Thursday, 22 November 2012


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Apophenia /æpɵˈfniə/ has been defined as the experience of seeing meaningful patterns or connections in random or meaningless data.
The term is a misnomer incorrectly attributed to Klaus Conrad [1] by Peter Brugger ,[2] who defined it as the "unmotivated seeing of connections" accompanied by a "specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness", but it has come to represent the human tendency to seek patterns in random information in general (such as with gambling), paranormal phenomena, and religion.[3]



[edit] Meanings and forms

In 1958, Klaus Conrad published a monograph entitled Die beginnende Schizophrenie. Versuch einer Gestaltanalyse des Wahns, [4] in which he described in groundbreaking detail the prodromal mood and earliest stages of schizophrenia. He coined the word "Apophänie" to characterize the onset of delusional thinking in psychosis. This neologism is translated as "apophany," from the Greek apo [away from] + phaenein [to show], to reflect the fact that the schizophrenic initially experiences delusion as revelation. [5] In contrast to epiphany, however, apophany does not provide insight into the true nature of reality or its interconnectedness, but is a "process of repetitively and monotonously experiencing abnormal meanings in the entire surrounding experiential field" which are entirely self-referential, solopsistic and paranoid: "being observed, spoken about, the object of eavesdropping, followed by strangers” [6]. In short, "apophenia" is a misnomer that has taken on a bastardized meaning never intended by Conrad when he coined the neologism, "apophany."

In 2008, Michael Shermer coined the word 'patternicity', defining it as "the tendency to find meaningful patterns in meaningless noise".[7][8] In The Believing Brain (2011), Shermer defines patternicity as "the tendency to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless noise". The Believing Brain thesis also says that we have "the tendency to infuse patterns with meaning, intention, and agency", which Shermer calls 'agenticity'.[9]

[edit] Statistics

In statistics, apophenia is known as a Type I error - the identification of false patterns in data.[10] It may be compared with a so called false positive in other test situations.

[edit] Paranormal phenomena

A common example of perceived, but non-existent pattern are paranormal sightings, including sightings of ghosts, Unidentified Flying Objects, cryptozoology, etc., which may be due to apophenia.[citation needed]

[edit] Conspiracy theories

Likewise conspiracy theorists are famously prone to identify a (perhaps coincidental) pattern, and conclude that it must have great significance, although things that are important, life-changing, and even catastrophic, can occur simply out of random chance.

[edit] Religion

The attempt to foretell the future, present, or past by finding patterns in animal entrails, tossed sticks, or by picking random passages from a holy text are often cited as examples of apophenia. A more extreme example is the pareidolia associated with finding the faces of religious figures in pieces of toast, the grain of cut wood, or other such patterns.[11]
Recent real-world examples include the finding of a cross inside a halved potato;[12] the appearance of Jesus and Mary inside a halved orange;[13] and the appearance of Jesus' face on a piece of toast,[14] in the frost on a car window,[15] and inside the lid of a jar of Marmite.[16]

[edit] Gambling

Apophenia is heavily documented as a source of rationale behind gambling, with victims imagining they see patterns in the occurrence of numbers in lotteries, roulette wheels, and even cards.[17] One variation of this is known as the Gambler's Fallacy.

[edit] Synchronicity

Carl Jung coined the term synchronicity for the "simultaneous occurrence of two meaningful but not causally connected events" creating a significant realm of philosophical exploration. This attempt at finding patterns within a world where coincidence does not exist possibly involves apophenia if a person's perspective attributes their own causation to a series of events. "Synchronicity therefore means the simultaneous occurrence of a certain psychic state with one or more external events which appear as meaningful parallels to a momentary subjective state". (C. Jung, 1960)

[edit] Examples

This figure consisting of three circles and a line is automatically and subconsciously recognized as a "face", despite having only a few basic features of an actual face. This is an example of the mechanisms the brain uses for facial recognition.

