good desserts, fibonacci numbers and other patterns

I see the world in patterns.

We spent a day in Nhill recently catching up with my sister Al and her family. We were discussing school and someone commented that they didn't like the rote learning that maths involved. Now I have always loved maths, from times-tables competitions in grade two to The Theory of Complex Variables in my third year uni degree. But after all these years, that little conversation in Nhill sparked a realisation for me I'd never had before. Maths had always been a quest to understand and experiment with (number) patterns (rather than rote learning).

I remember learning how to solve magic squares, and then once I understood the pattern I completed one that was 25 x 25 - just because I could. I can still remember my delight when my year 9 maths teacher (Mr Pearce often wore a yellow T-short with the simple questions in capitals WHY?) explained Pascals Triangle. As with magic squares much earlier, I then proceeded to write a solution to (a+b)15 just because I could. And even later, at uni, I remember being mesmerised by Fibonacci numbers and the Golden Ratio (φ).

But for me maths was only the forerunner. Since then I have been been fascinated by behavioural patterns; recurring patterns for an individual and patterns among different types of people. This naturally extended to collections of people sparking a curiosity in sociology and culture. I love trying to understand why people behave like they do.

If you know me and my posts, then it is no secret that Christopher Alexander's, A Pattern Language is among my favourite texts - because he masterfully explains recurring design patterns. It is not mysterious why some designs work better than others; there are patterns that once understood can form the infrastructure for incredible creativity and life-giving functionality.

When I discover a new pattern, or someone else reveals a one, I experience irrational pleasure. Take food for example. I still have vivid memories of the very British Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall explaining how desserts that work have three elements: creaminess, crunch and fruitiness. On a table he had three forms of each - nine small bowls. He then proceeded to demonstrate how each possible variation of creaminess, crunch and fruitiness worked beautifully. Bingo. I understood the pattern. I then not only knew why jelly slice and pavlova were so good, I also knew why apply pie must have ice cream or cream, and why museli is better with yoghurt and fruit. Understanding a pattern facilitates creative freedom. 

I now recognise that my love of cooking is at least in part about seeking to understand patterns. What are the basic patterns of preparation and flavours that make up a good curry. Once you know the pattern ... happy days.

But patterns are not rules. Patterns are an infrastructure. Patterns facilitate creativity rather than stifle  it. Unfortunately, people often mistake a pattern as a limitation rather than a springboard. For example, people are often inclined to use their Myer Briggs personality type or their Enneagram profile as a definition of themselves rather than an opportunity for development.

I could go on, and I probably will in posts to come. I believe understanding patterns is important because without the pattern we start from scratch every time. Patterns help us understand the world. 

I see the world in patterns.


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