The term apparently dates back to 1958, when Klaus Conrad published a monograph titled Die beginnende Schizophrenie. Versuch einer Gestaltanalyse des Wahns ("The onset of schizophrenia: an attempt to form an analysis of delusion"), 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. Conrad's theories on the genesis of schizophrenia have since been partially, yet inconclusively, confirmed in psychiatric literature when tested against empirical findings.
Conrad's neologism was translated into English as "apophenia" (from the Greek apo [away from] + phaenein [to show]) to reflect the fact that a person with schizophrenia initially experiences delusion as revelation.
In 2001 neuroscientist Peter Brugger referenced Conrad's terminology  and defined the term as the "unmotivated seeing of connections" accompanied by a "specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness".
Apophenia has come to imply a universal human tendency to seek patterns in random information, such as gambling.
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 provides a background from which the mind perceives the sound of a phone. A more common example is the perception of a face within an inanimate object—the headlights and grill of an automobile may appear to be "grinning". People around the world see the "Man in the Moon".
Another common example is of one standing in a large crowd and perceiving that several people within the crowd are calling one's name.
In statistics and machine learning, apophenia is an example of what is known as overfitting. Overfitting occurs when a statistical model fits the noise rather than the signal. The model overfits the particular data or observations rather than fitting a generalizable pattern in a general population.
Apophenia is well documented as a rationalization for gambling. Gamblers may imagine that they see patterns in the numbers which appear in lotteries, card games, or roulette wheels. One variation of this is known as the "gambler's fallacy".
Fortune-telling and divination are often based upon discerning patterns seen in what most people would consider to be meaningless chance events. The concept of a Freudian slip is based upon what had previously been dismissed as meaningless errors of speech or memory. Sigmund Freud believed that such "slips" held meaning for the unconscious mind (see The Interpretation of Dreams).
In contrast to an epiphany, an apophany (i.e., an instance of apophenia) does not provide insight into the nature of reality or its interconnectedness but is a "process of repetitively and monotonously experiencing abnormal meanings in the entire surrounding experiential field". Such meanings are entirely self-referential, solipsistic, and paranoid — "being observed, spoken about, the object of eavesdropping, followed by strangers". Thus the English term "apophenia" has a somewhat different meaning than that which Conrad defined when he coined the term "Apophänie".
In The Believing Brain (2011), Shermer wrote that humans have "the tendency to infuse patterns with meaning, intention, and agency", which he called "agenticity".
In 2011, parapsychologist David Luke proposed that apophenia is one end of a spectrum and that the opposite behaviour (attributing to chance what are apparently patterned or related data) can be called "randomania". He asserted that dream precognition is real and that randomania is the reason why some people dismiss it.
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- William Gibson's Pattern Recognition
- Jorge Luis Borges's Library of Babel
- Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum
- Stanislaw Lem's His Master's Voice
- Peter Watts's Blindsight
- Conrad, Klaus (1958). Die beginnende Schizophrenie. Versuch einer Gestaltanalyse des Wahns (in German). Stuttgart: Georg Thieme Verlag. OCLC 14620263.
- Hambrecht & Häfner (1993). "'Trema, apophany, apocalypse'--is Conrad's phase model empirically founded?". Fortschr Neurol Psychiatr. 61 (12): 418–23. doi:10.1055/s-2007-999113. PMID 8112705.
- Mishara, Aaron (2010). "Klaus Conrad (1905–1961): Delusional Mood, Psychosis and Beginning Schizophrenia.". Schizophr Bull. 36 (1): 9–13. doi:10.1093/schbul/sbp144. PMC . PMID 19965934.
- 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)
- Hubscher, Sandra L. "Apophenia: Definition and Analysis". dbskeptic.com. Archived from the original on 2012-07-16. Retrieved 2012-07-16.
- Svoboda, Elizabeth (13 February 2007). "Facial Recognition – Brain – Faces, Faces Everywhere". New York Times. Retrieved 3 July 2010.
- "Apophenia". Medical-answers.org. Retrieved 2011-06-29.[dead link]
- May 28, 2007 at 9:49 pm (2007-05-24). "Apophenia & Illusory Correlation « Paul Xavier Waterstone". Waterstone.wordpress.com. Retrieved 2011-06-29.
- Conrad, Klaus (1959). "Gestaltanalyse und Daseinsanalytik". Nervenarzt (30). pp. 405–410.
- Shermer, Michael. "Patternicity: Finding Meaningful Patterns in Meaningless Noise". Scientificamerican.com. Retrieved 2011-06-29.
- GrrlScientist (29 September 2010). "Michael Shermer: The pattern behind self-deception". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2011-06-29.
- "Why Do We Need a Belief in God with Michael Shermer". 2011-08-19.
- Luke, David. "Experiential reclamation and first person parapsychology". Journal of Parapsychology, 75, 185–199.
- Endslay, Mica R. (2004). Simon Banbury, Sébastien Tremblay, ed. A Cognitive Approach To Situation Awareness: Theory and Application (1st ed.). USA: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 0-7546-4198-8.
- Gibson, William (2003). Pattern Recognition. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. ISBN 978-0-3991-4986-3. OCLC 49894062.
|Look up apophenia in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Skeptic's Dictionary: Robert Todd Carroll's article on apophenia