THE HOWS AND WHYS OF PATTERN RECOGNITION
Pattern recognition is a key indicator of whether someone has begun to develop a “Zen” way of knowing about his or her field of expertise.Master chess players, for example, can take a brief glance at the pieces configured on a chess board, turn around, and accurately recreate the placement of all the pieces on another board.The rest of us, at best, can remember where one or two pieces are placed.The difference is that the chess masters look at the board and see a pattern – a story – that they can hold in memory and recall later.To recreate the board, they just put the pieces into place in order so as to tell the same story. This is the basis of intuition.While the word conveys a bit of magic or mysticism, psychologists say that intuitive knowledge is the result of repeated experience.The chess master has seen countless configurations on chess boards and gradually learns to see them as a whole experience, pattern or story.To the master, the pieces are just elements of something larger.In like manner, a quarterback who intuits where to find the open man or just seems to sense that it is time to get rid of the ball as he’s approached from behind, has achieved masters level pattern recognition.
Biographers of Napoleon Bonaparte talk about his ability to size up a situation with a single coup d'oeil, (pronounced koo-DOY), meaning “a stroke of the eye” or “glance.”Napoleon was so knowledgeable about his strategic situation—the landscape, the enemy, available technology, similar situations from the past—that he could understand and respond quickly to ever-changing circumstances.Since a term like coup d'oeil is awkward to look at, or to pronounce, we’ll just call the possession of Napoleon’s glance as having it. In Malcolm Glaser’s book, blink, he refers to it as “the power of thinking without thinking.”
In a movie called Napoleon, released in 1927 by legendary film maker Abel Gance, a key segment about the pivotal battle of Toulon is featured. A young Napoleon arrives on the scene with abook under his arm symbolizing his years of study of military history. He finds the French generals and leaders in a pub discussing the planned attack on the heavily fortified position of the enemy at Toulon. The general asks Napoleon (at about 3:00 in the embedded clip) "what would you do if you were in my place?" In what would have passed for "special effects" in a movie produced so long ago, viewers then see Naploeon's keen mind in process, as he draws on his knowledge of similar situations from history.
Perhaps drawing on the success the American revolutionaries found by