On the Unreasonable Effectiveness of Patterns

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0. Intro ☕

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
~ Omar Khayyám (Persian mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and poet)

I have this recurring dream in which I’m kneeling down and writing—nay, inscribing—beautiful mathematical equations on the pages of a magisterial volume that I find flung open before me. The equations themselves are in closed form, describing aspects of a mathematical model, inscribed—nay, chiseled—in acutely silhouetted calligraphy inspired by the venerable Maxwell’s Equations.

During such dreams, I find the passage of time falling by the wayside. And though you may spy a time-keeping instrument in the pic coming right up, time-keeping is not on my mind; it is patterns that I am—and soon you, too, will be—after.

Speaking of dreams, though, and that, too, from the vantage point of patterns, I should mention in passing that renowned catalog of sorts, assembled by none other than Sigmund Freud, and known as The Interpretation of Dreams.

So dreamers, don’t you stop dreaming.

But for now, we’ll leave such ethereal pursuits to the time-honored tales that are known to unravel only on a dark and stormy night or two. So yeah, the patterns we’ll be chasing are far less elusive and evanescent than the stuff of dreams.

Anyone remember our skirmishes with Incipient the last time around? Yes, we need to go deeper.

Let’s dig in.

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1. Tick Tock, Exploring Patterns Ad Hoc 🔎

A man’s interest in the world is only the overflow from his interest in himself. When you are a child your vessel is not yet full; so you care for nothing but your own affairs. When you grow up, your vessel overflows; and you are a politician, a philosopher, or an explorer and adventurer. In old age the vessel dries up: there is no overflow: you are a child again.
~ George Bernard Shaw

Regular readers who continue to converge—by means such as stochastic gradient descent or regula falsi—onto our blogging regions here find to their continued delight that we just don’t do any boring stuff here. The way my readers and I see it, life is too short to mull over the quotidian. And our foray this time, into patterns, will not be an exception, amirite?

First, though, I need to get something off my chest: As someone who strongly identifies with the common man and woman—lest any of the talk around here, heaven forbid, even begin to smack of privilege—as someone who has had the privilege of attending (excellent) state universities, I wish to reassure readers that I’m one of you. Whew, that confession (aka disclosure) sure felt good!

Okay now, and regardless of your persuasion and sensibilities, I hope you’ll agree with Oscar Wilde’s assessment to “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.

But I digress.

Here’s where we are headed: We will, together, shortly trek through the land of patterns in a way that’s not been done before. One more time, and all together now—especially so if you checked out the essay served here last time—we agreed that creativity is a renewable resource. And ain’t it?

Hey, what’s up with that cluster of gossamer, oh-so-fragile Turkey Tails mushrooms appearing into sight?

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2. Exploring Intersections And Gaps 🔦

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.
~ EM Forster (in Howards End)

Uneasily eying that bunch of gossamer mushrooms for a few moments—as would befit one who can’t tell the harmless kind from the poisonous—even a troglodyte like yours truly can discern in their oh-so-elegant arrangement the underlying theme of “intersections and gaps.” Check how those mushrooms’ jagged, ragged, and outwardly burgeoning, chocolatey edges overlap, intersect, even as they expose gaps?

Reminds me of a fascinating, though brief, chat recently where I heard the view that creativity can be likened to pattern-matching in that cultivating the ability to pore over incongruous data (from disparate sources) and finding patterns in that data can very well lead one to identify intersections and gaps.

It is that gripping perspective which has, in turn, served as the fuel and fire of this exploratory essay.

This stuff—I say we take one more wistful look at those near-diaphanous chocolate-and-vanilla hued mushrooms—is ripe for exploring, Kit Kat though it’s chocolatey stems definitely are not made of. Shall we put on our mushroom-hunting hats?

First, though, we go pattern-hunting; mushroom-hunting will have to wait.

Sorry to dash those dreams.

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3. A Preview Of Things To Come 📖

There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.
~ Graham Greene (in The Power and the Glory)

With the throat clearing behind us—you know, having talked some about the stuff of dreams, their linkages to patterns, and in remembrance of things past—we’ve got a bird’e eye view of the terrain coming right up for you.

