Cognitive scientists understand the importance of perception and pattern recognition as a major component of creative thinking. Russian scientist Mikhail Bongard created a remarkable set of visual pattern recognition problems where two classes of figures are presented and you are asked to identify the conceptual difference between them.

Try the following patterns and see how you do.

Below is an example of a Bongard problem. You have two classes of figures (A and B). You are asked to discover some abstract connection that links all the various diagrams in A and that distinguishes them from all the other diagrams in group B.

Thought Experiment

One has to take chances that certain aspects of a given diagram matter, and others are irrelevant. Perhaps shapes count, but not sizes — or vice versa. Perhaps orientations count, but not sizes — or vice versa. Perhaps curvature or its lack counts, but not location inside the box — or vice versa. Perhaps numbers of objects but not their types matter — or vice versa. Which types of features will wind up mattering and which are mere distracters. As you try to solve the problem you will find the essence of your mental activity is a complex interweaving of acts of abstraction and comparison, all of which involve guesswork rather than certainty. By guesswork I mean that one has to take a chance that certain aspects matter and others do not.

Logic dictates that the essence of perception is the activity of dividing a complex scene into its separate constituent objects and attaching separate labels to the now separated parts members of pre-established categories, such as ovals, X’s and circles as unrelated exclusive events. Then we’re taught to think exclusively within a closed system of hard logic.

In the above patterns, if you were able to discern the distinction between the diagrams, your perception is what found the distinction, not logic. The distinction is the ovals are all pointing to the X in the A group, and the ovals area all pointing at the circles in the B group.

The following thought experiment is an even more difficult problem, because you are no longer dealing with recognizable shapes such as ovals, X’s, circles or other easily recognizable structures for which we have clear structures. To solve this you need to perceive subjectively and intuitively make abstract connections, much like Einstein thought when he thought about the similarities and differences between the patterns of space and time, and you need to consider the overall context of the problem.

Again, you have two classes of figures (A and B) in the Bongard problem. You are asked to discover some abstract connection that links all the various diagrams in A and that distinguishes them from all the other diagrams in group B.

Thought Expreiment