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See the World Through Patterns

When you see them, they can be life-changing.

When you see a pattern, it can change your life. Seeing a pattern can even make you smarter. Recognizing a pattern is like looking through a telescope for the first time. As if with new eyes, you see things that you have never seen before. That same experience can happen when you see a pattern for the first time. When, for example, the earth is viewed at night, the lighted landscape outlines dozens of patterns unseen before.

By NASA Public Domain via Wikimedia Common
Source: By NASA Public Domain via Wikimedia Common

Patterns are powerful. They set up expectations, make connections, and inspire burning questions. They can be events that regularly repeat themselves, trends in which events rise or fall over a prolonged period, relationships that create new connections, or they can emerge from seeing the larger picture. They can be outliers, events that fall outside the norm or newly defined patterns called fractals. Together, pattern recognition can lead to new discoveries, breakthrough ideas, and innovative concepts.

Pattern recognition was key to the survival of our Neanderthal ancestors, allowing them to identify poisonous plants, distinguish predator from prey, and interpret celestial events. Today, pattern recognition plays new, but just as important roles in diagnosing diseases, inspiring new ways to safeguard data, and discovering new planets.

“The best thing we have going for us is our intelligence, especially pattern recognition, sharpened over eons of evolution," (Neil deGrasse Tyson, 2015). Pattern recognition according to IQ test designers is a key determinant of a person’s potential to think logically, verbally, numerically, and spatially. Compared to all mental abilities, pattern recognition is said to have the highest correlation with the so-called general intelligence factor (Kurzweil, 2012). The ability to spot existing or emerging patterns is one of the most if not the most critical skill in decision-making, though we’re mostly unaware that we do it all the time (Miemis, 2010).

Because the brain is wired to recognize patterns, everyone has the potential to be pattern smart, but, in different ways. People who are numbers smart, for example, can predict from a series of numbers what the next number will be. Those who can recognize a species of bird from its flight pattern are nature smart. Do you perceive what funny jokes have in common and can you create one? If you can, you are word smart. People who can visualize an object in three dimensions are visually smart. The questionnaire that follows tests if you are people smart. How many of these can you check yes?

Can You/ Do You

  • Distinguish a fake smile from a genuine smile?
  • Identify someone just by their gait and body posture?
  • Predict accurately from reading one’s face whether someone is telling the truth?
  • Predict someone’s job performance from their Facebook profile?
  • Predict from reading body language and facial expression what someone is thinking?
  • Identify from observing a child’s social interaction that a child has special needs?
  • Notice that in certain professions the frequency of left-handed people is higher than righty’s?
  • Recognize how and why pharmacies and supermarkets are organized the way they are?
  • Perceive how peer-pressure influences buying habits?
  • Recognize that smiling for no apparent reason can make you feel happy?

People who excel at deciphering the meaning of human behavior patterns are people smart. That includes you if you checked yes to most of the questions above. People-smart people often share certain characteristics. They are sensitive to the feelings of others, good at understanding others, and demonstrate empathy to others. Certain professions favor the people smart; the helping professions such as psychology, teaching, medicine, sales, counseling, and politics.

The title of this article, See the World Through Patterns, is also the title of a book that is being considered for publication by this author by the National Science Teachers Association.


See People Patterns

Kurzweil, R. (2012). How to Create a Mind- The Secret of Human Thought Revealed. New York: Penguin Books.

Miemis, V. (2010, April 10). Essential Skills for 21st Century Survival: Part I: Pattern Recognition. Retrieved from Emergent by Design :

Tyson, Neil de Grasse (2015), Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey-transcripts (Episode 3), When Knowledge Conquered Fear

More from Robert C. Barkman, Ph.D.
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