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".
In statistics, apophenia would be classed as a Type I error (false positive, false alarm, caused by an excess in sensitivity). Apophenia is often used as an explanation of some paranormal and religious claims, and can also be used to explain the tendency of humans to believe pseudoscience. Apophenia may be linked to psychosis and creativity.
Conrad originally described this phenomenon in relation to the distortion of reality present in psychosis, but it has become more widely used to describe this tendency in healthy individuals without necessarily implying the presence of neurological or mental illness.
Pareidolia is a type of apophenia involving the finding of images or sounds in random stimuli. For example, hearing a ringing phone whilst 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'.
novelists and film-makers have reflected on apophenia-related phenomena, such as paranoid narrativization or fuzzy plotting (e.g., Vladimir Nabokov's
"Signs and Symbols
", Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49
, Alan Moore's Watchmen
, Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose
and Foucault's Pendulum
, William Gibson
's Pattern Recognition
, James Curcio's Join My Cult
, Arturo Pérez-Reverte's The Club Dumas
, The Illuminatus! Trilogy
by Robert Shea
and Robert Anton Wilson
, and the films Conspiracy Theory
, Darren Aronofsky
, A Beautiful Mind
, The Number 23
and The Nines
). As narrative is one of our 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
The Question, who is portrayed as a conspiracy theorist in the animated television series Justice League Unlimited, was mentioned to have apophenia. He claimed to see connections between the Girl Scouts and the crop circle phenomenon as well as spy satellites and fluoridated toothpaste.
Notes and references
- Endslay, Mica R. (2004). A Cognitive Approach To Situation Awareness:: Theory and Application. 1st, USA: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.. ISBN 0754641988.
- Klaus Conrad, 1958, Die beginnende Schizophrenie. Versuch einer Gestaltanalyse des Wahns. Stuttgart: Thieme.
- Sherlock, P. "On roulette wheels and monkies randomly inspired by Shakespeare", truth.gooberbear, April 1, 2008. Accessed April 1, 2008.
- William Gibson, 2003, Pattern Recognition. New York: G. P. Putnam's, 2003.