Puzzles & Patterns

The human mind is a wonderful tool for solving puzzles. Which is a good thing, really, since our lives are full of them. Every type of challenge in life — from learning how to walk to building relationships to becoming successful — is a puzzle that needs solving.

Puzzles come in all kinds of forms, all degrees of abstraction and complexity. Jigsaw puzzles represent one of the simplest puzzle genres. Solving one is a relatively straightforward process of gathering their pieces, organizing them by shared characteristics, and putting them all together.

This basic puzzle-solving process highlights three strategies for understanding any type of interaction. We can also think of these strategies as patterns of interaction representing the cognitive functions involved in identifying individual pieces of information, making the connections among them, and integrating their composite whole. It’s an abstract description of the actual process, but it outlines the way we transform information derived from the world into meaningful representations.

Although exceptionally powerful in an evolutionary context, these representations do not refer to the objective reality of the world so much as they refer to our subjective experience of it. It’s not as if the world is literally full of puzzles to be solved or meaning to be found. These are our own unique creations. Which presents us with the quintessentially puzzling question — is our ability to solve puzzles really just a function of our ability to create puzzles to be solved in the first place?