Einstein said that the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible – that there are recurring, reliable patterns in life that we can come to understand. And therein lies our greatest hope as humans. Patterns help us to manage complexity and navigate change – they help us to detect the most adaptively significant signals in the midst of so much noise – and this understanding can and should inform our line of development as human beings.

Think about the way that chess players use patterns. Studies show that master chess players don’t think any further ahead than novice ones. Nor do they consider any more possibilities. In fact, they tend to consider fewer moves because they quickly home in on the good ones, without ever considering the vast constellation of bad ones.* They can do this because they have trained themselves to recognize adaptively significant patterns – that is, patterns that are “related in a strategically significant way.” This gives them the power to play ‘smarter’ than the rest of us – to look at an ever-changing game board and quickly figure out which lines of development are likely to be promising and which ones will get them into trouble.

We need this kind of pattern recognition for life. As we navigate through change and complexity, we need ways to more effectively discern between promising and destructive lines of development. Ken Low’s half-century investment in drawing adaptively significant patterns from the human story serves as a much-needed guide in a world where the rate of change outstrips our ability to develop rules and recipes to manage every new challenge. The patterns he’s discerned have the potential to help humanity course-correct and chart a more promising future.


* Carl Bereiter and Marlene Scardamalia Surpassing Ourselves: An Inquiry into the Nature and Implications of Expertise. (Chicago, Illinois: Open Court,1993), 26.

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