Here, then, are the signposts for the terrain that follows them:

  • We Dive Right In! 🏊
  • The Pattern On The Stone 🗿
  • The Science Of Patterns 🎨
  • Are Patterns Transformative? 🐌
  • Pattern Recognition Goes To Town 🚀
  • Patterning Our Lives After Analogies 🎭
  • Pattern Matching Since Democritus 🔭
  • Why Humans Hunger For Patterns (And Meaning) 🍔
  • Mining Patterns (From Incongruous Data) ⛏
  • Disparate Sources, Unifying Patterns ⛩
  • Design Patterns, Too, Have Their Day 🎉
  • A Stack Of Patterns 🍰
  • Patterns For Creativity And Productivity 🌋
  • Patterns Everywhere, Untethered, Yet Moored ⛵
  • Flowing (Carving), Rising (Towering), and Scintillating (Showering)🌟
  • Penguins A-Marching To Escarpment Ahoy 🏃
  • I Had Kneeled To Inscribe Patterns… 🔬

With out eyes set on some fun exploration, let’s you and I dive right in.

Shall we?

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4. We Dive Right In! 🏊

Arc of a diver effortlessly, my mind in sky, and when I wake up
Daytime and nighttime, I feel you near
Warm water, breathing, she helps me here
~ Steve Winwood (lyrics from Arc Of A Diver)

At long last, we now have nothing to fear but fear itself—surely your path has crossed at least one of those red-and-white, striped stickers with the shibboleth “NO FEAR” shouting in all caps. Take comfort, too, in the knowledge that we are leagues away from the environs of the violent thunderstorm that had raged one dark and stormy night in Cape Fear. That was one chilling movie; gave me nightmares for weeks. I wouldn’t watch it again, even if I were paid to do so.

(Sheesh, that movie and others of its ilk, such as the thriller Silence of the Lambs, just ain’t my thing.)

Goodbye to that thing of the past; it bites the dust. And there it stays.

We’re good.

All you and I have to do now is follow the arc of the narrative.

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5. The Pattern On The Stone🗿

We want to look beyond the surface structure of language, beyond the patterns that appear in word frequencies, and get at the underlying meaning. From that, we want to be able to build the internal logical models that humans would create and use to reason and communicate. We want to ensure a system that produces a compatible intelligence.
~ David Ferucci (the engineer extraordinaire who assembled and led the IBM Watson team which defeated the greatest Jeopardy! players of all time)

What happened here, I asked myself, and what chain of events it was that led to the pattern on the stone finally getting divulged? From that departure point, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to recall the soulful lyrics of piano maestro Elton John when he had voiced a similar question in his song, asking

What happened here
As the New York sunset disappeared?
I found an empty garden among the flagstones there
~ Elton John (lyrics from Empty Garden)

So let’s start—and ignoring for now that giddy gopher who you’ll note in the pic above has commandeered a rather fuzzy gopher mobile—with a brief dip into an elegant book by the name of The Pattern on the Stone: The Simple Ideas that Make Computers Work by accomplished computer scientist Danny Hillis, who studied AI under Marvin Minsky and was at one time a protege of the late and great Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman after he (i.e. Hillis) had co-founded Thinking Machine Corporation. 

The stone that Hillis is referring to—somewhat obliquely through the enigmatic title of his book, The Pattern on the Stone—is silicon wafer (aka computer chip), and the patterns etched on the chip as well as the programs that instruct the computer to do this or that and how they (i.e. the instructions) are generated according to a few basic, easily explainable principles.

Computers are arguably the most complex human creation ever. Yet, in a fundamental sense, they are remarkably simple—obediently carrying out orders, ours for now—thanks to the wizardry of the pattern etched into the stone.

But what came before computers that enabled computers to gain purchase in the first place? Some scaffolding had to be present. So yeah, what machinery, what perfect storm, was already in place that enabled computers to burst into existence?

Hint: That subject—the “machinery” that I just referred to—begins with the first letter of the name of my former state (Minnesota.)

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6. The Science Of Patterns 🎨

Mathematics is the study of patterns: of things that repeat and recur in different contexts, of structures and relations that are common to different fields and situations. Mathematics seeks regularities in the behavior of natural and artificial systems and so it is the abstract study of things that are understandable to us.
~ Dominic Widdows (in his remarkable book entitled Geometry and Meaning)

Patterns are everywhere, oh everywhere, and in any subject you care to name, if you know how—and where—to look for them. Nowhere is this truer than for the queen of sciences: Math has been called the science of patterns.

