Apophenia

This word came into my awareness while watching the most recent season of Stranger Things, so obviously I had to Google it.

Because yes, I am that person who googles big words that sound cool but I don’t understand the meaning. Half of my questions to Alexa are “What’s the meaning of (insert any word here.)” I like expanding my vocabulary.

For anyone unaware of the definition, like I was, Apophenia is defined as, “the tendency to mistakenly perceive connections and meaning between unrelated things. The term was coined by psychiatrist Klaus Conrad in his 1958 publication on the beginning stages of schizophrenia.”

Then after Googling the term, schizophrenia was brought up in another episode of the show. Is that then a meaningful connection…?

I’m someone who regularly sees connections where there don’t seem to be any. And I know for a fact that I’m not the only one who’s like that.

Interestingly, I watched a different Netflix show that talked about how it was a principle component of human creativity and innovation. (For anyone interested in that one, it’s The Creative Brain.) But hey, maybe that’s just a non-meaningful connection that I’m seeing, right?

After a little more digging into the concept of apophenia and it’s related terms/experiences, I’ve begun to consider that there are probably more people who experience this tendency than don’t. Actually, I think as humans we are specifically wired that way – to see the connections between things that are seemingly unrelated.

You know, just that stuff computers are unable to do. The things that set us apart from all other creations on this Earth – our ability to find meaning and inspiration from seemingly unrelated things and create meaning.

I was going to talk about some examples of my own apophenia that have brought forth incredible insights. However, due to the ability to bring forth insight, would this then be deemed an epiphany?

Epiphanies, by definition, differ from apophenia in that they are considered to bring insight and enlightenment in useful ways. So, from where I’m standing it’s a subjective difference that as long as the connection you notice has a useful meaning for others, it’s considered an “epiphany”. Otherwise, you’re in the loony bin because no one else benefits from the connection you see and will label it as apophenia.

Who decides what is meaningful?

Are things only considered meaningful once they hold meaning for more than one person?

As someone who finds meaning and connection in my environment on a regular, sometimes even daily basis, I’m curious for the answer. How do I know the difference for myself when I’ve found something insightful that would actually be an epiphany versus something that only holds meaning to me and may otherwise be the beginning stages of a mental illness diagnosis? The world may never know.

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