Internal and External Patterns

(~300 words, ~2 minutes)

I was recently reminded of an old tweet of Aella’s:

It echoed an idea that I have previously written about (in my “book”). If you select some word or term and consider all of the instances that it references, you’ll often find that there are patterns both within the instances themselves but also outside of them.

“Gas station,” for example, references ~1 million instances throughout the world. These million gas stations are similar to each other. Almost all of them contain gasoline containers, gasoline dispensers, payment processing mechanisms, etc. Almost all of them also are next to roads, have cars coming in and out them, are owned by some legal entity, and employ people who live elsewhere.

You can create definitions that reference internal stuff (“down definition”: “a gas station is a ~1 acre location that has on-site gasoline storage and dispensers”) or external stuff (“up definition”: “a gas station is a place cars go to refill their fuel tanks”).

Even though you’re only dealing with definitions, whether the things satisfying the down-definition are the same things satisfying the up-definition is an entirely empirical question. There is nothing necessary about structure inside of something coinciding with structure outside of it. The fact that it happens at all is Very Interesting. There are forces at work that co-warp the world in different places together (“the medium is the message”).

If you violate the down-definition but keep the up-definition, you can replace gas stations with electric charging stations. If you violate the up-definition but keep the down-definition, you can make found art and create a gas station art piece in the middle of the desert.

There’s more to say about how there are certain things that make it obvious what is inside vs what is outside whereas there are other things that don’t make that obvious, but that will be for another time.


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