Article/doc by Helene Finidori
Patterns that Connect: Exploring The Potential of Patterns and Pattern Languages in Systemic Interventions Towards Realizing Sustainable Futures.

Helene, I have just “read” your excellent “doc”.  I have never encountered a doc like this, and I am hard put to say that what I did with it was “reading”. I want to say it is the most “complex” doc I ever encountered, but I’m not satisfied with calling it primarily “complex”. It might also be the most “comprehensive” doc I’ve encountered.  I attended and presented at two ISSS conferences: Budapest 1987 and Asilomar 1994. Now, there are many docs I might attempt to read, but be unable to process them. I claim that I comprehend the basic themes of your doc. Otherwise, I couldn’t make statements about its “complexity” or “comprehensiveness”. I will discuss these themes later in this doc.

Yet, the terms “pattern” and “language” and their coupling can’t find traction anywhere in my mental reality. I am well aware of examples of patterns and languages, and even might consider what I am typing now as a “pattern language”; but these examples are NOT what you refer to in your doc. Yet, throughout the doc, every time I saw those words there was a blindspot behind it. This is, for me, a weird phenomenon, totally new and challenging.

Everything I have ever read about “pattern languages” has been like this. For me, the docs are pure abstraction, as if “pattern language” was the variable “x” in a concrete mathematical treatise. I see mention of concrete examples, but they are never part of the docs. I have not searched all of the references, but those I have looked at did not help me.

I have seen mention of diagrams on cards, as a crude example – but never know how these are used by persons in a manner I might call “languaging”.  None of the icons related to me as representative of the concept they were to represent. Those without visual imagery would be unable to participate. A video of their use would be very helpful.


Helene, I grok that you and I are working in the same domain, but coming at it from widely different approaches. Many of the persons and topics you mention I am aware of.  The last time I looked at cybernetics, there were only two orders; and was interested in learning there are now four. I wish I had the time and mind to study your doc and read many of your references. You have identified and collected so, so many essential distinctions. [I still think back on Spencer-Brown’s LAWS OF FORM, making “distinction” the fundamental of reality.]

I had to read most sentences more than once, and often only got a inkling of what was being said. Each would require study – for me. In a way, you write as I do – trying to make each sentence as general as possible, with strings of words instead of only one. I know what I would need to do to optimally comprehend each paragraph.

Each paragraph, and there were many, was a different cross-section of reality. Each was a “pattern”. How they “hung together” in themes was the beginning of a “language of conceptual schemes”. Patterns within patterns within patterns, etc.

I am told my ideas are too complex for most people to comprehend. This doc makes mine look like a kindergarten sketch. Yet, I think we share two challenges, and maybe are imagining the same “vehicle”.

The longterm survival/thrival of Humankind/Gaia is our shared goal. You phrase it as achieving a sustainable global humanity this century, which I agree must be our first step.

I characterize our contemporary “reality” as high in MSC (Magnitude/Scope/Complexity). You provide many variations of this theme. We humans share the problem of trying to do too much with too little. I have recently encountered my personal threshold: that what is necessarily relevant to me is beyond my reach – a virtual infinity of information to access and process. I play with many insights of how to meet this seemingly impossible challenge; as do you.

We both seek solutions in how we humans interact, with nu tools, technologies, languages, insights. I speculate that what I am calling “semfields” you are calling “pattern languages”. I propose  sem = pattern. We need to explore this later.


My strategy involves radically changing humans and human social systems, as well as inventing/using new technologies. I not only propose the need for UPLIFT, but that individual humans may not be capable of being the primary deciders working with pattern languages or semfields.  This is more than we must learn to work well in teams and crews, as individuals; but that when working on societal issues it is the team, crew, or tribe that is the primary decider. The bandwidth for human cognition is too narrow. I am very early in thinking on this, as I am becoming aware that our best knowledge about ourselves is both inadequate and often inaccurate.

Finally, I remain very concerned that our direct objectives, at this time, may NOT BE sustainability, or even surviving climate change. These must be our goals – the consequence of achieving our objectives. Our objectives must be to create a nu global humankind competent to implement steps required for sustainability and avoiding climate catastrophe. At this time humankind lacks the competencies to do what is needed, even should we discover what to do.

[This distinction between objective and goal I find essential – and it was a distinction use by the National Science Foundation in their grant proposals in the 1960s. They also distinguished between evaluation measures for behavioral objectives AND activity performance.]

To this end, attempting to transform governments and corporations to heal Gaia – even using pattern languages – may be impossible.  If so, then UPLIFT to Societal Metamorphosis may be the only alternative.

