Favorite

Apophenia 

The Observer is a great and passionate lover of words, these bare squiggles that enable us to do what no other creature can do, which is, of course, to pass our knowledge on beyond the point of our own end and thereby potentially live forever, or at least until the sun burns out or all the paper crumbles to dust, whichever comes first. A great writer once called the written word the greatest practical joke mankind has ever played on itself, and a pretty good trick it is! We fall for it over and over, brought to rage, tears, giggles and full-throated laugher by little marks on paper or (these days) screens. Connections, ladies and germs! Connections. Language is the razor you have been carrying since someone first leaned into your new, cherubic face and said "Ma Ma," the edge stropped on the wide belt of experience every day since then. Yours Truly writes "apple," and suddenly, projected on the crowded billboard of your mind, there it is: the waxy fruit that tempted Eve and Adam, shining red, the stem, the delicious curve, maybe even the taste and sassy crunch curling, like a phantom, into the vault of your mouth. Magic!

The Observer, a greedy sort who is always trying to extend our share of that magic, loves it when we come across a tasty new word. This week's word: Apophenia. It is, of course, the tendency of your brain to want to make order out of nothingness, the name for that thing that happens when you look at the clouds and see not puffs of water vapor buffeted by high-altitude winds, but babies and hippos, hot fudge sundaes and the H.M.S. Bounty. You knew there had to be a name for it, didn't you? Now you know.

It's not really known for sure why we make those spooky connections of thought, where radio static might seem to become unearthly whispers in the dark watches of the night, but the best theory going is that it helped us survive back in the Bad Ol' Days, the idea being that Caveman Ung, who readily convinced himself that every shadowy bush and snapping twig was a ravenous cave bear, would live longer than Caveman Monga, who blew off the little voice in his head, believing it was always The Other Neanderthal who wound up as something's lunch. Probably didn't do a thing for Ung's blood pressure, but at least he lived to nervously sire little cavelets, who begat and begat and begat unto the 99th generation and thus became you, good sir or madam. Congratulations.

The problem is that, even though humanity has mostly outgrown the need to be always on guard for something that might eat us, a lot of us have still got ol' apophenia hanging around our brains, making otherwise rational people more prone to believe in hokum and dark conspiracies that limit their trust of others and their world — everything from ghosts to 9/11 Trutherism to Caveman Ung's steadfast belief that the dark and dripping cave just west of the rock that looks like a mastodon contains a Marxist Communist Socialist Kenyan Manchurian Candidate who time-traveled back to place a newspaper announcement about his birth in a Honolulu newspaper in 1961 so he could become president and thereby destroy America from within.

The upside is that apophenia — in addition to being crucial to the success of Fox News — is crucial to artistic creativity, allowing artists to make the broad, poetic leaps between two seemingly unconnected things or ideas so that a raven is like a writing desk, a rose is as thy lady's cheeks, and Lucy is up there in the sky with diamonds, whatever the hell that means.

Ah, these brains of ours! Miracle of miracles. So full of mystery and wonder, most of it unconsidered by the vast majority of people, who are content to see their mind the same way they do their toaster and refrigerator and the Honda parked in the driveway: something that works and works well, so why wonder why it does so? Such a shame. Then again, too many of us live on the surface, dear traveling companions, never diving down into the murk of existence to touch the sandy bottom, where we might at last understand that there is, in fact, a bottom to this wide and swirling pool.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

  • I'm sorry

    I'm sorry we stood by while your generation's hope was smothered by $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, just because you were trying to educate yourselves enough to avoid falling for the snake oil and big talk of a fascist.
    • Nov 17, 2016
  • Show and tell

    The Observer is an advocate of the A+ method of integrating the arts and using creativity to teach across the curriculum, an approach that the Thea Foundation, with help from the Windgate Charitable Foundation, is offering to schools across the state.
    • Feb 25, 2016
  • Yawp

    The Observer has been in a funk lately for a number of reasons: revulsions and slights, both foreign and domestic. We get that way most years as the winter drags on, once the tinsel and colored lights of Christmas drop into the rearview, soon after we come off the New Year's Day hangover.
    • Mar 24, 2016

Most Shared

  • ASU to reap $3.69 million from estate of Jim and Wanda Lee Vaughn

    Arkansas State University announced today plans for spending an expected $3.69 million gift in the final distribution of the estate of Jim and Wanda Lee Vaughn, who died in 2013 and 2015 respectively.
  • Bad health care bill, again

    Wait! Postpone tax reform and everything else for a while longer because the Senate is going to try to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act one more time before September ends and while it can do it with the votes of only 50 senators.
  • Sex on campus

    Look, the Great Campus Rape Crisis was mainly hype all along. What Vice President Joe Biden described as an epidemic of sexual violence sweeping American college campuses in 2011 was vastly overstated.
  • The inadequate legacy of Brown

    LRSD continues to abdicate its responsibility to educate poor black students.

Latest in The Observer

  • Taking one for the team

    The Observer got to the doctor's office the other day. We hate going to the doctor. Loathe is a better word. In the form of a sentence, it would be: "The Observer hates going to the doctor with the same white hot intensity that Trump voters would hate being forced to read the seminal grammar primer, 'The Elements of Style,' by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White." Yes, it's that bad.
    • Sep 21, 2017
  • The lake house

    The Observer got to the lake over the weekend, courtesy of some friends who rented a place on the water.
    • Sep 14, 2017
  • 13

    The Observer, an office-bound hermit until we were cast back into the hustle of an open newsroom earlier this year, had forgotten how much we'd missed the camaraderie of being forced into joining conversations with your colleagues.
    • Sep 7, 2017
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

September

S M T W T F S
  1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Most Viewed

Most Recent Comments

 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation