The Ecology of Humans (30) Patterns


The psychological desire for stimulation leads to a dynamic of physiological change if that desire is habitually satisfied. Astrocytes, which are center stage for all our cognitive events, are cells that habituate to stimulus patterns. Desire defines as a feedback gyre.


The mind acts as a pattern matcher, using archetypes and extrapolation. This is why it is easier to learn material tangential to that known than entirely new subject matter. Familiarity invokes mental paths already blazed.

Pattern recognition commonly transpires on key features. Much goes unnoticed in object recognition.

Dragonflies have been known to try laying eggs on hood of a shiny metal car, mistaking the sheen for that of water: key feature confusion.

Turkey hens breeding for the first time will accept as chicks any object that makes the recognizable cheeping call. Deaf turkey hens kill most of their chicks, not having received the auditory sign-stimulus for parental behavior.

Male mosquitoes respond with high selectivity to the sound of female mosquito wings, which beat at a characteristic frequency with differs slightly from their own. Mosquito males can be attracted to a tuning fork of the correct frequency.

These false positives of key features explain why mimicry works. Adaptation equips mimics with the key features to copy while ignoring ancillary features that lack import.

Recognition failure cannot all be explained by gaffes in perception. Sometimes the senses themselves miss the cue, as the senses themselves are attuned to important stimuli.

Male green tree frogs croak with 2 peaks of sound energy: a low at 900 Hz and a high at 3,000 Hz. Female frog ears are attuned to those frequencies. Conversely, males are attuned to the different sonic signature of females. The hearing of each sex is keyed to different frequencies.

This is exemplary of efficiency adaptations specific to speciation. Signal-to-noise is enhanced, and energy consumption reduced, by having the senses limited to and most acute at the ranges where relevant information lies. Unsurprisingly, human hearing is keenest in the range of the human voice.

Such sensory and mind-brain adaptations may come through coevolution. For example, plants show helpful signature patterns to pollinators in the light frequency range to which the pollinators’ vision are most responsive. (How plants have this intimate intelligence to adapt to is a mystery.)

There is something attractive in the outsized. The larger an egg is, the more it stimulates incubation in a bird. Lipstick renders a woman’s lips supernormal, and the woman comelier. Exaggerated response to uncanny stimuli is an inevitable outcome of recognition systems focused on key features.

Supernormal stimulation is exceedingly common in mating displays. Females generally prefer supernormal males as a suggestion of good genes and vice versa. Peacocks are a classic example, but there are many others, including men’s preference for women with ample bosoms, as a presumed tell of a female’s ability to nurture offspring. Biological bias beckons for what is commonly called “taste.”