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Agency and patternicity

Someone was kind enough to post a link to one of Michael Shermer’s Ted videos from June of 2010 and I enjoyed watching it, and I thought that Shermer’s book, The Believing Brain, was even more helpful in understanding why people (and in our case birthers) believe things that aren’t true. First, let me embed the video for those who might want to watch it and to become familiar with the concepts.

Briefly, patternicity is the tendency that humans have, to a greater or lesser degree, to see meaningful patterns in random noise, and agency is the tendency to see intent behind random events. So when one sees Santa Claus in cumulous clouds, that’s patternicity, and when someone attributes the death their a cow from disease to a hex cast by the old woman next door who must be a witch, that’s agency.

Both of these concepts can be illustrated by a single example, the so-called Alvin Onaka smiley face. I want to start with the higher-resolution version of the familiar image from Barack Obama’s birth certificate:

imageSo is this a fat face with two eyes, no nose and no mouth? Humans have a special area of the brain dedicated to finding faces and even though there are just two dashes, we might see eyes. If we rotate the image, then the top eye might remain an eye and the bottom become a mouth.image Indeed in this second example we might imagine an eyebrow and maybe a bit of a nose. (Neither of the two images is actually in the correct orientation that the handwritten “A” on Obama’s form appears.)

When an image is degraded, it is easier for us to jump to conclusions and see things that aren’t there. To complete the illusion, I’ll show an image at lower resolution, run through image compression, and in the right orientation to show how the human brain finds faces where there are none.image

So yes, it looks like a smiley face. That is how human brains are wired and again this smiley face where the mouth looks different from the eye works just about as well upside down with the eye and mouth exchanged!image

Now here’s where the normal “oh isn’t that cute?” turns into a conspiracy theory, and this by the introduction of “agency.” When the observation that the image looks like a smiley face is explained by someone intentionally altering the image to look like a smiley face, we see agency in action. When, then, a secret message is inferred, namely “this document is a fake and I want to let you know this by making a smiley face,” we get a conspiracy theory. We get birthers.

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31 Responses to Agency and patternicity

  1. avatar
    lane February 3, 2013 at 2:11 pm #

    All I can say is, thank Cthulhu that my FOIAed notebook skribblings have withstood the test of stoopid. I may well be simply because no one but me can /read /my notes.

    e-mail is a friend; it is silent on the hidden meaning of certain letters – with smiley faces.

  2. avatar
    scott e February 3, 2013 at 3:12 pm #

    pure poetry…

  3. avatar
    justlw February 3, 2013 at 9:39 pm #

    So will we now have the Circuitbreakers? SBXLVII was an inside job!

  4. avatar
    Majority Will February 4, 2013 at 12:40 am #

    Pareidolia (pron.: /pærɨˈdoʊliə/ parr-i-doh-lee-ə) is a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant.

    Common examples include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds, the man in the moon or the Moon rabbit, and hearing hidden messages on records when played in reverse.
    The word comes from the Greek words para (παρά, “beside, alongside, instead”) in this context meaning something faulty, wrong, instead of; and the noun eidōlon (εἴδωλον “image, form, shape”) the diminutive of eidos. Pareidolia is a type of apophenia, seeing patterns in random data.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareidolia

  5. avatar
    You're full of shit February 4, 2013 at 12:48 am #

    Bullshit. “Obama’s” PR kit said he was born in Kenya. The lie originated with him and the birther license to speculate is due to his bizarre actions.

    Your need to be his bitch requires additional explanation beyond my expertise.

  6. avatar
    alg February 4, 2013 at 7:23 am #

    Nicely said. I m a big fan of Michael Shermer and have read several of his books and had the opportunity to attend a couple of his lectures. He does a really nice job of explaining why people come to believe things that aren’t true and how they entrench themselves in such beliefs against any and all other more rational explanations.

  7. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy February 4, 2013 at 8:06 am #

    Of course this is so much rubbish factually.

    First, the brochure wasn’t Obama’s PR kit, it was a publishers literary agent’s brochure that listed many authors, Obama being only one. Second the person that did the brochure has stated that Obama never told her that he was born in Kenya, so this misinformation didn’t “originate with Obama.” Third, no one noted or mentioned this brochure until 2012, 4 years after birthers had been saying Obama was born in Kenya, also proving that the birther movement didn’t derive from Obama.