Fancy that.

And if you think I’m making this up, I invite you to cast your gaze upward to the square-center of the pic above, where, for crying out loud, you’ll see a book by that name: Mathematics As a Science of Patterns by Michael D. Resnik (Oxford University Press).

And not only is that fine Resnick book supporting (1) a blue-and-red, spade-wielding Pokémon figurine, and (2) an elegant, London souvenir mug, it (i.e. the Resnick book) is doing double duty by also serving as a (figurative and literal) bridge between two broad areas of math—pure (math) on the left, and impure, excuse me, applied (math) on the right.

With a setup like that—not that you have to follow me along as I sweat the small stuff in setting up cameos like the one above—it only stands to reason that we might as well have some fun, such as having our Resnick book serve yet another purpose (its third, and counting, thereby monotonically veering in the direction of stretching our math ability to its limits, monotonic or otherwise).

Are you tracking me? Am I tracking me?

(This is getting so meta.)

Woohoo! The science of patterns—or at least the book by that name—is also helping our Pokémon pal and its inseparable cohort (the London mug) whisk over for a slide, taking advantage of the (relative) lopsidedness of the tomes on which the said book squarely rests. Evidently, the purists have a whole lot more to say (in The Princeton Companion to Mathematics) than their applied counterparts (in The Princeton Companion to Applied Mathematics).

The proof of how this came to be so is left as an exercise for the reader. (Want to hazard a guess about how many times I was on the receiving end of hand-waving back in my school days?)

Joking aside, and lest you think I’m partisan to any (one) branch of math, I have at various times found myself torn between the austere, Dickinsonian beauty of pure math on the one hand, and the obscene usefulness of applied math (especially linear algebra) on the other.

Forsooth I had begun this section with a flourish, boldly heralding that patterns are everywhere, provided that you care—more like, dare—to look for them. Speaking of which, especially the part having to do with daring, what in the world is that upcoming Easter Island statue doing on my (faux) mahogany desk?

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7. Are Patterns Transformative? 🐌

I would love to change the world, but they won’t give me the source code.
~ Anonymous

I’ve heard that one before (about not having access to the source code, and that, too, in this day and age!) For crying out loud, anyone can now get a free account on Github. So whoever you are—behind that “Anonymous” facade of a moniker with which you’ve betokened yourself—please get your act together. Thank you.


In all seriousness, that lovely, ebony book standing bolt upright on my expansive (definitely not expensive) mahogany desk in the pic above—sandwiched between the Easter Island stone statue and the AI books with the connect-the-dots-brain-based enneagram ivory dust jacket—has this hilarious remark by its author about how “Easter Island in the South Pacific is famous mainly—let’s face it, only—for the large stone statues that were built there many centuries ago by the islanders“.

Okay, even seriousness aside for now, including that zinger above from David Deutsch—at once sardonic, witty, and delightful as it is—here’s the thing: Our uniquely human patterns, as Deutsch argues in his remarkably elegant book called The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World, have in them the genesis of an intimate connection between explaining the world and controlling it.

I don’t know about you, but any time I see the word “control”—take it from someone who took two semesters’ worth of Control Engineering theory as an undergraduate back in the day—I have this knee-jerk reaction to start recalling Nyquist Diagrams (only Nyquil was quicker at making me sleepy), Root Locus Analysis (ugh, avoid those like a plague of locusts), and especially those pesky Bode Plots (decimating decibels and irresolvable logarithmic logjam which in their wake they brought) and whatnot, plus other forget-me-nots.

Digress, but I do. Yoda-style, too. Don’t I? Oh my!

But guess what? The ability to harness explanatory knowledge—and you really should look up Deutsch’s The Beginning of Infinity to fully grasp the nuances of the argument—gives us humans the power to transform nature. Pause for a few moments.

Let that sink in (the notion of gaining the power to mutate Mother Nature.)


Remember, though, that universal laws are the “limiting” factor that govern what we humans run up against in our quest to remake the world. Coincidentally, my coworkers and I were discussing exactly this line of thinking recently, during a book club meeting.

Great stuff.

