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Can you see the pattern?

If you can, you've just experienced apophenia

What is apophenia? Apophenia, also known as patternicity, is a type of cognitive bias that means we see patterns in random events. It also applies when people deduce meaning from numbers, images, shapes, or any other objects that are truly random. This phenomenon is very common. As we see more and more data, we are all going to suffer from apophenia.

How do you you avoid apophenia?

  • Be a proper skeptic. Get informed, ask questions about the evidence that supports the patterns you're seeing

  • Learn to recognize bias. You need to be able to identify when you’re falling prey to bias and unconscious distortions. This means understanding cognitive bias, or your tendency to believe that something is true despite contrary evidence. (e.g., you might think a fair coin that has landed on heads five times when flipped is more likely to land on tails on the sixth flip—even though the odds are still 50-50).

  • Analyze your assumptions. We’re typically more aware of our assumptions than of our biases, but like biases, assumptions often keep us from thinking clearly. Before Einstein came up with his general theory of relativity, the common assumption was that the universe was static—neither expanding nor contracting. Einstein’s equations allowed for a dynamic universe, but his idea was rejected. In the late 1920s, Edwin Hubble provided observational evidence that proved the universe is expanding. It’s risky to presume that your assumptions are correct. Always test your hypotheses.

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