A couple of months ago, I presented at Gibson’s Pecha Kucha, the 2nd smallest of such events in the world. I was planning on posting the video when it became available, but with rumors of technical difficulties surfacing, of reported ghosts in the system, I figured I would just post the slides and text. Unlike most of the other presenters, my slides didn’t have any direct reference to my talking points, but served more as an extra dimension. And so it went:
I will begin by stating that I’m not exactly sure if my talk tonight is about the search for inconsistencies in patterns or for patterns in the seemingly inconsistent.
Either way, I have come to believe that pattern recognition, in one form or another is fundamental to the human experience.
Now, there are different kinds of pattern recognition.
There is Template Matching which is what allows us to recognize the basic traits of the letter A, despite the distinct character of its typography.
There is the Geon theory, which proposes that object recognition relies on our minds breaking down what we see into simple two and three dimensional forms such as cylinders, bricks, wedges, cones, circles and rectangles.
And there is Prototype Matching which allows us to easily categorize certain objects for identification. A small animal with feathers, beak and two wings that can fly is a prototype of a crow, sparrow or starling for example.
There are also different categorizations of patterns themselves. A meander presents a linear repetition of the same ornament, a series in which the repeated becomes an inseparable part of the whole, like a ring in a chain.
In contrast, a concentric spiral is a product of repetition which involves alteration. It is a series in which the individual element is repeated not as the same but as the similar, changing its diameter and allowing for space to intersect and “separate” the individual levels. Despite this spatial separation, it is impossible to dissect the spiral into individual elements.
We as humans seem to be drawn to not only interpreting patterns and repetition but also using them to provide structure to what would otherwise be an utterly chaotic existence. David Hume states that “Repetition changes nothing in the object repeated, but does change something in the mind which contemplates it…”
Every day, the sun rises, our alarms go off, and we get up to set out on our morning routines with often only the most subtle of variables shifting and shaping a path that is ultimately profoundly different from the day before. Like the concentric spiral, the repetition of our lives dissolves in the process, and we evolve as something new out of the substrate of the old.
And yet, we seem to innately crave this repetition or pattern. Indeed it is the habits in our lives that in the end define who we are. And while creativity might seek the catalyst of change, it is only through the pattern of practice that we are able to master our trade.
There is a condition, known as apophenia which is the tendency to see patterns in a collection of meaningless data. In its most trivial application it is looking up and seeing lions and bears in the random contours of clouds. But it can also produce the hysteria that gathers around a sighting of the Virgin Mary on a piece of burnt toast or the inevitable fate of the hapless gambler who feels like he is on a lucky streak.
Taking this even further, one can argue that our apophenic tendencies are the foundation for both religion and conspiracy theories and even more broadly for our natural inclinations towards storytelling. in hindsight, we can see an order that never existed in the swarming possibilities of the moment.
The images that are accompanying this rather scattered monologue have been collected over the past year and a half. This action in itself is my own attempt at making sense of a chaotic and infinite system, that of the internet, one to which 300 million photos are uploaded daily to Facebook alone.
I started out by collecting photographs of patterns. But in doing so for a period of time, I began to see patterns within the patterns I was collecting. And further to that, I began to recognize patterns in my own behavior of curation.
One of these was that I tended to look for naturally occurring patterns. While I do not censor myself entirely, I typically avoid photos that have been digitally manipulated. They are just too easily manufactured. While the digital realm allows us to effortlessly reproduce exact copies, there is something lost in the process.
I find it incredible that I have the capacity to take a photograph with nothing more than my mobile phone and, through one or two filters produce in minutes an image that achieves the same aesthetic as what once required the skill, precision and hours spent being developed in a darkroom. Is there less value in the instantaneous? Is process more valuable than product? Walter Benjamin talks of a copy missing the aura of the original and i can see that personified in the perfection of the digital. In the end, perfect repetition is the height of capitalism. And it is boring as all hell.
To that regard, I realized that often I was not looking for patterns as much as I was looking for the imperfection of a pattern. In photography this is known as a “spot”. In science, prior to the 2nd half of the last century, such aberrations in a constant stream of data were considered “errors”. And yet, even the smallest variance in a behavior can change utterly its final outcome: the notion of a butterfly flapping its wings over Peking affecting the storm systems of New York City. It is in the imperfections of pattern that we grow, create and ultimately, evolve.
In conclusion, the universe might be a vast, cold and random place and the connections that we see in it, that make our existence bearable might very well be a simple trick of the eye.
But there are moments, undeniable moments that we all have, in which those perceived patterns are so utterly beautiful, that it is worth believing, in that instant, that you are indeed on a lucky streak and you can go out and throw those dice for another day.
Atoms for Peace [Thom + Nigel] at Le Poisson Rouge - Default (by atomsforpeacetv)