I go to a cardiac rehab class at 8:30 in the morning, three times a week. I started when I had my aorta valve replaced by a new one, manufactured out of cow parts, and I have been going pretty much ever since. When I was working, I went to the 7:00 AM class but now I go to the 8:30 class. Anyway, I hit the only traffic light on my drive at about 8:15 and, except for the lull during the Christmas season, I always have to wait at the light. This morning, waiting for the light to change, maybe ten cars in front of me, a jogger was also waiting; standing by the side of the road in the shadow of a row of trees, under an already dark and brooding sky. I could barely see her but I was surprised she was wearing pants with huge legs, what we used to call palazzo pants in the 60s, and I could just barely make out her ponytail. Then the light changed and the cars started slowly moving forward and, as I got closer, the pants got thinner until they became regular jeans. Then I saw that it was a him not a her, and he didn’t have a ponytail.
As I drove by the guy, I realized he wasn’t even a jogger, just a guy waiting for the light to change. It got me thinking about pattern recognition and our ability to see patterns, sometimes patterns that aren’t even there. We are hardwired to see patterns, all animals are. One of the easiest patterns to read are faces – two eyes over a nose and mouth hole – which are so easy to read that even computers and dumb animals can do it. As an aside, sheep are hardwired to run away from canine faces (think wolf for canine). Shepard dogs round up and control sheep by giving them the eye, essentially showing the sheep their eyes above a nose, to move sheep away from them. However, shepherds don’t want sheep guard dogs – think Old English Sheepdog or Komondor – to spook the sheep, they don’t want the sheep running away from their guard dogs, so they bred the guard dogs to have their eyes covered with hair thus thwarting the sheeps’ pattern recognition system. End aside.
With just a little information, a shadowy figure by the side of the road, I saw a woman jogger with palazzo pants and she even had a ponytail. But most of the heavy lifting was done by my mind, filling in the blanks. It got me thinking about how often I must do that in other, non-visual, areas. What first came to mind was reading a snippet about Trump and then filling in the missing parts with parts that match my preconceived ideas. This is what makes political “dog whistles” work; Reagan says “inner city Welfare Queen driving a Cadilac” and our pattern recognition takes over from there.