Latent Lollygagger: Pattern Recognition

My brain loves looking for patterns.

Entryway to the Louvre, Paris

Finding patterns allows me to be one step ahead. It’s how I’m confident and assertive riding my bike or scooter through city traffic: I can predict what people are going to do, sense when someone is going to pull into my lane without noticing I’m there or do something erratic. It’s how I’m good at writing and editing after reading my childhood away: I can mimic patterns set out for me by experts. It’s how I can manage complex projects and juggle multiple deadlines: the underlying pattern and rhythm is natural and so I can focus on the details. It’s how I’m good at, and enjoy, crossword puzzles and jigsaw puzzles and logic games. It’s how I can spot whales and other wildlife, by detecting a change in movement. It was probably also the reason I could stare into the microscope at mutant worms and drugged malaria parasites to detect differences in how they looked, back in my academic lab days.

Patterns are the way my brain finds logic and order in seemingly random environments. Oh, like, you know, the world.

Of course, any pattern that involves other people will never hold true 100% of the time. They can also start contradicting themselves or having holes.

Floor of the Duomo, Milan, Italy

For example, I churn over why 70 million people voted for Trump. There are certainly many reasons, and it’s impossible to generalize about such a huge group of people, but my brain tries and tries to find a pattern, to find one big Reason, so that then I can understand reality and go about my life and also go about working to make the world better.

I think I can find The Reason if only I analyze enough, because I like patterns so much and they make me comfortable and give me an explanation, I then want everything to have a pattern so that I can be comfortable.

And when my brain finds a pattern, it doesn’t like being wrong. This is when I get indignant over something “just not making sense” or “I can’t believe they wouldn’t do it this way.”

It’s hard living through this time of a pandemic and confronting racism and division. I find patterns for my own life and then struggle to find patterns to explain how other people are making their decisions.

I don’t want to lose my ability to find patterns. I do want to stop my brain from concluding that if I can’t find a pattern, I must be a failure or wrong. Instead, I can acknowledge that if something doesn’t make sense, I must not have all the information. And then if something makes sense and I don’t agree with it, then there is potential for action.

And most of the time, if there’s no pattern, or I can’t understand something, it may mean I need to be okay with that and not force my own indignation on something I can’t understand. It doesn’t have to stop me from trying to understand, but there’s a difference between trying and forcing. Forcing means I make up a pattern in my head with incomplete information and then deny anything that contradicts that pattern. Forcing understanding leads to believing conspiracy theories and lies that happen to make us feel better rather than making us uncomfortable with the truth.

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