April 12, 2016

À propos : Apophenia?


Drawn with a fountain pen!
It has been many days, weeks even, since I've updated. There are a couple reasons for this:

1. I am busy. School, dear Reader(s). It makes one quite busy.

2. I have no ideas.

Unfortunately, my writer's block has extended too far. Since the last post I made, I have wondered if I value quality or quantity. Like many other bloggers who have taken a hiatus, I eventually chose quality.

But fear not! I have found new, very interesting things to ramble about! I bring an oft-discussed topic to the table today:

À propos: Apophenia

What is it?

Apophenia is the human tendency to find "familiar", or recognisable, patterns in disorder. Take, for example, an image like this:

In brief, conspiracy theorists had a field day over this. Here was definitive proof of sentient (read: human-like) extraterrestrial life: a humanoid face carved into a rock on Mars.

A few (over 20) years later, NASA took a photo of the same formation.

Still vaguely face-like?
The face, it turns out, was a trick of light and shadows. More specifically, it is an example of a famous phenomenon called pareidolia, which is the human tendency to see a familiar image or hear a familiar sound in disorder. It is a result of the basic human craving for some contact when everyone else on this ridiculous planet already hates each other.

Just kidding.


Sounds the same

Very recently, I learned about this as the rather specific term "phonetic redundancy".

Ever heard of "backmasking"? Conspiracy theorists believe that if you play a recorded message, be it a speech or a song, backwards, the true intentions of the speaker or singer are revealed.

Here's a backmasking video from YouTube. Close your eyes and listen to this (no cheating!):

If your eyes were closed and you'd never heard this before, the backmasked sample probably sounded like a garbled load of nonsense. That, essentially, is what it is. However, some creative individuals have magically deciphered it. If you rewind to 0:26, you can see what they have elucidated.

I do want to point some things out. First of all, most of us need to know that we're listening for words, probably in our mother tongue. Second, some of us also need to know which specific words we're listening for.


Phonetic redundancy?

Backmasking, despite the interest it draws due to the general public's infatuation with secret codes and hidden messages, doesn't really interest me. Ultimately, it isn't practical—or even all that cool, once you realise it's just an illusion.

No, the best part of this is why pareidolia (and phonetic redundancy) exists.

Consider the spoken word. Different humans use different tones, accents, emphases, etc. Without at least some degree of phonetic redundancy, we wouldn't be able to understand each other. At all.

Imagine that! If we didn't have this innate ability to pick words that seem vaguely familiar out of the jumble of sound emitted from other people's mouths, we wouldn't be able to understand each other! That's astounding!

The concept isn't limited to humans. Other animals understand some degree of something like it too. After all, they have to understand and recognise each other. And on a cellular level, examples of "communication" redundancy can be found in cell signalling pathways and enzyme inhibition or activation!


Okay, that's it. Go forth and exist.