Aside: Patterns Matter

In the 20th century, Einstein equated matter with energy in his famous formula:

E = mc^2

Einstein may have been the first westerner to have thought of this; however, for thousands of years the Chinese word ‘wu‘ has been equated with either matter or energy, depending upon the context in which it was used.

Wu Li

The Chinese word ‘li’ means order, law, or pattern.  Together, the words, ‘wu li’, translate to mean patterns of organic matter.

The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics by Gary Zukav is a wonderful contemplation of the many ways to consider the phrase ‘wu li‘.

Wu li tells of inseparable complements.  Neither can exist without the other; together they underpin the universe.

Matter is Always Patterned

All matter is patterned.  To prove this to yourself, take any object and see if you can separate its shape from its substance.

Patterns may be made of the same matter, yet be completely different in form.  Both the snowflake and the hurricane consist of water molecules, although one is delicate the other is destructive.

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In the images below, both the smoke ring and the galaxy comprise swirling dust and gases.  One is ephemeral and the other endures for eons.

0001hr spiralgalaxy

Patterns may be similar in form and made of completely different matter.  The galaxy, made of dust and gas, spirals like the hurricane made of water molecules.

Within some patterns, matter is closely knitted together — like the water molecules in a crystalline snowflake — making the materialized pattern appear solidified.  Within other patterns, such as galaxies full of solar systems, the matter may be separated by vast distances.

Importance of Environmental Compatibility

Newton’s First Law of Motion tells us that a body set into motion continues in the same direction until a force sways it otherwise.  Likewise, a materialized pattern may perpetuate in an ideally suited environment.

Snowflakes and smoke rings are precarious little entities, owing to a narrow range of environmental compatibility.  Other materialized patterns can persist in more widely varying environments.  Horrible hurricanes hold on for days.  Gargantuan galaxies go on and on in the gaping intergalactic space.

Though Quadernity describes a single full cycle, patterns that continue to matter involve cyclic recursion.  An ongoing cycle of the MaleFemale dynamic is of vital importance to living organisms.

At opposite extremes of the universe we find the stablest of entities: we have no experimental evidence that a proton decays; and the oldest known star* in our universe is estimated by astrophysicists to be only 100-200 million years younger than the universe itself.

*SMO313, the name given the oldest star on record, supposedly came from one of the universe’s first supernovas.  Along with a few other ancient stars, SMO313 just happens to be situated in the spiral of our own galaxy.  It is thought that the Milky Way developed around the primeval stars.

Patterns Do Matter!

While living on the Chesapeake Bay, I once witnessed the sudden appearance of a water spout.


The vortex skulked in the vicinity, even as its pattern was imperceptible.  Only when it touched down on the water’s surface and drew moisture into the ominous conical form was there any warning of dangerous environmental conditions.

Matter Substantiates a Pattern and makes it visible. 

Pattern Structures Matter and makes it meaningful.

Patterns Persist

Native Americans used smoke to signal distant relatives.  By flapping a skin or blanket over a fire, the natives created a vortex to attract and hold (INform) matter in this case ash particles — that effect (OUTform) meaningful patterns.   


On a still day, or when breezes were mild, the pattern made visible by matter would persist as smoke signals ascended high into the sky to be interpreted by tribal members afar.

Static and Functional Patterns

The thing about patterns is that they are not just static arrangements, like a design or a structure; patterns underlie functional dynamics and behavior, as well.  In fact, the functionality or dysfunctionality of any system depends on the attributes of its pattern.

Often a problem could be the effect of a deeply embedded pattern (the structure of the substance).  When something goes wrong, or someone is upset, we commonly ask, “What’s the matter?”  However, if we think about it, it might be more appropriate to ask, “What’s the pattern?”

When we are dissatisfied with something as it is, and we want to make changes, it is not too difficult if what we want to change is the color of a room, our hairstyle, or the flavor of our soup.  On the other hand, if one wants to improve how he/she relates to his/her spouse, or wants to alter his/her eating habits, or to rethink politics or religion, then that person would identify the habitual pattern at the root of the issue and make adjustments there; otherwise, lasting changes are doubtful.  Detection is the first step to correction.

Even when obscured by layers of complexity, discovering the cause of an effect is important.  For instance, if we know a symptom has a cause, we would more likely try to find and cure that cause; whereas, if we had no idea that symptoms may be indicators of causal systemic imbalance, we might be satisfied to ameliorate the symptoms, one-by-one.  As long as we remain unaware of the underlying cause, uncorrected imbalances continue to produce worsening symptom(s) over time.

Help in undertaking the task of changing persistent patterns is offered under the masthead tap Practical Perspectives: Overcoming the Otherwise.

If we encounter something with a lot of complexity, we might fail to consider that we are seeing the effects of a simple pattern, or function, repeated many times.  As causes and effects often happen on different scales or time-frames, they often go unassociated.  A functional pattern is a simple rule, or algorithm, that is repeated, or reiterated, throughout the hierarchy of an organization/organism.

The good news is that a problem which seems overwhelmingly complex may have a simple solution.  If the researcher would look to the embedded pattern within, a tiny adjustment made there could make a world of difference to the external behaviors.

