apophenia • noun
the tendency to perceive meaningful connections between unrelated things (such as objects or ideas)
Experiment: To take a selection of random words, phrases or ideas and find a meaningful connection between them (meaningful to you, that is).
Take 1x novel, 1x textbook and 1x catalogue and choose items at random. Write them down and stare at them. Stare out your window until thoughts begin to unravel from each item. Wait until these unravellings begin to find one other.
Novel — Pine, by Francine Toon
Textbook — Teaching Today, by Geoff Petty
Catalogue — Crystal & Gem, by Dr R. F. Symes & Dr R. R. Harding
Pilot G-2 07 pen + Leuchtturm Notebook + several hours of lockdown isolation
Base materials: ‘driving home’ + ‘student interest’ + Abrasive behaviour
Observations: This one is easy, coincidental even. You barely even need to stare out the window as the words come at you already unraveled and connected into the story of a student you taught several years ago. She had an abrasive character, a mature student whose interest was in lodging a litany of complaints against you, as she had done with almost all her tutors. You were called in to talk it over with your manager, and on your drive home you were glad you sent certain emails to this student that proved your innocence. You also reflected on how you should really learn how to use the classroom technology, as this was one complaint that stuck.
This story comes to you so effortlessly that you wonder if your base materials were tinged with an excess of serendipity, so that you haven’t experienced apophenia at all.
Base materials: ‘hungry’ + ‘discipline’ + Lenticular
Observations: You begin by discovering that lenticular means ‘shaped like a lentil or lens, from the latin, lenticula, a lentil’, and according to Crystal & Gem, the shape of gypsum crystals. You are struck again by the coincidence (related to serendipity) of this word being placed alongside ‘hungry’. The main character in the novel Pine, ten year-old Lauren, is hungry a lot, her father not neglectful but distracted by grief. He never gives her lentils to eat. You, on the other hand, would smuggle lentils and all manor of pulses and vegetables into your children’s food, but on the whole, discipline was not present at family dinners. You discovered in your own childhood that conflict at the dinner table does not make for happy children.
You imagine that taking three disparate words and finding yourself at your childhood dinner table constitutes ‘meaningful connection’.
Result: Observable evidence recorded
Base materials: ‘the traffic vanishes’ + Scheme of Work + moonstone
Observations: A relative once told you that she saw her thoughts as traffic passing through her brain, the good and the bad coming and going, all vanishing eventually. A scheme of work in teaching circles is a long term plan over a semester or a year, which surely requires the traffic to stick around for long enough for you to at least see what’s in the boot or lying around in the glove compartment. If you found The Moonstone in the boot, for example, you would seriously consider it as a teaching resource. You regularly teach The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, so why not Wilkie Collins’ seminal detective novel? You are someone who likes to plan (note ‘plan’ rather than ‘scheme’), so your mind is regularly a car park with book-filled cars just hanging around waiting for you to root around inside them. Only then do you let them vanish, while enjoying what remain of the humming vibration of their engines.
You initially felt this would be the most taxing experiment, but with enough strong black coffee it seems that anything can be achieved (although reference should be made to the ‘balony’ phenomena referenced below)
Result: Conclusive and catagorical evidence recorded
Conclusion: All available evidence points to you having a convincingly severe case of apophenia, which you suspected from the outset. You have always believed it was a natural way of being, looking for the truth between the gaps, the light within the darkness. Why are we here if not to connect to each other and everything around us?
Further research informs you that it was the German neurologist, Klaus Conrad, who first coined the word apophenia for seeing connections in random or meaningless data. He deduced it was a form of psychotic thought that could lead to schizophrenia, but luckily for you, and the human race at large, the science historian Michael Shermer later explained that this need to plug ourselves and everything together is merely because our brains do not contain the necessary ‘baloney-detection network’ that would tell us if we’re looking at a true or false pattern.
You are happy to be accused of baloney if you can continue to seek out those things that connect together, things that give meaning to the precarious randomness of our daily lives.
And while you think about it, surely there are many stories to be found in Symes & Harding’s Crystal & Gem, so perhaps you won’t put that book back in the boot, not just yet…