I am meditating on the word apophenia.

I learnt it while reading “Pattern Recognition” by William Gibson. Amazon

The Wikipedia puts it well.

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”.

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.

As Gibson says in his interview [clip]with Moyra Gunn, pattern recognition means everything.

Seeing patterns is science. It is law, it is language.

I suffered a bit of apophenia myself today while searching for the word on the net I found quite a lot of info. Now that is not apophenia, but in addition to that I saw the word twice in places where I had not searched: this podcast and this entry in John Perry Barlow’s blog.

I am interested in how close the mad version of apophenia is to the sane one. I know people who see strange coordination between events which makes them clearly psychotic. But then the cure in psychotherapy is often to notice how those twisted perceptions actually reveal and echo other patterns in the clients developmental stages.

Seeing patterns comes on so many forms… science and law of course all rely on patterns. In psychotherapy it is our bread & butter: synchronicity, complexes, role systems, archetypes, projection and transference all involve apophenia.

Even in supervision we achieve a sense of satisfaction when we notice a parallel process in the supervision that echoes the dynamics of the client session being discussed.

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