I’m fascinated by how things come together. When we look back, we weave almost-random elements of our lives into a coherent story, one thing leading to another.
For example: I’m marrying W- this August. I can trace this all the way back to how I got interested in computers and reading as a child. It’s a long story through three countries, with plenty of choices and chances along the way – and yet, looking back, there’s a certain inevitability to it, a flow, an internal logic.
I know it’s my mind playing tricks on me. Humans are good at patternicity, finding meaningful connections in randomness. I wonder:
Do people have varying levels of patternicity?
Is it a skill that gets developed and reinforced?
How does it affect happiness?
One of the things that always comforts me when things go wrong is that I’m sure it’ll all come together somehow. A seeming failure turns out to be the building-block for something great. More religious people place their faith in challenges being part of an overall plan. I don’t, but I trust that things will work out.
So I’m very good at patternicity and almost reflexive when it comes to justification. Did I burn the pasta sauce? Oh, well, that helps me learn more about paying attention to details. Did the cats throw up on the carpet? Time to break out the carpet cleaner and think about fond memories. Yes, I have fond memories involving vacuuming liquids out of carpets: W-’s basement got a little damp one time when we were just friends, and I helped him out. I occasionally get those “Oh, that’s interesting, so that’s another reason why that was useful” moments, like when my Argentine tango explorations led to building a friendship with someone who has been my mentor for a few years.
I think patternicity plays a big role in amplifying both happiness and sadness, which is why it’s important to practice it consciously. If you’re good at seeing connections between things, you might see the whole world as against you, or you can see how things come together to help you.
I play with patternicity. I don’t fool myself into thinking this is part of a Great Destiny or that I’m living a pre-determined fate, but I’m amused by how the different threads come together. New interests grow from of long-dormant seeds. The more I practice explaining things and tracing the paths, the easier it gets. It’s like a mental puzzle, like those word games that ask you to get from CAT to DOG by changing one letter at a time, using only English words in between. (That one’s easy.) It’s like those brainstorming exercises, when you think of the similarities between two wildly different things. (How is a cat like a dishwasher? Both clean their plates.)
Maybe it’s why I like connecting the dots so much. Playing with patterns exercises your ability to hold multiple things in your head, to free-associate and find connections, and to make those connections visible and plausible. Connecting people, resources, and tools—that works much the same way too.
When you look back and trace your development, can you build a story out of it?
Thanks to Jeffrey Tang (the Art of Great Things) for the nudge to write about this!