Pattern Recognition


Statistics, and randomness, are, I think, two of the most poorly understood subjects in our society, and it’s poorly understood because truly understanding this stuff runs directly contrary to billions of years of evolution.

In short, our brains are hard wired to identify patterns quickly, and rely upon those judgements. If our forebears saw a lion running quickly towards us, they needed to very quickly identify it as a threat, plot a likely path of the lion, and get out of the way… and if they didn’t identify this pattern, they’d die pretty quickly. Consequently, the only people alive today are the descendants of people who were good at identifying patterns.

However, this same pattern-finding ability in our brains is what messes things up. Precisely the same thing happens in poker – people see several similar hands in a row, and our natural pattern-finding habit kicks in… but this time, it isn’t really there.

This is exacerbated by our mind only remembering those things that are notable.

For example, let’s say the following hypothetical thought example happens. A random number is to be chosen between 1 and 10.

The first selection is 1.

The second selection is 2.

The third selection is 3.

What’s the fourth selection going to be?

Human brains, by nature, identify the pattern above as the number increasing by 1 each random selection. They see a pattern there, even though there is none – because we’re trained, through evolution, to recognise patterns very quickly, because recognising patterns keeps us alive.

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