WHO'S AFRAID OF PATTERNS?: THE PARTICULAR VERSUS THE UNIVERSAL AND THE MEANING OF HUMANITIES 3.0. BMGN - Low Countries Historical Review. Vol. 128, No. 4, 2013, 171-180.Rens BodAbstractThe advent of Digital Humanities has enabled scholars to identify previously unknown patterns in the arts and letters; but the notion of pattern has also been subject to debate. In my response to the authors of this Forum, I argue that ‘pattern’ should not be confused with universal pattern. The term pattern itself is neutral with respect to being either particular or universal. Yet the testing and discovery of patterns – be they local or global – is greatly aided by digital tools. While such tools have been beneficial for the humanities, numerous scholars lack a sufficient grasp of the underlying assumptions and methods of these tools. I argue that in order to criticise and interpret the results of digital humanities properly, scholars must acquire a good working knowledge of the underlying tools and methods. Only then can digital humanities be fully integrated (humanities 3.0) with time-honoured (humanities 1.0) tools of hermeneutics and criticism.
What I'm wondering is whether or not pattern is emerging as a fundamental epistemological/ontological entity. I've broached this idea in an earlier post focussed on Moretti, From Quantification to Patterns in Digital Criticism, where I observed, of his network diagrams:
What are those diagrams about? Let me suggest that they are about patterns. Yes, I know, the word is absurdly general, but hear me out.That bar chart depicts a pattern of quantitative relationships, and does so better and more usefully than a bunch of verbal statements. You look at it and see the pattern.The pattern in the network diagram is harder to characterize. It’s a pattern of relationship among characters. What kind of relationships? Dramatic relationships? That, I admit, is weak. But if you read Moretti’s pamphlet, you’ll see what’s going on.The important point is what happens when you get such diagrams based on a bunch of different texts. You can see, at a glance, that there are different patterns in different texts. While each such diagram represents the reduction of a text to a model, the patterns in themselves are irreducible. They are a primary object of description and analysis.And that is my point: patterns.
As I said, the idea of patterns is very general. But that doesn’t make it useless. On the contrary, that generality makes the idea useful and powerful.
It is a commonplace in the cognitive science that the human mind (and brain) is very good at pattern recognition. But digital computers are not so good at it. I note also that the notion of design patterns has been popular in computer programming, which got it from the notion of pattern language articulated by the architect, Christopher Alexander.