George Nelson got it right when he said, “The connections game is a process of building patterns. Patterns make things intelligible.” In this time of transitions we all need to play the connections game if we are to make any sense of what is going on. But Nelson also threw in a qualifier, “The ability to make connections depends upon the homework you’ve done”
This is why I was so delighted when I came across an interview with William Gibson, promoting his new book, “Pattern Recognition”, where he uses the word “Apophenia”. This is defined as “…the spontaneous perception of connections and meaningfulness in unrelated things.” But I do think the word would be more useful if the word ‘spontaneous’ was dropped from the definition.
Human beings do seemed to have a propensity to create patterns of connections. We want to believe in a meaningful world and a world that conforms to our beliefs about it. This is where I think the word ‘apophenia’, meaning “the perception of connections and meaningfulness in unrelated things” could be a useful tool in our box for building patterns. Checking for apophenia when are playing the connection game, could be a means of seeing whether what we are building is just wishful thinking or a pattern that conforms to our prejudices or whether it is solid enough as guide for action.

2 thoughts on “Apophenia”

  1. I t would be interesting to try to find how meaningless something would have to be before noboby found any meaning in it at all.
    There is the artist whose work is crunched up balls of a4 paper .(I cannot remember his name but he has a studio in Brixton and he was up for a big prize around 2 years a go) I found meaning in it though i would find it difficult to explain what it was.I do think th e world inherently has meaning and it is impossible not to find it.

  2. I think that is the point I was trying make. We are meaning-making animals. The problem is that quite often the meaning we make is nonsense – which is not problem until we act on it, then it can have very real, and often, very unpleasant consequences.

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