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8. Pattern Recognition Goes To Town 🚀

Make no mistake about it: Computers process numbers, not symbols. We measure our understanding (and control) by the extent to which we can arithmetize an activity.
~ Alan J. Perlis

Check that dapper figure above in authentic South Korean attire, complete with a gold medallion embossed across its red tunic, looking real sharp (Should you wish to get to know him more intimately, look no further than some fun we had together in exploring The Soul of Edge Computing as well as when we together pored over Microservices In Small Pieces.)

Closer to the subject at hand—patterns, in general, and my recently becoming aware of the fascinating view that “creativity can be likened to pattern-matching,” in particular—and if you recall how we had uneasily eyed that burgeoning bunch of gossamer mushrooms, you know the chocolatey kind,  we are now delving into a realm with which I have (way) more than a passing familiarity as well as academic training: Machine Learning (ML) and Pattern Recognition (PR).

See how far we’ve come already in our pattern-hunting trek? Sigh, that mushroom-hunting journey will (still) have to wait. Sorry to keep your hopes dashed (Hit me up later, though, if your heart desires such a journey.)

Since we’ve already broached the theme of how (obscenely) practical linear algebra is—back when we were having some fun with our slip-sliding Pokemon chap, the one with its London souvenir mug in tow, the one who found himself getting whisked across the bridge spanning the chasm between pure math and applied math—let’s keep building on that momentum, shall we?


And lest your heart began sinking at the prospect (specter?) of a whale-like paragraph (or two) coming our way, let me assure you that no such tidal wave comes our way. All I’ve got coming up for us is a breadcrumb trail (Look Ma, no hands!) by way of a far more leisurely—almost epistolary—exploration of pattern-hunting.

So yes, to witness how pattern recognition, in the guise of the fancier-sounding phrase “Deep Learning” (DL), has gone to town over the past decade and a half, and, even more importantly, how you, too, can ride that wave, I can do no better than share a breadcrumb trail of my own:

Between the material at the above-mentioned three coordinates, I have a hunch that you’ll find plenty to keep you engaged for a while. (As a next step, and to get your hands on the bits and bytes, I can highly recommend that you check out the online Machine Learning course offered by Coursera, which comes complete—at its completion, appropriately enough—with a certificate for a Stanford University class taught by Professor Andrew Ng, who was formerly with Google and, later, with Baidu and Drive.ai or something.)

We could delve a bit, too, into my own graduate school work involving Pattern Recognition, which I did many moons ago (my research, thesis area, the back-propagation network, and stuff like that while earning my MS). But that might be pushing your patience, and cool though I think that work was.


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9. Patterning Our Lives After Analogies 🎭

The mathematical facts worthy of being studied are those which, by their analogy with other facts, are capable of leading us to the knowledge of a physical law.
~ Henri Poincare

Hmm… I’m beginning to see a pattern: Recall how we came to learn of the obscene usefulness of applied math as wielded by its mavens versus the austere and rarefied atmosphere occupied by practitioners of pure math. Is it too much of a stretch to assert that purity and obscenity do not commingle, and never the twain shall meet?

That analogy may be imprecise and my proposed pattern may hold only so much water, but here’s the thing: When we turn our attention to the relevance and pervasiveness of math throughout the fabric of science, I can’t help but draw parallels to, and resonate with, the marvelously erudite and approachable essay by the Hungarian-American theoretical physicist, engineer, and mathematician—boy, he must’ve been one busy guy!—Eugene Wigner. That essay is entitled The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences. Don’t miss it.

But recalling the claim that beauty is more than skin deep, how reasonable is it to pattern our lives on analogies? And while we may live by the swathe of metaphors that swirl around in our lives—I, for one, never metaphor I didn’t like—does it behoove us to take this a step further and wager our very lives on analogies? Plus taking a cue from the book standing upright in the pic above (Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking by Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander), how do we go from surfaces to their essences, peeling back the layers of abstraction, layer by layer, onion-like?

So many rapid-fire questions, and you’re like, “I don’t know, Akram—you tell us!


Remember one thing, one thing only, and everything will be clear: “All that glitters is not gold.” Put another way—and you never heard me utter a non sequitur, now did you?—don’t trust everything you see.

