What is a Pattern?

Eva R. Toussaint and Godfried T. Toussaint
Proceedings of Bridges 2014: Mathematics, Music, Art, Architecture, Culture (2014)
Pages 293–300


The use of the word ‘pattern’ is ubiquitous in written and spoken discourse. Furthermore, most authors assume the intended reader knows what a pattern is, and hence do not define the term. We present an exploration of the variety of definitions of ‘pattern’ used in different domains of mathematics, the sciences, the arts, and the humanities, with the goal of searching for an overarching definition of pattern or at least a metapattern in the sea of definitions. Due to space limitations this paper is necessarily an incomplete survey of how the term pattern is used in different fields, but it provides a sample from which the interested reader may explore the topic further, and it points a direction in which to search for a practical computational approach to measure the amount of pattern contained in an entity.