Why are patterns in nature so significant? Why does our human cognition hone in on patterns so readily? Why is it that we overlook some patterns and perceive others?
These are all questions I’ve pondered as a scientist, a botanist, an anthropologist, and an artist for many years.
When I was a father of young children I became aware that babies see patterns first, even before they can make out details. So a parent’s face is a recognizable pattern of lines, shapes, and light.
Since pattern is one of the first things we see it makes sense that we’re pattern-oriented throughout our lives. As a college professor I try to teach my subject within a pattern of ideas. I think it makes more sense to teach in context, making connections whenever possible, than just teaching factoids about science.
So one reason patterns are so important is that they are connected to the core of human visual cognition. This seems to make sense in a design context, since our designed environments, whether gardens, sculpture, parks, buildings, furniture, clothing, or cities, are an outgrowth of our thought process.
Patterns are also important because they teach us about nature. Once we discern the right patterns we can make conclusions about relationships in the living world.
Sometimes the patterns are easy to detect. For example, all monocot flowers are built in multiples of three:
Sometimes patterns are harder to detect. For example, the series of helices that comprise reproductive structures are found throughout the gymnosperms and angiosperms:
And sometimes patterns are “hidden,” either too small to detect without instrumentation (like DNA), or too subtle for our everyday observations.
My goal as a botanist and designer has been to detect these subtle patterns and learn from them.
Lots more to talk about on this topic. I would love to hear your comments.