Running with that gold metaphor, and should you wish to dig deeper into the ore of analogies, look no farther than the book standing upright in the pic above.

Meanwhile, the jury is still out on the reasonableness of patterning our lives on analogies. And were it not for my fear of mallet-toting mobs—presumably comprised chiefly of those who’ve also been on the receiving end of hand-waving during their school days—I would have added in departing, “The task of parametrizing the reasonableness, or otherwise, of such patterning is left as an exercise for the reader.

But this ain’t my first rodeo, to quote the memorable words of a friend; once bitten, twice shy, that’s why—things go awry when you get conked on the head (with a mallet) one time too many.

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10. Pattern Matching Since Democritus 🔭

I felt a clearing in my mind
As if my brain had split;
I tried to match it, seam by seam,
But could not make them fit.
The thought behind I strove to join
Unto the thought before;
But sequence raveled out of reach
Like balls upon a floor.
~ Emily Dickinson (in her poem The Lost Thought)

Nearing the end of our trek, we feel entitled to poetic license as well as a dollop of philosophy that can only be had by commingling the past with the present. Specifically, we now hark back to the days of the hilarious philosopher named Democritus, whose hilarity led to his world fame and renown as the “laughing philosopher”. Go figure.

Speaking of going to figure things out—cheekily tying this all back in with the Gopher mascot in the pic above, my atrophying trophy of sorts from a tech conference I attended in San Diego in 2019—I realize that I’ve been bold enough to stand upright not one but two books in that pic, amirite?

The first of those two delves into the guts of an unmatched pattern-matching tool with roots in the world of programming—loved and loathed in equal parts—and which goes by the plain enough name of “regular expressions.” Hah, match that!

As for the second of those two featured books, that one endearingly commandeers quantum computing, taking it one heartbeat at a time since days of yore, days that bore the imprint of Democritus—you guessed it, the hilarious philosopher we ran into just a minute ago—bringing the narrative arc right up to and even past the era of Mr. T (Alan Turing, of course).

The choice is yours: Venture forth and explore pattern-matching with or without regular expressions, with or without trawling into quantum computing. Totally up to you.

Either way, don’t forget to take a second look at the haunting and ethereal poem atop this section, the one by Emily Dickinson: I must confess that the subject of software concurrency—coordinating computer programs when more than one task can start and complete in overlapping time periods—rose to the fore of my mind as I selected those ineffable verses of Dickinsonian poetry.

But yes, I do digress.

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11. Why Humans Hunger For Patterns (And Meaning) 🍔

Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty—a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show.
~ Bertrand Russell (British mathematician and philosopher)

With a deep statement like the one adorning this section—”Why Humans Hunger For Patterns (And Meaning)”—I hope you’re not surprised to see not one but two books (plus actually a third, supine one hiding in plain sight) make an appearance. And never you mind that whopper of a burger up there in the marquee announcing this section’s title.

The layered burger sure is a sight to behold. But you’re not that hungry.

Or are you?

Hey, before you dash for the nearest fast-food drive-through, can we get some stuff down?

Stuff such as the first featured book, named Geometry and Meaning, by Dominic Widdows (Stanford University’s Center for the Study of Language and Information), and which is a delectable treat, marrying the worlds of language, math, and search with a delightful geometrical slant.

And the second one is named The Ravenous Brain: How the New Science of Consciousness Explains Our Insatiable Search for Meaning, by Daniel Bor (Basic Books). If you want to explore, among other things, the role that our working memory plays in our lives, look no further! Human hunger for finding patterns and meaning-making, too, is tackled splendidly.

As for the third one—Mathematics As a Science of Patterns by Michael D. Resnik (Oxford University Press)—I invite you to stay tuned; more on that one coming up soon.


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12. Mining Patterns (From Incongruous Data) ⛏

The myriad past, it enters us and disappears. Except that within it, somewhere, like diamonds, exist the fragments that refuse to be consumed. Sifting through, if one dares, and collecting them, one discovers the true design.
~ James Salter (in A Sport and a Pastime)

Look at that! Our Pokemon pal in his nerdy red jumper, still toting his bright yellow spade, and he sure has the audacity to wink and grin at the same time. Didn’t they outlaw that or something? Anyhow, having recently witnessed our pal’s escapades—surely you haven’t forgotten about his daring slides across that bookish bridge spanning two distinct math terrains?—authorities are keeping an eye on him, alerting the kingdom far and wide.

Such an alert, in fact, you can spy if you squint at the upright, olive ruler flanking our Pokemon pal above: Notice how it says (that, too, in all caps) that the surface is “NON-SKID”?

OK pal, no more capers now. You stay put. No more back-breaking slides on my mahogany desk. You got that, buddy? Leave that sort of thing to other, more-athletic folks. Someone like Megan Rapinoe. And someone like you, of course, dear Reader. I sure don’t need any OSHA lawsuits on my hands; like others, I, too, got enough on my hands these days, dealing with the unique challenges of COVID-19 (Ever tried giving yourself a haircut? So yeah.)

Anyhow, turning now to the subject of how one can find patterns from disparate sources, which, in turn, can lead one to explore intersections and gaps—an original perspective to which I was recently introduced—is a subject which could have (in fact, has) filled books.

Gotta tell ya: That book which stands upright in the pic above—Machine Learning: A Probabilistic Perspective by Kevin P. Murphy (The MIT Press)—is pure eye candy. Don’t get me wrong: It’s got the heft to match the most hard-core, technical textbooks out there. But it’s so lavishly illustrated (to a fault, if you ask me, though nobody does that sort of thing much anymore) that you could be excused for gawking at the multifaceted way in which (ML) beauty is captured in its pages. Great stuff!

And as for the fine book specimen that lies supine, again, in the same pic—Patterns of Software: Tales from the Software Community by Richard Gabriel (Oxford University Press)—you’ll find nary a single picture (or drawing) adorning its pages. But… And this is a big but: It is razor-sharp with cutting insights (into where our programming community has been, as where we’re headed) like you will likely not find anywhere else. This guy is (was?) a hard-core Lisp hacker, belonging to the generational of one of my all-time programming heroes, Guy Steele.

But I digress.

And as I come out of the egress—check the scene coming up, evidently London town re-created right there on my mahogany desk—I spy a quaint, flaming-red telephone booth.

And the next thing I know, I find myself blurting out, “Operator, can you please place a telephone call for me?

This ain’t no scene out of The Matrix.

Yo, Neo.

Darn, he hung up (Methinks that villainous Cipher dude made Neo do that.)

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13. Disparate Sources, Unifying Patterns ⛩

The essence of the beautiful is unity in variety.
~ Felix Mendelssohn

But the sea change in the values and patterns of thinking of a whole community of thinkers,” so says David Deutsch in his erudite (and marvelously readable) book named The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World, “which brought about a sustained and accelerating creation of knowledge, happened only once in history, with the Enlightenment and its scientific revolution.”

Whether or not you peg the scientific revolution to the Enlightenment,  the value of patterns and the transformative nature shines through. Much, too much, to lend itself to condensing.

Let’s give it a shot, though, and see if we can tease out the essence of how disparate sources can, if properly approached, (eventually) yield unifying patterns.

Take, for instance, the case of circular reasoning. And I can do better than quote a fabulous passage from a newly published book—The Coevolution: The Entwined Futures of Humans and Machines by Edward Lee (The MIT Press)—in which we learn that “We cannot, however, apply introspection to understanding machines. We can’t even really apply introspection to understanding human beings other than ourselves, except by analogy“.

Here’s the passage itself:

What about higher-level cognitive functions, ones that we might associate with the word “intelligence”? Feedback has made AIs better at perception, classifying images, for example. This may take them a step toward intelligence, but, in the grand scheme of things, it is a baby step.

Crediting Hofstadter, Daniel Dennett says,

… the truly explosive advance … comes when the capacity for pattern recognition is turned in upon itself. The creature who is not only sensitive to patterns in its environment, but also sensitive to patterns in its own reactions to patterns in its environment, has taken a major step… The recent revolution in AI, fueled by the successes of machine learning, is due in no small part to the introduction of feedback.
~ Edward Lee (in The Coevolution: The Entwined Futures of Humans and Machines – The MIT Press)

Loved it.

And now please allow me to explain what that other, splendid book—The Best American Essays of the Century, edited by the wildly talented and uber-prolific Joyce Carol Oates—is doing in the same pic. It is, in a nutshell, home to essays patterned after the melting pot that is America.

Check it out. You won’t be disappointed.

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14. Design Patterns, Too, Have Their Day 🎉

You know you have achieved perfection in design, not when you have nothing more to add, but when you have nothing more to take away.
~ Antoine de Saint Exupery

Design patterns, oh, good old design patterns. Where would we be without them. Plus so much has been written about them that if I so much as start to squeak, I have the sneaking suspicion that I’ll be shown the door. Kind of like the Elton John joke where he claimed that as a youngster he used to get kicked out of the music room as soon as he started singing Ring a Ring o’ Roses.

But this is important stuff; no surprises then that not one or two, but three books stand tall (in the pic above) as they testify to how the elemental force of design patterns rocked our software industry. Right up there with a tsunami, albeit a benign one; a tsunami that nourished rather than demolished what lay in its path, regardless of the shores its waves crashed on. In other words, it was a tide—albeit a massive one—that lifted all boats unlike any other our industry had seen before, amirite?

In full candor, another dozen-plus books—on design patterns as well—are orbiting somewhere under the rooftop of my house. They all simply wouldn’t fit on my mahogany desk, which is why I didn’t even attempt to pluck them out of their orbital paths.

And since we were chatting about tsunamis, it gladdens my heart to witness two amigos riding some kind of tsunami—goodness, made up entirely of books!—yet not a drop of water is in sight.

Let’s check it.

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15. A Stack Of Patterns 🍰

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!””
He chortled in his joy.
~ Lewis Carroll (in his utterly serious poem entitled Jabberwocky)

So have we done it? That is, have we emulated the beamish boy who slays the terrifying Jabberwocky, apocryphal or otherwise, the one that Lewis Carroll had limned in the hilarious verses above? Put another way, have we sliced in half the Gordian Knot of comprehending patterns in all their varieties?

Oh my, we got another kind of Gordian Knot (of sorts) mushrooming and rising before us like a tidal wave!

And if isn’t the dynamic trio this time, with two of them riding that wave, and the one solemnly keeping vigil on ground:

  1. That slip-sliding Pokemon chap, our pal who could not be pried away from its cohort, the London souvenir mug
  2. Our ebullient gopher who’s evidently still very much in charge of that nifty gopher mobile.
  3. The dapper South Korean figurine, complete with his gold medallion and red tunic, looking sharp as ever.

I ask, oh yes, I do ask, “What kind of symbolism does our motley crew have up their sleeves?” Plus it’s only fair to inquire, “Which leitmotif lies in the lurch of that towering stack of books, lurking for unsuspecting passersby on whom to crash?” And last, but certainly not least, “Where…?!!

At that moment, the lights went out. The last thing I recall (before the lights went out) was a mallet-like projectile accelerating rapidly in the direction of my cranium. When I came to, I realized that the projectile, now lying beside me, was a mallet.

Clearly, my effusive line of questioning, endearing to its bone—oh-so nascent, too—was cut off prematurely upon not being received with quite the warmth that the line of questioning deserved.

Rubbing my bleary eyes, I groggily remember the care I had lavished on arranging that towering—though now-tottering—stack of books in a “foundational” way, meaning that at the base of it all would be a book about the science of patterns (math, pure and unsullied), above it, one on the stuff inside our cranium, on its shoulders (or back, if you wish to view it that way, with its spine demurely jutting outward toward us) standing (actually, sitting) the tome by Hofstadter on going from surfaces to their essences, and so on, as we ascend the stack—book by book—right up until we reach the shiny new book that’s a snapshot of our modern world, at least as much as its digital infrastructure (cloud computing and such) is concerned.

And with that, I say we call it a wrap, having valiantly slain the Jabberwocky. Let’s dial down and take a wok, walk, er, ewoksomething—over to the shores of those unfathomable seas: creativity and productivity.

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16. Patterns For Creativity And Productivity 🌋

This is why hackers give you such a baleful stare as they turn from their screen to answer your question. Inside their heads a giant house of cards is tottering.
~ Paul Graham (in Hackers & Painters)

Here’s the thing. Creativity and productivity are vast and labyrinthine subjects, so we can at best hope to make a tiny dent. Here’s my proposal:

With those two resources under your belt,  you may well find yourself transformed into a latter-day Leonardo da Vinci, in which case I implore you to remember yours truly, especially when you become rich and famous.


