Why we seek meaning in everything

Human beings are pattern making machines. We look for meaning to make sense of the world around us.

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In 1944, the psychologists Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel conducted a famous experiment.

They made a short animation featuring a number of different shapes moving around in a completely arbitrary fashion.

They then showed the animation to respondents and asked them what it meant.

Despite the fact that what they had seen was completely random all but 3 of the 120 participants reported that they had seen a story.

You can view the short film here and then decide for yourself.

Why was the result of this study so overwhelming?

It’s quite simple really. As human beings, we have an insatiable desire to make sense of the world around us.

We are hopelessly devoted to the search for pattern and order. So much so that we’ll make connections between things that are entirely unrelated. There’s even a word for it: Apophenia.

Heck, we’ll even find ways to see Jesus’ face in a piece of toast.

The reason we do this is because our brains are bombarded with an unbelievable amount of stimuli everyday. To prevent this deluge of information from overwhelming our system and causing it to crash we have become expert pattern making machines.

Most of the time this works perfectly well for us. Other times it can lead us astray.

So next time you’re trying to make sense of something ask yourself this simple question: “How much am I reading into this?”

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