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Apophenia /æpɵˈfniə/ is the experience of perceiving patterns or connections in random or meaningless data.

The term is attributed to Klaus Conrad[1] by Peter Brugger,[2] who defined it as the "unmotivated seeing of connections" accompanied by a "specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness", but it has come to represent the human tendency to seek patterns in random information in general, such as with gambling and paranormal phenomena.[3]

Meanings and forms[edit]

In 1958, Klaus Conrad published a monograph titled Die beginnende Schizophrenie. Versuch einer Gestaltanalyse des Wahns ("The onset of schizophrenia. Attempt to shape analysis of delusion", not yet translated or published in the English language),[1] in which he described in groundbreaking detail the prodromal mood and earliest stages of schizophrenia. He coined the word "Apophänie" to characterize the onset of delusional thinking in psychosis. This neologism is translated as "apophany", from the Greek apo [away from] + phaenein [to show], to reflect the fact that the schizophrenic initially experiences delusion as revelation.[4] In contrast to epiphany, however, apophany does not provide insight into the true nature of reality or its interconnectedness, but is a "process of repetitively and monotonously experiencing abnormal meanings in the entire surrounding experiential field", which are entirely self-referential, solipsistic and paranoid: "being observed, spoken about, the object of eavesdropping, followed by strangers".[5] In short, "apophenia" is a misnomer that has taken on a bastardized meaning never intended by Conrad when he coined the neologism "apophany".

In 2008, Michael Shermer coined the word "patternicity", defining it as "the tendency to find meaningful patterns in meaningless noise".[6][7] In The Believing Brain (2011), Shermer says that we have "the tendency to infuse patterns with meaning, intention, and agency", which Shermer calls "agenticity".[8]

In 2011, parapsychologist David Luke proposed that apophenia is one end of a spectrum and that the opposite behaviour, the tendency to attribute chance probability to apparently (assuming that there exist relation that one can't currently explain) patterned or related data, can be called "randomania". Luke claims things such as dream precognition are real, and that randomania is the reason people dismiss such claims.[9]


In Statistics and Data Science, apophenia is an example of what is known as Overfitting – where you fit the noise rather than the signal, and your model fits (or overfits) the particular data/observations you are seeing rather than a generalizable pattern in general population.


Main article: Pareidolia

Pareidolia is a type of apophenia involving the perception of images or sounds in random stimuli, for example, hearing a ringing phone while taking a shower. The noise produced by the running water gives a background from which the brain perceives there to be patterned sound of a ringing phone. A more common human experience is perceiving faces in inanimate objects: the headlights and grill of an automobile can appear to be "grinning", individuals around the world can see the "Man in the Moon".[10]


Apophenia is heavily documented as a source of rationale behind gambling, with gamblers imagining they see patterns in the occurrence of numbers in lotteries, roulette wheels, and cards.[11] One variation of this is known as the Gambler's Fallacy.

Hidden meanings[edit]

Fortune telling and divination of the wishes of the spirit world are often based upon discerning patterns produced by what otherwise would thought to be meaningless, chance events. The concept of a Freudian slip is based on what had previously dismissed as meaningless errors as containing meaning for the unconscious, and likewise for The Interpretation of Dreams.


This figure consisting of three circles and a line is automatically and subconsciously recognized as a "face", despite having only a few basic features of an actual face. This is an example of the mechanisms the brain uses for facial recognition.


An example of pareidolia would be finding the faces of religious figures in pieces of toast, the grain of cut wood, or other such patterns.[12]


Postmodern novelists and film-makers have reflected on apophenia-related phenomena, such as:

  • Dark Side of the Rainbow – also known as Dark Side of Oz or The Wizard of Floyd – refers to the pairing of the 1973 Pink Floyd album The Dark Side of the Moon with the visual portion of the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. This produces moments where the film and the album appear to correspond with each other. Band members and others involved in the making of the album state that any relationship between the two works of art is merely a coincidence.
  • In episode 3x02 of Teen Wolf, Allison and Lydia believe that the matching pair of bruises they have received may be a clue. Lydia suggests that it may be pareidolia, adding when the other characters look at her in confusion, "Seeing patterns that aren't there. It's a subset of apophenia."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Conrad, Klaus (1958). Die beginnende Schizophrenie. Versuch einer Gestaltanalyse des Wahns (in German). Stuttgart: Georg Thieme Verlag. 
  2. ^ Brugger, Peter. "From Haunted Brain to Haunted Science: A Cognitive Neuroscience View of Paranormal and Pseudoscientific Thought", Hauntings and Poltergeists: Multidisciplinary Perspectives, edited by J. Houran and R. Lange (North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers, 2001).
  3. ^ Hubscher, Sandra L. "Apophenia: Definition and Analysis". dbskeptic.com. Archived from the original on 2012-07-16. Retrieved 2012-07-16. 
  4. ^ Mishara, Aaron (2010). "Klaus Conrad (1905–1961): Delusional Mood, Psychosis and Beginning Schizophrenia.". Schizophr Bull 36 (1). pp. 9–13. 
  5. ^ Conrad, Klaus (1959). "Gestaltanalyse und Daseinsanalytik". Nervenarzt (30). pp. 405–410. 
  6. ^ Shermer, Michael. "Patternicity: Finding Meaningful Patterns in Meaningless Noise". Scientificamerican.com. Retrieved 2011-06-29. 
  7. ^ GrrlScientist (29 September 2010). "Michael Shermer: The pattern behind self-deception". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2011-06-29. 
  8. ^ "Why Do We Need a Belief in God with Michael Shermer". 2011-08-19. 
  9. ^ Luke, David. "Experiential reclamation and first person parapsychology". Journal of Parapsychology, 75, 185–199. 
  10. ^ Svoboda, Elizabeth (13 February 2007). "Facial Recognition – Brain – Faces, Faces Everywhere". New York Times. Retrieved July 2010. 
  11. ^ May 28, 2007 at 9:49 pm (2007-05-24). "Apophenia & Illusory Correlation « Paul Xavier Waterstone". Waterstone.wordpress.com. Retrieved 2011-06-29. 
  12. ^ "Apophenia". Medical-answers.org. Retrieved 2011-06-29. 
  13. ^ Double Date at the Internet Movie Database
  14. ^ Morrison, Grant (w). Batman 681 (November 2008), DC Comics


External links[edit]