Thursday, January 22, 2009

Second order and third order patterns

Some patterns and natural phenomena are readily understood by human beings. For example: The position of an object is very easily understood. Say a stone placed on the ground. You can also displace the stone and also understand the next order phenomenon; which is the concept of velocity: It is the displacement of the position of the stone uniformly over a time interval. It is when you get into second and third order or even higher order patterns that human beings have problems. 

For example; if the stone is moved at a greater rate of speed (i.e. non-uniformly) ; you get a phenomenon called acceleration in physics. If the rate of speed  decreases over time then it is called a deceleration. Many cannot intuit such second-order phenomena very easily and they have difficulty in getting a good grip around them. Once you do not understand them; it becomes even more difficult to connect it to other aspects of our reality. It took the genius of Newton to explain how acceleration is connected to force. Force being mass multiplied by acceleration. Mass is a zero-order phenomena (like position) and quite readily understood by most.

It does not stop just there. If one looks for it carefully; one can notice the phenomenon of the rate of acceleration. That phenomenon also has a name. It is called a jerk. If you don't like it for its other social connotation then you can use the UK variant which is a jolt. A jerk is very difficult to understand and come to terms with. (Yes; jerks of all kinds are quite difficult!)  If you want to understand all the various patterns in physics along the lines of position; velocity; acceleration; jerks; etc and how they are connected to other phenomena such as force then look at this page on jerks.

Now you may be wondering about the point I am trying to establish here.

Understanding patterns is intrinsic to a human's effort to come to terms with the world around him/her.  Patterns are not just seen in physical phenomena but also in other spheres of life: economic; social; political; psychological; physiological and whatever branch people have artificially divided life into. 

Some of us are capable of seeing just the zero-th order phenomena. Many can see even the first order ones. A few can dig deeper and notice the working of the second order. So on and so forth. You bring together a bunch of people with different capabilities and you have a rich source of misunderstandings. A conversation between people with different capabilities regarding perception of patterns can quickly degenerate quite fast: "Why don't you just accept the situation as it is? There is nothing more to it!" would be a common refrain by a person who can see the zeroth-order phenomena and nothing much more beyond that. "But can't you see that the situation is actually caused because of this xyz happening?" says the chap who has the ability to digest the next order. A more "deeper" person will then say "You are both wrong. It is important to see the situation as a time-slice of a larger variation that is happening"

I guess that is what makes people interesting. They all seem to be alike but each move in a subtly different direction. Like a babbling brook.