• apophenia •
Pronunciation: æ-pê-fee-ni-ê • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass
Meaning: A mental state in which someone finds rational patterns in random phenomena.
Notes: Here is a word exemplified admirably in the movie "A Beautiful Mind", directed by Ron Howard and starring Russell Crowe. It is a biographical film about Nobel-prize-winning MIT math scholar John Nash, who worked decoding messages for the CIA. He looked for real patterns at the CIA, but later went mad trying to connect random notes, newspaper articles, receipts, etc. The adjective for this word is apophenic.
In Play: Pareidolia, seeing shapes in unrelated objects, is a variant of apophenia. Pareidolia is perfectly normal, so can apophenia be normal? "I thought driverless cars was an idea born of apophenia until they became a reality." Here is another example: "People who claim to hear the voices of spirits in the static on tapes suffer from apophenia."
Word History: Apophenia was adapted from German Apophänie, a word created by psychiatrist Klaus Conrad in his monograph Die beginnende Schizophrenie "Incipient Schizophrenia" (1958). Conrad derived his word from Greek apophainein "to show by reasoning, to produce evidence", made up of apo "(away) from" + phainein "to appear, show". Apo comes from Proto-Indo-European apo "off, away", source also of Sanskrit apa "away, off", Latin ab "(away) from", Russian po "according to", German auf "on, in, at", English of and after, and Albanian pa "without". Phainein comes from PIE bhan- "to shine", which also became banan "to open, expose" in Armenian and Irish bán "white".