Is there a nonarbitrary distinction between design and pattern?

Design, pattern and form are hard to define without resorting to notions of design, pattern, or form. We end up appealing to a priori categories such as repetition, proportion, extension, connectedness, and closure.

Forms exist in a space, a set of points or quantities, in which each point and the distance between two points is definable. Patterns are repeatable sequences of sometimes multiply embedded forms. Designs are patterns that are intelligent or interesting.

Our challenge, of course, is to say exactly what we mean by "intelligent" and "interesting". Can we do that without falling back on matters related to human survival and preference?

Intelligence seems to have to do with choice, as is also reflected in the original Latin meaning of the word.

Although it is often assumed that design implies the existence of a designer, another view sees design as a characteristic of nature, independent of the needs or tastes of a particular designer.

If events in nature at the minutest level are indeterminate, and not rule-based output from a set of definite input parameters, then every change in direction or state involves acquiring one possibility over all others.

Choice need not be deliberate and need not involve agency, so we can appropriately speak of events in nature as "choices".

In what sense could such choices be considered intelligent? How could some be more intelligent than others?

When asked the reason for his success in hockey, Gordie Howe supposedly once replied, "It's easy. Most players go where the puck is now. I try to go where it will be."

Mr. Howe makes his skill sound easy and matter-of-fact, and his explanation does not truly apply in a stochastic world, yet he does enjoy superior athletic intelligence.

One aspect of what makes a choice intelligent or interesting is its connection to patterns that are set in a broader scope. Intuitively, the broader the context into which these patterns extend, the cleverer the choice.

The idea of design as patterns with generalized connectedness may make sense intuitively, but what does it mean rigorously? What does it mean for one pattern to connect or integrate with another?

Certainly there are patterns that connect universally, such as the topological properties of a sack that make it useful for carrying smaller items. While a sack is admittedly an excellent design, we would reluctantly call it brilliant.

Some people like to think of certain types of patterns, such as those based on fractals or Fibonacci series, as deeper or more mathematical than others. While mathematical descriptions of such patterns may be more readily at hand, are they for that reason more intelligent or interesting?

Ironically, the contrary may actually be more true. Patterns that touch many other pattern families, but that defy mathematical description, may be the patterns that are rarest and most superb.

Michael Webb, 2002

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