A pattern is a repeating set of events or objects that is identifiable and to some degree predictable. The repetition can be exact or approximate. Some common examples include repeating wallpaper designs (typically exact) and the seasons of the year (approximate). Patterns can also be more abstract or conceptual, in which case they may be called heuristics; one example might be the idea that "history repeats itself". In fact, one might consider any explanation of a phenomenon to involve identifying patterns that match past experiences.
Humans are exceptionally good at detecting patterns, leading to a common description of our species as "pattern-seeking animals". It is this tendency that underlies almost every special ability humans possess: symbolic thought, pervasive tool use, complex language and mathematics, detailed "theories of the world" (including, for example, scientific knowledge), and so forth.
Some potential problems that arise in pattern identification include:
- pareidolia — "recognizing" significant patterns where there are none
- jumping to a conclusion — prematurely identifying a pattern based on too little information
- overgeneralization — "applying" one pattern where another would be more appropriate
- correlation fallacy — reading a causal relationship into a pattern of association
Whether a particular pattern is "significant" or "meaningful" in some sense is a complicated issue. Consider a very simple setting: toss a coin ten times and record the sequence of "heads" or "tails".