Apophenia and Pareidolia

by Dave on May 20, 2010

What? No, they aren’t ancient goddesses, but they sure sound like it. The following definitions are both from Wikipedia. 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'”. Pareidolia is “a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant. Common examples include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds, the man in the moon, and hearing hidden messages on records played in reverse.”


I’m amazed at the weird things people will believe. Of course, MY beliefs are NOT weird. Do you think YOURS are? An interesting question, though, is what makes one person’s apophenia another person’s hogwash? If I perceive a pattern somewhere, and you don’t, am I deluded? Or are you asleep? Awareness is interesting. Is my pareidolia an example of wishful thinking, or are you oblivious?

Seems to me that to see a pattern is not necessarily to ascribe to it some great meaning. What do you see in this toast? a face in toastI’m pretty sure most people will see a face. The face is “there”. No delusion yet. But if I say that this face in the toast MEANS something besides a coincidental burn, THEN there could be a problem.

According to Peter Brugger (Department of Neurology, University Hospital, Zurich), “The propensity to see connections between seemingly unrelated objects or ideas most closely links psychosis to creativity … apophenia and creativity may even be seen as two sides of the same coin.”

Hmmm, again.

This post is simply to get you thinking about things like this. Tell me what you think, and I’ll tell you if I see any meaning in it. [grin]

P.S. Thanks to Jason Griffey over at his blog Pattern Recognition for these additions to my vocabulary!

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