Sunday, 6 October 2013

Writing - Pareidolia and Apophenia

I visited this phenomenon not that many days ago but a couple of days after the blog I was walking in the church grounds and look what I found. It is the

What can you see?

At the time of first seeing this I saw a lady's face but looking slightly differently it could be that of an owl.

It is a psychological phenomenon that allows you to see faces or objects in everyday things. It has a 'sister' condition called apophenia which is seeing meaningful patterns or connections in random data.
There are all sorts of examples some apparently in the TV show Lost where the Numbers 4, 8 15, 16 23 and 42 are frequently used even to predict the end of the world. 

You experience the following on a Monday: The alarm clock does not wake you up and you are now late for work. The cat has peed on the couch. The coffeemaker is making strange noises and doesn't seem to be working. The kids are fighting with each other. It's raining. And on top of everything else, the car won't start. What do you conclude? One or two of these minor irritants would seem insignificant and unmemorable. Once the list grows, however, it begins to take the shape of a plot—a plot of unseen forces perhaps conspiring in a meaningful way against you.
Our brains are pattern-detection machines that connect the dots, making it possible to uncover meaningful relationships among the barrage of sensory input we face. Without such meaning-making, we would be unable to make predictions about survival and reproduction. The natural and interpersonal world around us would be too chaotic. In the above example, if I draw conspiratorial conclusions (i.e., seeing a pattern where none really exists), I am making what statisticians would call, a Type I error, also called a false positive.


The film 'Knowing', starring Nicolas Cage, is based on the fact that there are patterns in a list of numbers produced by a child at school. The digits give Cage the time and location of disasters that are about to happen.

These examples give another factor that as writers we can exploit in our work.

God Bless