Apophenia is the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data. The term was coined in 1958 by Klaus Conrad, who defined it as the “unmotivated seeing of connections” accompanied by a “specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness”.
The Simpsons – TV episode Homer the Whopper (LABF13), just started airing while I was just beginning to write this blog. (paused to watch) In this episode Homer gets converted into a comic-book hero upgraded by Hollywood into a movie superhero Everyman. This is getting me off onto a new superhero riff because of a silly little conversation I had yesterday, at my friend Len’s garden party. I was talking about some of my various obscure subjects and one of the young ladies in my coterie asked what my superhero name and character was? I was stumped, I didn’t know but when I got home to my true love, a woman with a super-heroic level of knowledge, I asked, and she did know and said it was Apophenio. Ta Da !!! I felt like a new man because now I had a new identity and a super one at that. I like this new super-me even if I am having trouble remembering my weird super-name. Superman had it easy when it comes to an easily remembered name, but once I realized that the last part of my new name was similar to the ending of schizophrenia it became much easier to remember.
There are lots of things a superhero needs to succeed in the confusing world we inhabit. One of the first is a cool word or phrase — my word I realized instantly was, Ah-Haaa !!! The Tick already had – Spoon and Superman had – Up, Up and Away. But for me, when I see relationships others can’t see or don’t want to see I can now proclaim my super-power with a resounding — Ah-Haaa !!!
The usual definition of apophenia emphasises “The spontaneous perception of connections and meaningfulness in unrelated things; seeing patterns where none, in fact, exist.” With my super powers I see patterns which do, in fact, exist. In the real world of fact, I can see patterns which other people miss. The difference is between me and my insane competitors is that, what I see can be easily demonstrated because the facts are real. My friends will always see the patterns which I show them because they are real phenomena. But, because people don’t want to see things which they don’t want to believe they will quibble. They want to see only those things which confirm their already firmly held beliefs. They will insist, will almost always insist, that what I am showing them is just random chance, it’s just noise in a field of data. Oh, yes, they say, it is there but it is just accidental and then they refuse to look further at other confirming evidence of the pattern. I make a point of having a second and a third set of data which prove the same pattern but then people will tend to ask if there is some acknowledged authority which agrees with me. If my idea is a new observation then by definition there is no one else to turn to for corroboration let alone an established authority in the field. So, there you have it. If you can’t come up with an established geriatric authority you are wrong. End of conversation.
The usual seeing of faces or familiar objects in random patterns in clouds or on the face of the Moon is an ability common to everyone, when asked to look for them. But, we realize the objects seen and named are not really in the clouds but projections of our own mental pre-existing conditions. It is our minds taking random data and making sense out of nonsense because we have imposed a filter. Usually this works because in many cases there is patterned sense behind what we see with our eyes and our brain tries to make meaning of it as quickly as possible. It works well most of the time because the quicker we make sense of our surroundings the more quickly we can respond appropriately. When there is a consistent misperception placed upon the stimulus which can’t be related back to the real world, it is tagged with the technical word pareidolia.
The whole functioning of the many layers of brain activity is a constant proposal of meaning by our brain layers and the filtering out what fits and what doesn’t fit by other generally adjacent layers. It happens very fast and we are usually only conscious of the end products. This is Jeff Hawkins’s (founder of Palm Pilot) idea of how the intelligence of the brain works as presented in his book On Intelligence. That is, brain activity is not just random feedback from everywhere to everywhere else in the brain but rather it is hierarchical with feedback at any given layer rapidly going back and forth between the association layers above and below it. Not just feedback from anywhere but just from those specific sites and constantly occurring and reoccurring. Communications between layers of brain cells of the type, “this is what I think you said does that interpretation help you see it better?” As these type of queries go up and down the interactive layers of the brain faster than ten times per second, intelligence like results develop and are presented to the final layer we call our consciousness. Nearly all of this brain communication is currently unavailable to our observation even with sophisticated psychological testing but the final results are what we perceive as our thoughts.
My friends complain about my excessive acceptance of patterns which I perceive which they don’t and if they knew the term apophenia they would certainly apply it to me. Personally, I feel my ability is simply the child like acceptance of readily apparent patterns and a remarking upon them for everyone elses observation. Because, I am older and have more data to work with than a child I see things which they don’t see and because I have more flexibility of mind than my old friends I am able to see things which they are unwilling to see. So, now you understand ;)
I am Apophenio! I see what others don’t! — Ah Haaa !!!