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It could be a "which came first -- the chicken or the egg?" type of problem, but I'm betting on the chicken.
When I first considered writing this blog about the human experience of time, I questioned whether time was as crucial as I thought. The only other human capability that seemed equally important was our skill at grasping patterns.
The power we have as humans comes from our ability to see patterns. We see patterns everywhere. Discovering and utilizing patterns gives us the control that has allowed us to now dominate the Earth.
Finding a pattern is finding order. We are hardwired to see order, to create order, to manipulate our world based on order -- this is an essential drive in the human psyche, almost as compelling as sex.
...patterns have an underlying mathematical structure; indeed, mathematics can be seen as the search for regularities, and the output of any function is a mathematical pattern. Similarly in the sciences, theories explain and predict regularities in the world. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pattern
A scientific law "is a theoretical principle deduced from particular facts...expressible by the statement that a particular phenomenon always occurs if certain conditions be present." (Oxford English Dictionary) Quoted in this article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laws_of_physicsOnce a scientific law is established, it gives us the ability to build, create and predict based on those laws -- as we have now, in effect, cracked the code of nature by discovering an underlying pattern.
Why Order Is So Important: Comprehending order gives us comfort, predictability, control, safety and removes uncertainty -- all of which allows us to have a better chance at survival.
I believe the human sense of time -- hundreds of thousands of years before civilization began -- gave us the edge as a species and came first. Because without an ability to recall the past, we would not have the data necessary to discern a pattern.
Before we could perceive patterns we had to have had a clear memory and a detailed understanding of what we had seen and experienced so we could connect the dots.
Yet the combination of the two: a sophisticated understanding of time combined with a sophisticated perception of patterns, gave us a tremendous advantage.
The beauty and power of patterns is that they can apply to a variety of very different phenomena. Take the spiral: this basic design in nature can be the structure of a shell, a storm or a galaxy.
|A spiral in a fossil shell. (wikimedia.org)|
|A spiral in the aloe plant. (wikimedia.org)|
A spiral in a low pressure system when seen from a satellite. (wikimedia.org)
Massive spirals: colliding galaxies. (NASA)
Finding a pattern means that we connect things we have seen in the past to things in the present which we can then project into the future.My point is that human memory came first but it was combined with a separate remarkable ability to discover patterns. This led to agriculture, astronomy, mathematics, science, technology and civilization.
As our civilization progresses we have become increasingly sophisticated at finding patterns and building on what we have established. The discovery and development of fractal geometry was only possible with computers, for example.
A natural fractal is displayed in the veins of this plant. It was not until computers could do the complex calculations that a mathematical pattern was discovered in fractal structures. (wikimedia.org)
There often is no use for a pattern when it is first discovered. This was true for fractals. Yet as time goes on, people often see how a new pattern applies to various real world problems. In one of the first practical applications, the fractal antennae is much smaller, lighter and more sensitive than previous small antennas and quite useful for cell phones. I believe we have only begun to see the ways that fractals can be used in the real world.
Design for a fractal antennae. (wikimedia.org)
The low resolution photo on the left appeared to show a face on the surface of Mars, but as the photographic resolution increased (middle photo & higher still on the right) the facial characteristics disappeared. (NASA)
Karl Malden and Michael Douglas in The Streets of San Francisco -- a popular TV police drama. In the last 60 years there have been about 650 crime dramas on TV around the world. Many ran for a number of years. (wikimedia.org)