APOPHENIA. I came across an unfamiliar word in a review by Laura Marcus in the Times Literary Supplement (September 9). The word is “apophenia”, and while the word is new to me, I encounter the phenomenon almost every day. Laura Marcus defined apophenia as “a tendency to seek ‘meaningful patterns in the scattered, senseless data of the everyday.'” This wikipedia article says that the term was coined in 1958 by Klaus Conrad and was originally used “in relation to the distortion of reality present in psychosis.” The term apparently “has come to represent the human tendency to seek patterns in random nature in general, as with gambling, paranormal phenomena, religion, and even attempts at scientific observation.” We encounter the phenomenon all the time in generalizations based on scraps of data. Wikipedia points out that: “In statistics, apophenia is known as a Type I error, the identification of false patterns in data.”

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2 Responses to APOPHENIA.

  1. Henry Nejako says:

    I think we are hardwired to seek patterns in our perceptions.
    Sometimes someone immersed in a topic can see an accurate pattern when just a few bits of data are encountered. The emerging field of video analytics identifies people, objects, and activities by extrapolating from a few pixels.

  2. Pingback: APOPHENIA—THE CARTOON. | Pater Familias

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