What Doesn't Kill You – Seeing patterns that aren't there

What Doesn’t Kill You is all about the human tendency to come up with explanations in the absence of knowledge.

So remember the last time you read your star sign and took heed, or you saw a crow and took it as an omen? Well these are examples of apophenia — the human tendency to read meaning or form patterns in random data. Conspiracy theories are a particularly well-known example of apophenia and this same tendency can be seen in many of the urban legends we have today, as evidenced in the ‘genetically modified’ KFChickens legend or the Korean elevator.

But humans fall foul of this tendency all the time. Every time we feel like the universe is pointing us in a particular direction, every time we take the advice of a fortune cookie and yes, even most of those inspirational quotes from Instagram, are all pretty standard ways every one of us indulges in apophenia.

InspiroBot is a great example of apophenia. If you’re interested in this tidbit of human psychology it is well worth a play. It was designed and coded with the premise that the inspirational quotes we find on social media are formulaic and lack real depth. So much so that a bot could be programmed to generate the same thing. Place it on a stock photo and voila! You have unlimited instagram posts. It is true, InspiroBot doesn’t always get it quite right but it offers a surprising number of quotes that can easily be read as profound.

Here are some real-life examples, and they’re pretty good:

“Feel mindful. Feel self-confident. Feel crazy in a good way.”

“An emergency exit triggers certain people.”

“You cannot allow societies to kill your mind”

“Is public confusion what we’ll survive on after the world ends?”

and my favourite:

“Maths is how the universe says your place or mine.”

In each of these, every one of us could probably find a way to interpret them which offers meaning but in reality, they’re just random data.

Verity ClaytonComment