I expect that emerging a functional pattern-language/semfield would be much better working within an “isolated” UPLIFTING movement than within collapsing social and societal systems. All the variables you identify in your doc might better emerge within populations fully committed to it, and not having to face opposition.


Crudely, I think of a pattern as the geometric content of a structure, its form. The text or sequences of symbols (letters) on this screen is a structure, which I perceive. I am not ready to call my experiential perceiving this structure as a pattern. The hypothesized neural-molecular processes with my brain architecture might eventually be empirically associated with my reporting about my experientials. I find it important to distinguish between hypothesized patterns or structures “out there”, the hypothetical associated processes in my mind/brain, the actual “conscious” experientials, and the patterns in my report of my experientials.

Decades back I invented a distinction: Processing STRUCTURE and Structuring PROCESS. I had to re-edit it from an outmoded format and post it as a file in my blog. My current reading leaves parts confusing – but I still believe the distinction is important.

I speculate that the distinction between patterns within nature and patterns created by humans is very significant – although the boundary may not be precise.

The star field constellations, the structure of our solar system, our DNA, and the pattern of the human face invariant over a lifetime (used in facial recognition) are patterns within nature AND we can represent these patterns in drawings and data sets, human created patterns to be perceived on a digital screen.

Elsewhere I have proposed that patterns-within-structures CREATED by humans ARE UNIQUE IN OUR UNIVERSE. I call them sems (for semiotic structures) and in configurations I call semfields. With sems, humans liberate information from all prior embedment in matter/energy systems. This has added new fundamental dimensions to Gaia and has shifted our future beyond the laws of evolution. The implications are, at this time, well beyond imagination. Humankind’s lack of comprehension of its dependence on its semfields may be the root cause of our current Crisis-of-Crises; but with comprehension may provide what we need for multi-millennial survival/thrival of Humanity/Gaia. This proposal calls for evaluation.

A book read a while back continues to bug me as to its potential relevance. Coming to Our Senses: Perceiving Complexity to Avoid Catastrophes, by Viki McCabe. It is proposed that some patterns are not perceived as usual, but are directly inputted into our brains. Facial recognition patterns is the exemplar. I have forgotten the details of this book, as I have of all books I have read. I cite it here as I intuit it will be significant.



I grok that the “language” in “pattern languages” attempts to generalize how humans interact by mutual reference to patterns beyond the spoken and written languages of our traditions.  I imagine a team of persons mutually making a building, through gestures and sounds, but no spoken or written language; but with reference to symbols on cards – a very primitive semfield.

Your citing Wiki as a meta-pattern generator is significant. I interpret Wiki as an OS for creating/maintaining/using semfields.

Over the decades I have explored the need for new/nu visual, digital “languages”. They need to permit the integration of both nested and networked patterns. They would incorporate symbols (both words and icons) with standardized visual attributes (color, size, font) distributed in 2D space where “syntax” is coded to location in 2D space. Sounds can be independent patterns, along with movements of symbols. Readers may “drive” the visual. This language can’t be spoken, although spoken language may accompany its use. The current visual language being used here is grossly inadequate to represent the MSC of our conceptual schemes.

The vast diversity of human cognition must be accounted for in the development of pattern languages and semfields. Not all patterns can be perceived, let alone comprehended by everyone. Nor will “translations” always be possible. Only a small population will ever comprehend your doc, no matter what language expresses it. Although the global population can be very significantly uplifted, and even more with future generations, there will always remain wide distributions of variation among individual persons.  I grok that many “issues” will require specialized crews to work on; and where no individual person can comprehend the whole or be sole decider.

I foresee many generations of development for humanity, to make full use of our potentials. Looking forward from a few generations ahead, after successful UPLIFT and Cultural/Societal Metamorphosis, is well beyond our current capacity to imagine, today. We are cultural/societal infants. Yet, there will be a minimum we must accomplish in the next few decades.

Helene, which of the many features you cite in your doc should be given priority?

Author: nuet

01/24/1935. BS-physics RPI 1956; MS-physics UofChicago 1958; PhD-physics Yale 1965; PhD-Edu Psy Uof MInnesota 1970. Auroral Research Byrd Station, Antarctica 11/1960-02/1962. MINNEMAST curriculum dev 1964-68. Woodstock. faculty Pima Community College, Tucson 1974-1997. Transdisciplinary scientist, philosopher, educator, futurist, activist. PC user since 1982. "Wife". daughter, 2 grandsons. 5 dogs & 7 cats. Lacks mental imagery in all sensory domains.