[edit] Pareidolia

Pareidolia is a type of apophenia involving the perception of images or sounds in random stimuli, for example, hearing a ringing phone while taking a shower. The noise produced by the running water gives a random background from which the patterned sound of a ringing phone might be "produced". A more common human experience is perceiving faces in inanimate objects; this phenomenon is not surprising in light of how much processing the brain does in order to memorize and recall the faces of hundreds or thousands of different individuals. In one respect, the brain is a facial recognition, storage, and recall machine - and it is very good at it. A byproduct of this acumen at recognizing faces is that people see faces even where there is no face: the headlights & grill of an automobile can appear to be "grinning", individuals around the world can see the "Man in the Moon", and a drawing consisting of only three circles and a line which even children will identify as a face are everyday examples of this.[18]

[edit] Fiction

Postmodern novelists and film-makers have reflected on apophenia-related phenomena, such as:
As narrative is one of humanity's major cognitive instruments for structuring reality, there is some common ground between apophenia and narrative fallacies such as hindsight bias. Since pattern recognition may be related to plans, goals, and ideology, and may be a matter of group ideology rather than a matter of solitary delusion, the interpreter attempting to diagnose or identify apophenia may have to face a conflict of interpretations.[citation needed]

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Conrad, Klaus (1958) (in German). Die beginnende Schizophrenie. Versuch einer Gestaltanalyse des Wahns. Stuttgart: Georg Thieme Verlag. 
  2. ^ Brugger, Peter. "From Haunted Brain to Haunted Science: A Cognitive Neuroscience View of Paranormal and Pseudoscientific Thought", Hauntings and Poltergeists: Multidisciplinary Perspectives, edited by J. Houran and R. Lange (North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers, 2001).
  3. ^ Hubscher, Sandra L. "Apophenia: Definition and Analysis". Archived from the original on 2012-07-16. Retrieved 2012-07-16. 
  4. ^ Conrad, Klaus (1958) (in German). Die beginnende Schizophrenie. Versuch einer Gestaltanalyse des Wahns. Stuttgart: Georg Thieme Verlag. 
  5. ^ Mishara, Aaron (2010). "Klaus Conrad (1905-1961): Delusional Mood, Psychosis and Beginning Schizophrenia.". Schizophr Bull 36 (1): pp. 9-13. 
  6. ^ Conrad, Klaus (1959). "Gestaltanalyse und Daseinsanalytik.". Nervenarzt (30): pp. 405-410. 
  7. ^ Shermer, Michael. "Patternicity: Finding Meaningful Patterns in Meaningless Noise". Retrieved 2011-06-29. 
  8. ^ GrrlScientist (29 September 2010). "Michael Shermer: The pattern behind self-deception". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2011-06-29. 
  9. ^ "Why Do We Need a Belief in God with Michael Shermer". 2011-08-19. 
  10. ^ "apophenia - The Skeptic's Dictionary". 2011-03-16. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. Retrieved 2011-06-29. 
  11. ^ "Apophenia". Retrieved 2011-06-29. 
  12. ^ "Image of the Holy Cross Miraculously Appears Inside a Potato Claims Chef". Halifax Live, Nova Scotia. 6 December 2005. Retrieved 6 June 2010. 
  13. ^ "VISION: Resident cuts orange open and sees image of Jesus and Mary". Lockport Journal, New York. 8 January 2010. Retrieved 5 June 2010. 
  14. ^ "South Florida Man Finds Jesus in his Toast". First Coast News, Florida. 11 November 2008. Retrieved 5 June 2010. 
  15. ^ "Jesus image appears daily on Tennesse (sic) man's car". Metro, London. 5 November 2008. Retrieved 5 June 2010. 
  16. ^ Carys Jones (28 May 2009). "Family's Marmite Messiah in lid of jar". WalesOnLine, Cardiff. Retrieved 5 June 2010. 
  17. ^ May 28, 2007 at 9:49 pm (2007-05-24). "Apophenia & Illusory Correlation « Paul Xavier Waterstone". Retrieved 2011-06-29. 
  18. ^ Svoboda, Elizabeth (13 February 2007). "Facial Recognition - Brain - Faces, Faces Everywhere". New York Times. Retrieved July, 2010. 
  19. ^ Double Date at the Internet Movie Database
  20. ^ Morrison, Grant (w). Batman 681 (November 2008), DC Comics

[edit] References

[edit] External links

  • Skeptic's Dictionary: Robert Todd Carroll's article on apophenia
  • DBSkeptic: Sandra Hubscher's analysis of apophenia
  • YouTube
  • [1]: Klaus Conrad (1905-1961): Delusional Mood, Psychosis and Beginning Schizophrenia

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