Paula Swenson

Palindromes and Other Patterns

In The Natural World, Uncategorized on January 2, 2010 at 10:21 am

01/02/2010 — Today is a palindrome — the date is the same written forward or backward– at least it is if you live in North America. (If you live in Europe keep an eye out for the first of February!)

There is something about palindromes that fascinates us. Perhaps it is the rare symmetry, or maybe the unexpected discovery? Whatever the reason, the human brain seems to love patterns. We seek them out in the tangled masses of information we receive every day. We are inexplicably pleased when we discover hidden patterns in nature, feeling an inescapable urge to share our observations with others.

Many animals count on patterns and pattern recognition for everything from finding food to finding family. Zebras and okapi are a good example, each individual has a unique stripe pattern, with the differences especially pronounced on the hindquarters. Biologists call this a ‘follow-me pattern’ because it allows baby animals to find their mothers even in a big fast-moving herd.

Humans are often less practical in their pattern recognition (does it really matter that today’s date reads the same forward and back?) but the skill is an innate one, and I can’t help wondering if we shouldn’t pay more attention to the patterns all around us.

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© Paula Swenson 2010

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  1. When I started teaching, the mantra for math instruction was, “The brain is a pattern-seeker, not a rule-follower.” Totally true. I love math. So much so, that I had to figure out why the last Palindrome Day was 08-31-1380!

  2. Wow, thanks institutrice! By a strange coincidence the town where I currently live had been in existence for 20 years when the last palindrome day occurred. I wish you had been my math teacher, this is the cool part of math.

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