How Cognition Relies on Patterns

how to create a mind“Reciting the alphabet backward should be a simple task, as it involves exactly the same information as reciting it forward, yet we are generally unable to do it.”


“…our memories are sequential and in order. They can be accessed in the order that they are remembered.”

Memories are stored in the brain in ways we’re only beginning to understand. What we know for sure is that memory is unlike a computer, we do not store events in their entirety, they do not remain unchanged, and they do not remain stable.

Ray Kurzweil, inventor, technologist, and astonishingly accurate predictor of the future explores memory in his book, How to Create a Mind. He specifically gets at the importance of patterns, and how our brains use them in interpreting and remembering events.

“…there are no images, videos, or sound recordings stored in the brain. Our memories are stored as sequences of patterns.”

The brain contains around 80-100 billion neurons, each connected to hundreds or thousands of others. Some of these neurons are packed into small groups within the neocortex—the wrinkled outer layer of the brain.

“…there are on the order of 300 million pattern recognizers in total in the neocortex.”

The neurons fire if they receive the right type of signal at the right time, signaling they have recognized a pattern. The pattern might be as simple as seeing the color red or hearing a bird chirping, but it might also go several levels higher.

“At much higher levels of abstraction, the neocortex will deal with patterns with all sorts of continuums, such as levels of attractiveness, irony, happiness, frustration, and myriad others.”


“…we see the information flow up the conceptual hierarchy from basic letter features to letters to words. Recognitions will continue to flow up from there to phrases and then more complex language structures. If we go up several dozen more levels, we get to higher-level concepts like irony and envy.”

Kurzweil continues unraveling the mind with clarity and detail in How to Create a Mind, grab it from Amazon.