The bad news is that we have a tendency to overlook the potential consequences of tiny actions and trivial decisions.  The results may show up only years later and in most cases, by then, the connection is not made.  For example, until fairly recently, linking mental illness with past-trauma(s) drew skepticism from medical professionals.  Currently affecting millions around the globe, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) causes its victims to involuntarily and recursively relive dreadful experiences.

Commonly plaguing witnesses or survivors of violence, especially child-abuse, war and sex crimes, PTSD is not simply a health-care issue, it is a wide-spread social malady.  Though the disorder is an effect expressed by a traumatized individual, when we move up to the scale of community, it becomes a cause that produces disabled dependents, domestic dysfunctionality, homelessness, additional violence and/or suicide.

Covertly Caused Patterns

Functional patterns can be covert; sometimes we fail to recognize such a pattern because there can be a disproportional, or non-linear, relationship between underlying causes and the outcome as a whole.

Think how a defective gene can afflict one’s body for life…
how a minuscule grain of pollen,
a few invisible bacteria,
or single molecule of peanut protein
can have a massive effect on susceptible persons.

An effect may be so exaggerated or complex that linking it to a simple cause is not usually the first thing that comes to mind.

In 1890, Henri Poincare associated chaos with a sensitivity to initial conditions.

In 1961, while running a mathematical model to predict weather patterns, meteorologist, Edward Lorenz, inadvertently truncated one of his input values, reducing it from .506127 to .506.  When he corrected his error, he saw that this minute difference in the input variables produced a huge difference in the model’s behavior.  What he called a “sensitive dependence on initial conditions” became the foundation for chaos theory.  Read here the actual history of two women who are the Hidden Heroines of Chaos.

When, in 1972, Lorenz failed to provide a title for the talk he was about to give to the American Association for the Advancement of Science Philip Merilees came up with one for him: “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” became the title of the famous presentation in which Lorenz described his discovery.  Since then, sensitivity to initial conditions has been called the butterfly effect of chaos.  We most often think of cause and effects being in a linear (proportional) relationship.  The butterfly effect refers to non-linearity, where causes have exponential effects.

Predictability of Patterns

We are exploring the idea of pattern.  Some patterns are apparent only superficially.  For instance, certain brands of cars are recognizable due to the carry over of certain features from one year to the next.  Even without musical training, many people, after hearing only a bar or two of a new song, can hum along, with expectation of the musical pattern that will play out.  We may be able to guess a dress designer, due to characteristic detailing on the gown, or guess the architect of a skyscraper from its features.  We expect certain personality quirks, or patterns of behavior, to be enacted by those whom we know well, and if they behave otherwise, we wonder what is troubling them.

As we peer at ourselves in the mirror each morning, we have come to expect that we will look pretty much the same as we did the day before.  Even though our cells are dying and being regenerated by the millions every moment, we retain recognizable features, even over a lifetime.  There are endless examples of how pattern recognition gives us the power of predictability.

The predictability of patterns is what makes them meaningful to us.  Repetition in behavior, arrangement, organization, or function gives rise to our expectations.  What recurs with some regularity becomes anticipated, and even perhaps reliable.

Facial Recognition

What is the first pattern we learn to recognize after birth?

At first the pattern is one of dark shadows, but after a year the facial features are clear.

The consistent generalized pattern consists of two horizontally-oriented oval shadows with another shadow centered between and below them.

Because we developed a primal association of being fed and comforted and coo’d at whenever we saw this arrangement of shadows, we still have an undeniable attraction to this pattern.  We find our primal pattern often in some quite strange places!

This broadly experienced phenomena is called pareidolia.  (Link includes both pronunciation and definition.)

Apparent Patterns are not always Patterns of Functional Organization

Constellations appear as patterns that have offered predictive benefits to navigators and wayfarers for millennia.


Regardless of their supposed zodiacal alignments, mythological tales, and cyclical reappearances, what looks like constellations of heavenly lights appear so only due to a loss of depth-perception that occurs as we gaze toward the black background of outer space.  The stars and galaxies that compose the recognizable features of the night sky are not actually near each other, have nothing to do with each other, and they do not endeavor to maintain the arrangements we perceive from our vantage points on earth.

When we assume a pattern is present we give it meaning — whether or not the pattern is materially substantiated, or even legitimate.  (How often do we see an expression on someone’s face, and assume we know what they are thinking?)  It behooves us to not falsely assume a pattern.

A pattern that is valid only from a specific point-of-view should be suspect.  For this very reason, Einstein asserted that neither space nor time are universal constructs.  He explained that in space, every object is always moving, so it cannot be said that one object is stationery while another object moves; their apparent movements are relative to each other.  Because there is no privileged reference point (no fixed inertial place), spatial distances seem to vary from different points of view.   From multiple vantage points, sounds and lights are perceived as altered frequencies, sequences and/or intervals, which means that time is also relative to the observer.

Einstein went on to warn that clocks and rulers are not even reliable measuring tools, for if they move at speeds near that of light, a ruler will seem to shorten in the direction of its movement and the clock’s units of time will tick off more slowly.

It was radical for Einstein to discard the paradigm of a static space and a uniform time, but only when he challenged these concepts at their foundation, were new ideas forthcoming.  Checking the accuracy of fundamental functional patterns was a good idea then, and it still is today.

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