Patterns and Forms

The contemporary fascination with patterns in cognitive science or epistemology (e.g. the idea that human cognition is based on “pattern recognition”) can be mapped very closely unto what Plato and Aristotle called form. If we raised the question of the ontological status of the patterns we recognize, we would be pushed into the familiar “problem of universals” (though Gerson makes a very good case that this problem is badly formulated.) A pattern is exactly a one-over-the-many reality that is somehow common to many individuals while at the same time constituting the individual. If you could program a computer to recognize a smile, it would not only recognize exactly what constituted me as an individual smiler, but it could recognize the same thing in you. So do we say with Plato and Aristotle that there is something in reality that is the same, or do we say with the Nominalists that this sameness does not exist  in reality but is only an association of the mind?

Again, if we had to figure out “why are there multiple instances of the same pattern?” or “how can a pattern be the same throughout time?” We would get pushed towards the old debates about the principle of individuation or the eternity of form. We could even re-discover the old sense of the term matter.

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