From the Right



Seeing Patterns ... and Refusing To

: Laura Hollis on

One of the characteristics of human vision and thought is the ability to identify patterns. Research conducted by child development experts suggests that infants can recognize visual patterns at a very early age -- between 3 and 4 months old. As humans age and develop, pattern recognition expands beyond mere visual and auditory stimuli to encompass information from the environment, the observed behavior of humans and other creatures, and natural phenomena.

Dr. Mark P. Mattson, a professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University, defines this process as "the encoding and integration of perceived or mentally-fabricated patterns which can then be used for decision-making and for transfer of the patterns to other individuals."

Although many animals have the ability to take in information from their surroundings and make at least rudimentary decisions that enhance the possibility of their survival, Mattson describes humans as having "superior pattern processing." In a 2014 article published in Frontiers of Neuroscience, Mattson explains that the "cognitive repertoire of the human brain" is responsible for our greatest achievements, including "creativity and invention ... the development of tools, processes and protocols for solving problems and saving time ... the arts and music ... agriculture, transportation, science, commerce, defense/security; spoken and written languages that enable rapid communication of highly specific information about all aspects of the physical universe and human experiences; reasoning and rapid decision-making; (and) imagination and mental time travel which enables the formulation and rehearsal of potential future scenarios..."

One would think that this most fundamental and distinctive of human skills would be routinely applied to the important realms of politics and economics.

Unfortunately, it is not.

Part of making wise political and economic decisions is the ability to draw conclusions from history and from knowledge about human behavior. But ideology, indoctrination and cults of personality often obstruct rational decision-making. In other words, humans often deny something we know to be true in favor of something we have decided (or been told) that we want to be true.


For example, if you were to say, "Access to food is a human right," you would probably get widespread agreement. But it does not follow, from a political or economic standpoint, that food should therefore be free. One need only ask a simple question to prove this point: "What would happen if the government announced tomorrow that groceries were free?"

Anyone over 10 years old (who's being honest) could tell you what would happen: There would be immediate runs on grocery stores until every last shelf was empty. And yet despite basic common sense -- not to mention ample evidence to the contrary -- we have in our society countless people who maintain that it is economically feasible, politically sensible and sociologically healthy to give things away "for free."

People allow their love of a particular ideology to cloud their rational decision-making capabilities -- often with disastrous consequences.

Gavin de Becker describes a similar phenomenon in his 1997 bestselling book "The Gift of Fear." Humans are the only species, he writes, that will talk themselves out of rational responses to situations that should produce fear -- walking down a dark alley alone late at night, for example, or getting on an elevator with someone whose demeanor is menacing. We don't want to trust our "gut feelings," de Becker explains. We are more concerned with being thought a coward or hurting a complete stranger's feelings than we are with self-preservation.


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