The Concept of Pattern Recognition of the Human Brain
How it works
Have you ever stared at an inanimate object, like a cloud, and seen a familiar object, such as a sheep or a face? Surely most people have experienced this, and this is because of our brain’s innate ability to recognize patterns. This is only possible with large brains that can support high-level reasoning and memory storage. All of the major hallmarks of human qualities, like advanced language, tool-making, and art, are only possible with our ability to recognize patterns. Pattern recognition was likely to be present in many of our hominid ancestors.
However, our large brains and uniquely higher-level ability to process information and apply them to incoming visual stimuli is what makes us humans stand out from other species.
The essential concept to understand about pattern recognition is that sensory cues have no innate value. The sensory cues must be interpreted and made into a recognizable pattern with information already in the brain. Imagine that you were in an accident that caused you to lose all of your memories. You wake up in a hospital, and you see a chair in the room. With no working memory of what a chair looks like or what its function is, you would not be able to recognize that the item in the room is a chair, nor would you be able to understand why the chair is even there. Given our large brains and their proficient ability to recognize patterns, it probably would not take you long to figure out what a chair is as you begin relearning the world around you. It is this ability that separates us from other animals in that we not only learn things quickly but our large brains give us the cognitive ability to find and recognize patterns in complex subjects, like mathematics.
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson eloquently gives us an example of how our survival as a species has relied heavily on our ability to recognize patterns. He explains there is a reason we see faces or objects in inanimate objects like clouds or bushes. This can be explained as a variation of Pascal’s Wager. You are walking around, and you come upon a bush in the distance. You recognize an odd shape that appears to be in the bushes. The shape sort of looks like it could be a lion. Because our brain’s innate ability to recognize patterns acknowledges what could be a lion, it is better not to take the chance and take a different route. If there is a lion in the bush and you keep going, you will probably die. If there isn’t a lion, and you take a different route, no real harm is done and you stay alive. Now, if we didn’t evolve the ability to recognize patterns, the odd shape in the bushes would not register in our brains as odd, so we keep walking and, if there is a lion, we’re going to be eaten. It’s possible there is no lion, and nothing happens, but our ability to recognize patterns gives us the option to play it safe, which, in the long run, lessens the chances of death significantly.
This pattern recognition ability is why humans have been able to hunt and forage for food successfully. Humans were able to figure out that when seeds were put into the ground and provided with water and sunlight, they sprouted and grew into a plant. They were able to recognize this pattern and parlay that into agriculture, which led to increased food production, higher populations, and modern civilizations. Creativity and art owe their existence to higher level pattern recognition. Without our ability to recognize patterns and our ability to memorize those patterns and give them meaning, art could never exist. We’d never be able to apply those patterns and create songs or paintings. To create language, we need large brains not only to store all the words of a language but also to perceive physical gestures that imply certain nonverbal cues. It is our ability to recognize patterns in faces and bodies and match them with concepts of annoyance or anger that gives us complex languages.
Humans owe much of our existence to our large brains that gave us the ability to recognize patterns in a more meaningful way than other animal species. This ability has allowed us to play it safe and lower our chances of being eaten by lions hiding in the bushes. We were able to map our surroundings, which enhanced our ability to hunt and forage for food. Eventually, recognizing patterns led to agriculture, which provided us with the spare time to explore higher levels of cognitive consciousness. The human ability to recognize patterns at a much deeper level is what makes us so unique compared to other animals.