Apophenia

Hold on tight – this is going to be more than a little tangential. After writing the Curta/Rohloff post yesterday, I was seized by a desire to re-read Pattern Recognition. So I did! When I got a hundred or so pages in, I had a little shock of recognition myself:

Pattern Recognition Cornell Box

Recognition, because the book on the top of my nightstand stack is Simic on Cornell.

Simic on Cornell

I’m moderately confident that this is pattern recognition gone wrong – and there’s a word for that!

Pattern Recognition Ch 12

Definition of apophenia 

the tendency to perceive a connection or meaningful pattern between unrelated or random things (such as objects or ideas)*

Good for a laugh, but pattern recognition and its evil twin are near and dear to my heart. K asked recently if i was a ‘spotter’ – one of those people who see stuff in the woods before anyone else does, or when no one else sees the thing at all. I allowed as I probably was, but that I wasn’t sure if my skill extended outside of the northeastern US. I’ve written about what I tend to call ‘native vision’ before (while talking about the Blue Ant books!) ; it’s a central plot line, as far as I’m concerned, in a top 5 movie – Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala. An aside – honing my spotter skills in different biomes is a Big Bike Ride goal.

Another bit of characterization in Pattern Recognition caught my eye, too. Boone Chu, Cayce Pollard’s computer security sidekick,has a bit of Mod fun, riding a scooter wearing a fishtail parka emblazoned with an RAF roundel*.

I ride a G.S. scooter with my hair cut neat
I wear my wartime coat in the wind and sleet

– I’ve Had Enough/Quadrophenia/The Who

Sometime during the reading I called up some tunes from Quadrophenia on the hi-fi, and noticed the title’s suffix. Because I was already thinking about apophenia, the lack of an R (it’s not Quadrophrenia!) struck me – esp since Jimmy, the protagonist, is presented as having 4 personalities. With an R:

Suffix[edit]

-phrenia

  1. mental disorder.*

Coming up with a definition for the sans-R suffix, -phenia, is a little trickier. One idea is that it /should/ have been apophrenia and the dropped R is a mistake. But I like this idea:

…if the word derives from “apo” and another Greek word, “phainein” […] meaning “to make appear,” then apophenia is correct after all.*

The suffix works nicely with Quadrophenia – it was recorded during the heyday of quadraphonic sound systems – and though apparently the vinyl was never quad, I remember a ton of pre-relase marketing noise bruiting Quadrophenia as quad sound’s full realization. “Making quad appear” works!

And finally. a chapter title from Pattern Recognition that wraps up The Who, the Big Bike Ride and pulling meaning from coincidence up in a neat bow.

Pattern Recognition Ch 16

* They’re called roundels damnit, NOT TARGETS

 

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