Thursday, December 3, 2009

Patterns - Real and Imagined

When seemingly related but random events start to overlap in time, it's easy to believe "something's going on here - maybe it's worth looking into." The human mind has a built-in pattern-detecting mechanism, for the want of a technical term, and it gets us into probably as much trouble as it keeps us out of.
I doubt my recent foray into "superstition" is anything but completely harmless - except for the fact that it is evidence that I do not think rationally all the time (when it's necessary to think rationally, I hasten to add). I'm referring to multiple appearances of John Cacioppo and his work on loneliness. First the webcast, then the coverage this week by the Globe and Mail, and today - even a bit weirder - a small review of his book Loneliness in the April 2008 SEED magazine I just happened to flip through!
What are the odds? we ask, wanting to see a pattern, a semblance of order in this most disordered world. But it is nothing more than coincidence, a cluster of events that resemble each other. We need connection so much, we see it almost everywhere. It's like seeing bunny shapes in the clouds, instead of just puffs of white.
It is, as I say, harmless to attribute causation in my case - thinking that all these mentions of Cacioppo and his work are "trying to tell me something" - but the "de-randoming" of random events will frequently defy reason, and often have nothing to do with intuition, either. It is false causality - potentially dangerous when applied to morality. Witches were burned at the stake for less than a couple of reported cause-and-effect "facts."
The worst that will probably happen to me is that I will buy his book, read it instead of something else in my to-read pile, and end up writing an essay on the same subject. Okay, maybe not so harmless! Time and energy are precious!

1 comment:

  1. The brain itself is a pattern. Each brain is a different pattern. Patterns become complex by interacting with other patterns. These interactions are dependent on the mutual properties of the interacting patterns. The resonant awareness between patterns of the semiotic level of reality with the patterns of the neural reality of the brain manifest coincdiences that were countanance by the dissonance so far. Causality as assed in terms of rational thinking is usually dissonant with the cognitive patterns of experiencing meaningful coincidences or synchronicities. When it is not dissonant, there is no question because the coincidence is not merely a coincidence anymore, it is a 'meaningful' coincidence.