The Evolution Behind Our Tendency to Make Patterns
The Evolution Behind Our Tendency to Make Patterns
  • Jung Kang-min (EEE 18)
  • 승인 2019.10.18 15:08
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Why are we such pattern-seeking animals? Recently, I read an article claiming that we are genetically-wired to find patterns because it increases the probability of surviving. It said humans find and justify patterns to reduce the cost of our decisions. In fact, we receive a vast amount of information every day, and there is too much information for us to process. We interpret and store them differently by seeking patterns. It is surprising how humans are adept at finding patterns whether they exist or not. I wondered why we have such a pattern recognition ability and where our pattern-seeking behavior comes from.
Psychologist Michael Shermer says that pattern-seeking is the tendency to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless noise. People often see random patterns in nature, like finding a face on rocks and hearing a noise, and interpreting it as other known things. Our ancestors were successful at creating pattern-recognition, and it helped them in survival and reproduction. It led to learning new concepts which were fundamental in evolution from Homo Sapiens to human.
In statistics, there is a hypothesis testing such as Type 1 error and Type 2 error. Type 1 error is the rejection of a true null hypothesis. In other words, Type 1 error is believing something is true when it is not true. Type 2 error is the non-rejection of a false null hypothesis which is not believing something when it is actually true. This may sound confusing, so let’s have a look at the examples.
What does it mean to make those types of error? Assume that one is in a forest alone. Then, one hears a rustle in the grass by the wind that sounds like a predator, like a wolf. Type 1 error would be believing the rustle in the grass were predators approaching when it was actually just the wind. Thus, believing the rustle sound as a predator when it is not true. For the Type 2 context, assume that there is an actual predator and one heard the wind as a rustle. The Type 2 error would be believing it as just the wind when a wolf is actually present. So, one does not believe the predator is coming, when it was actually present.
Michael Shermer claims we are genetically wired to find patterns, because it increases the probability of surviving. This theory was supported by a pair of researchers from Harvard and the University of Helsinki using evolutionary modeling to demonstrate that the cost of believing a false pattern as true is less than the cost of not believing a real pattern. Thus, natural selection will favor pattern-seeking behavior. If we go back to the examples in the forest, the cost of Type 1 error is much less than the Type 2 error. We saw that believing a rustle in grass was a predator costs less than not believing it. If the rustle was an actual wolf, the cost of not believing could be death. The cost of believing a wind as a predator would be just making some fuss. Even though, it was an extreme case, we can find many other examples where we tend to make Type 1 errors over Type 2 error. We normally believe a snake as poisonous whether it is true or not for our safety.
Although it involves many other complex variables such as emotion, memories and other stimulus to make patterns, it seems to be beneficial to believe most patterns are real or significant in some sort of manner. Now we may justify why we make gossip and connect random ideas to make patterns through this patternicities behavior.