Patternicity: The tendency to find meaningful patterns in meaningless noise.

”Why do people see faces in nature, interpret window stains as human figures, hear voices in random sounds generated by electronic devices or find conspiracies in the daily news?

A proximate cause is the priming effect, in which our brain and senses are prepared to interpret stimuli according to an expected model. UFOlogists see a face on Mars. Religionists see the Virgin Mary on the side of a building. Paranormalists hear dead people speaking to them through a radio receiver. Conspiracy theorists think 9/11 was an inside job by the Bush administration.

Is there a deeper ultimate cause for why people believe such weird things? There is. I call it “patternicity,” or the tendency to find meaningful patterns in meaningless noise.”

Such patternicities, then, mean that people believe weird things because of our evolved need to believe nonweird things.

Read all about this fascinating subject on Michael Shermer’s post for Scientific American:
http://www.michaelshermer.com/2008/12/patternicity/