Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Word Class: Apophenia

In episode #3 of the popular Netflix series, The Queen’s Gambit, the word “apophenia” is invoked. It defined as “the tendency to find meaningful connections in unrelated things.” Anyone with an associative personality can both understand and produce such relationships. It’s something that's also a useful talent for both analysts and their patients to the extent that free association like dreaming can pave the way to what Freud called “the royal road to the unconscious.” The fact that “apophenia” came up in a movie about chess is obvious since great chess players see relationships that are not apparent to others. Naturally both detectives and writers of police procedurals traffic in "apophenic" matters. Great scholars also are possessed of an "apophenic" sensibility. For instance, a film critic who noticed the connection between the abstract expressionism and missing bodies in Antonioni’s Blow-Up would be making an "apophenic" connection, but picking the film out of all the possibilities in the history of cinema is equally an example of "apophenia." Hitchcock’s Frenzy in which the detective disposes of his wife’s attempts at gourmet cooking while she's not looking is pure "apophenia," particularly because a corpse is jettisoned from a lorry filled with potatoes. Ruy Lopez is a chess opening briefly mentioned in The Queen’s Gambit. It’s one of the most common in all of chess strategies and an "apophenia" party, since it’s populated by many possibilities that people who are not serious chess players wouldn’t be aware of. "Apophenia" is obviously evident in war which depends on the element of surprise and in encryption which is used to hide messages from flocks of quislings. Alan Turing, the war time decrypting specialist, who was instrumental in developing early computers, undoubtedly possessed "apophenic" abilities as did great surrealists like Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali. Their short film Un Chien Andalou along with Lautreamont’s “the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing machine and umbrella” are both examples of "apophenia."

Read "Trumpty Dumpty's Great Fall" by Francis Levy, The East Hampton Star

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