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17. Patterns Everywhere, Untethered, Yet Moored ⛵

Rowing in Eden!
Ah! the sea!
Might I but moor
Tonight in thee!
~ Emily Dickinson (in poem “VII,” from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson)

Everywhere, oh everywhere, untethered, yet moored. That’s the magic of patterns in all their varieties, great and small.

I do confess, though, that this section owes its existence to serving as a parking spot for those serene verses from perhaps the finest poet the world has witnessed so far.

To take up the vernacular, she be lightin’ the way for future generations of writers—those crafting verses of poetry as well as those crafting lines of prose—in a way no sista’ (or brutha’, for that matter) ever done before, amirite?

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18. Flowing (Carving), Rising (Towering), and Scintillating (Showering) 🌟

The scientific theory I like best is that the rings of Saturn are composed entirely of lost airline luggage.
~ Mark Russell

Another confession—regarding this penultimate section as well as the next—is in order.

In prepping this essay, I had assembled a boatload of pictures that I simply couldn’t bring myself to jettison off. Most of those pics—the ones peppering the sections appearing earlier this essay—thankfully found their homes.

As for the remaining handful, you guessed it: They were disconsolate, pining for a home. And home is where the heart is, amirite? So we came through with the art of the heart that is this ragtag collage.

And I had gone bleary eyed, just to get those edges, the jagged ones around the collage each—not to mention the pictures accompanying the earlier sections—serrated just right, oh-so-right; please don’t tell me you didn’t even notice.


Finally, sigh, and if you could please turn you gaze upward, just past the solemn scientific theory doubtless promulgated by a travel-weary (and possibly stranded) airline traveler. Yes, right there, that collage of three pictures. Starting from the leftmost one, and going clockwise:

  1. Notice the patterns those whorls make in the sand. Does that remind you of the magical feeling when you first saw tree rings?
  2. See that staid, red-brick building rising into the sky, encompassed by a more contemporary, steel-and-glass structure. Does the selfsame pattern perhaps remind you of how we encapsulate objects?
  3. The fiery streak lighting up the nighttime sky, illuminating the horizon or brightly down the benighted backdrop? Notwithstanding the coolness of the Doppler Effect—anyone remember the jarring change in pitch in a passing siren, or perhaps the redshift seen by astronomers?—does this pattern remind you of how the strength of a sound signal is strongest near its source, rarefying outward?

What is it that you say? “Hey Akram, can you, like, stop yammering  so we can at least enjoy the lovely collages in peace?“, I think I heard you say.

Darn. I’m outta here.


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19. Penguins A-Marching To Escarpment Ahoy 🏃

Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms you would never see the true beauty of their carvings.
~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Folks, my lips are sealed. From here on, it’s just you and the gorgeous collages.

I ain’t going near no railroad crossing, let alone that jaundiced sign for a penguin crossing. No sir, and no madam. Oh no.

And those intricate patterns carved by the waters—or was it the wind?—which you’ll surely spy in the escarpment above,  don’t even get me started

Yo, what’s up with those bright-green, feathery fronds ahoy?

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20. I Had Kneeled To Inscribe Patterns… 🔬

We sleep, but the loom of life never stops and the pattern which was weaving when the sun went down is weaving when it comes up to-morrow.
~ Beecher

Curtain call. Yes. It’s that time.

We began our trek with my recurring dream in which I’m kneeling down to inscribe mathematical equations on the pages of a grand volume, a thing of splendor, the equations reminiscent of the glorious—and paradigm-shifting—Maxwell’s Equations.

Having come full circle, we now turn to Nature for another dollop of inspiration. Yet again, and much as we’ve done throughout history, wisp of a sliver though our history is, viewed from the unvarnished, grand perspective of the universe.

Speaking of grandness, look who we got assembled below for curtain call: Luminaries from the patterns firmament. Each luminary with a unique story to tell, amirite?

Your lips move, dear luminaries, but I can’t hear what you say. And don’t you all speak at the same time.

Crickets. Now I could hear a pin drop.


If it ain’t one thing, it’s another. O brother.

You come back next time; we’ll have this sorted out by then.

I think…

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