

  • Where do patterns come from?

I enjoyed the explanation from “Is God a Geometer” - pattern happens when a force is applied to a symmetry, so that it ‘breaks’ and a new, more complex symmetry emerges. But as a live coder I tend towards an human-centric view… A pattern is away of making, or a systematic activity that is perceived in its results… But then I recently read Lorenz’s definition of chaos: “When the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future.” … that seems true of patterns as well, at least when they come from more involved algorithms… If you have some notation for a pattern and change some small part of it, that might have large, unpredictable results… But I don’t know too much about chaos theory.

  • What makes a pattern interesting?

As an algorithmic musician or a weaver, I think patterns are especially interesting when I don’t understand them yet, or am in the process of understanding them. This is why I enjoy improvising music so much, and am so terrible at finishing releases. I just want to make and understand new patterns all the time. For example I recently tried weaving this simple up/down structure:

That looks like tesselated pluses.

When I tried weaving that with alernating white and blue warp (vertical) and weft (horizontal) threads though it looked like this:


That doesn’t look much like pluses, and the back looked like this:


So I think that this weird deterministic yet unpredictable relationship that throws up endless puzzles is what makes pattern interesting… That point where you by understanding and formalising something you create a whole new world of unknowns, and you realise that you don’t understand it at all…

  • What are the limits of pattern perception (at which scale or how we perceive/measure them)

Well I guess at one extreme, a pseudo-random number generator is a pattern, e.g.:

a = 16807;
m = 2147483647;
seed = (a * seed) mod m;
random = seed / m;

Fairly simple (e.g. low komolgorov complexity) but designed to create a pattern beyond our perception.

At the other end of the spectrum I guess there’s a uniform surface, which is symmetrical in every direction but also totally mundane and not perceivable as pattern…


That’s a computer vision engineers job

I relate to most of the answers here, but would like to add my own take on the questions:

Patterns and, in general, forms seem closely related and, for the sake of an argument, I would identify them: they replicate, evolve and mutate. The general question of where or how forms themselves came to be in the first place is probably within what Don Juan (in Carlos Castaneda’s books) called “the unknowable” (which is different from “what we don know yet”).

I think a pattern is interesting when we realised it. Patterns can be found almost everywere, but not everything presents itself to us as a pattern. This realization makes a microcosm-macrocosm connection which seems to be “interesting”.

I wouldn’t add much more to Yaxus answer on the third question. Too much simmetry in a pattern, or too little, trivializes it. It’s like the most ordered space and the most disordered space coincide pattern-wise. The complete order of “the void” (where nothing is out of place) and a full entropic chaos (where all pattern is diluted) are alike.

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All the answers to the thread are indeed very enriching!
Just to bounce off the question of symmetry, one of my arts teachers once told the class something like this: “symmetry consists in dividing by a certain factor the number of decisions one takes in creating a piece”.

So perhaps the “symmetry effect” could be an interesting approach to defining what you meant by “too little symmetry”? Too much symmetry, for sure, evokes suffocating…

As a last element, here’s one article by White and Foulds from my list of prehistory-related texts. It relates to symmetry in prehistoric (acheulean) handaxes, and you’d probably find the title intriguing:
Symmetry is its own reward: on the character and significance of Acheulean handaxe symmetry in the Middle Pleistocene
As a bonus, one article by Mark W. Moore related specifically to the emergence of recursion in the cognitive abilities of prehistoric populations: Hominin Stone Flaking and the Emergence of ‘Top-down’ Design in Human Evolution

Hoping to discuss all these topics here soon!


Never heard anything like this before, I’m still trying to distil it to my understanding. I guess is something like the “higher order objects and process” approach to composition subject of this other thread . I usualy go by the geometric notion of the concept as “a transformation that preserves a structure”.

Thanks for the sharing those texts, I’ll try to look into them. This antropological-historical-evolutionary approach is definitely worth considering for exploring this questions regarding pattern ontology.

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Yes it would be great to discuss prehistorical algorithmic patterns @benjamin! Feel free to start a dedicated thread. BTW the latter link needs a subscription/purchase, if you have access it would be great if you could share the pdf. Ideally you could do that via the group on zotero. (Hm, I should get together some general instructions for doing that…)

I find your art teacher’s definition of symmetry interesting too! I guess if you add mirror symmetry across the page then that potentially reduces the number of decisions by half, or glide symmetry by a factor depending on the number of repetitions…


Getting back to this thread months later! @yaxu, I could only read the abstract for the Hominin Stone Flaking and the Emergence of ‘Top-down’ Design in Human Evolution article, still looking for solutions (I’ve only been in academia for a year, so I still haven’t found how my institution solves this type of issue). I read other papers by Moore and others which I summarized in an article for Sigbovik 2021.

I didn’t know about the term “glide symmetry” but it’s nice to learn about it, it seems there must be a number of different nuances and variations on how content manipulation can be associated with symmetry (thinking of Douglas Hofstadter’s famous Gödel Escher Bach book, in which palindromic and nested logics are associated - I never got round to reading it, but I’m convinced it could be a relevant read in this context. Another associated/ classical (and in a sense PK Dick-related) reference would be, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes.
The debate among Prehistorians about the function of symmetry (does it have functional/symbolic value or a mere epiphenomenon of technical evolution?) is breathtaking and leads directly to questioning the way humans developed “advanced” (or nested) thought structures. I will definitely create a thread about this, I’d love to hear what others think of it and discuss it. I must learn how to use Zotero too, so it’s a good opportunity to add a neat bibliography!

@ninioArtillero Would you say this definition of symmetry, “a transformation that preserves a structure”, also viable for fractal patterning? I’m wondering whether symmetry and recursion are related here, and also how to avoid considering symmetry as a first advancement in the elaboration of recursive thinking.


I managed to find a PDF, and added it to a new ‘prehistoric’ category in the zotero group. I’ve been reorganising the categories a fair bit towards a general bibliography around algorithmic patterns.


Amazing! Thank you very much for this. I’ll start adding references to the zotero group soon in the prehistoric category, a lot of what I found was relevant for pattern studies ; the algorithmic element seems like an interesting frontier in the realm of prehistoric ethnology. When I have time I will also run search for existing approaches of non-flaking oriented speculative research (including weaving, leather workflow, prehistoric bead necklaces and “prehistoric jewellery”.


The “structure definition” is related to the Erlangen program which is a research program on geometry related to the “simetric” relation of objects and their transformations. I’ve seen it applied to non-euclidian geometries, galois theory and non-conmutative geometry (an algebraic generalization of geometry allowing very weird kind of point-less but structurally rich spaces).

The idea must be viable to fratal geometry as well, but I would just be speculating about a way to generalize it and relate it to recursion. This is aslo context sensitive: Given different fractals their simetries (i.e. transformations that preserve them) could differ.

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