    My expertise does help me understand why you need to tell lies and spout obscenity on the Internet under multiple identities about Obama. You’re a purile racist bigot. I hope that insight helps you in your life journey.

    Go away and don’t trouble decent folks any more.

    You're full of shit: Bullshit. “Obama’s” PR kit said he was born in Kenya. The lie originated with him and the birther license to speculate is due to his bizarre actions.

    Your need to be his bitch requires additional explanation beyond my expertise.

  8. avatar
    roadburner February 4, 2013 at 8:10 am #

    You're full of shit:
    Bullshit. “Obama’s” PR kit said he was born in Kenya. The lie originated with him and the birther license to speculate is due to his bizarre actions.

    Your need to be his bitch requires additional explanation beyond my expertise.

    hmmm….your expertise?

    let me see…youd rather believe a small circulation publishers pamphlet written by someone who never met your president, than 2 BCs and 3 letters of verification all of which are covered by the FF&C clause of the constitution?

    tell me something, why do you (alleged) `patriots wish to piss on the constitution this way?

  9. avatar
    Majority Will February 4, 2013 at 8:41 am #

    “Obama’s PR kit said he was born in Kenya. The lie originated with him and the birther license to speculate is due to his bizarre actions.”

    Miriam Goderich edited the text of the bio; she is now a partner at the Dystel & Goderich agency, which lists Obama as one of its current clients.

    “You’re undoubtedly aware of the brouhaha stirred up by Breitbart about the erroneous statement in a client list Acton & Dystel published in 1991 (for circulation within the publishing industry only) that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. This was nothing more than a fact checking error by me – an agency assistant at the time,” Goderich wrote. “There was never any information given to us by Obama in any of his correspondence or other communications suggesting in any way that he was born in Kenya and not Hawaii. I hope you can communicate to your readers that this was a simple mistake and nothing more.”

    (http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/birthers/booklet.asp)

    (emphasis added)

    Some birther bigots are such pathetic liars.

  10. avatar
    misha marinsky February 4, 2013 at 9:10 am #

    You're full of sh!t: “Obama’s” PR kit said he was born in Kenya.

    I agree with you. I found Obama’s Kenya BC. Check it out:

    http://newyorkleftist.blogspot.com/2009/09/another-kenyan-birth-certificate.html

  11. avatar
    Arthur February 4, 2013 at 9:27 am #

    Majority Will: Some birther bigots are such pathetic liars.

    Hold on! Maybe you communistas, you liberal, long-haired egg-heads, with your Prisuses and your hempen-homespun, and your “Save Tibetan Whales” and “NObama 2016″ bumper-stinkers are unconvinced by sneering profanity and long-debunked misinformation, but I find this anonymous poster’s argument entirely convincing.

    Now, where’s that nurse with my medication?

  12. avatar
    Majority Will February 4, 2013 at 9:51 am #

    Arthur: Hold on! Maybe you communistas, you liberal, long-haired egg-heads, with your Prisuses and your hempen-homespun, and your “Save Tibetan Whales” and “NObama 2016″ bumper-stinkers are unconvinced by sneering profanity and long-debunked misinformation, but Ifind this anonymous poster’s argument entirely convincing.

    Now, where’s that nurse with my medication?

    Just a heads up. They’re putting a nice surprise in the tapioca pudding again.

  13. avatar
    Thomas Brown February 4, 2013 at 11:19 am #

    Majority Will:
    Pareidolia (pron.: /pærɨˈdoʊliə/ parr-i-doh-lee-ə) is a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareidolia

    And which may explain “ghost sightings” as well. A lot of them, anyway.

  14. avatar
    Majority Will February 4, 2013 at 11:54 am #

    Thomas Brown: And which may explain “ghost sightings” as well.A lot of them, anyway.

    Janine Melnitz: Do you believe in UFOs, astral projections, mental telepathy, ESP, clairvoyance, spirit photography, telekinetic movement, full trance mediums, the Loch Ness monster and the theory of Atlantis?

    Winston Zeddemore: Ah, if there’s a steady paycheck in it, I’ll believe anything you say.

  15. avatar
    misha marinsky February 4, 2013 at 11:54 am #

    Arthur: “Save Tibetan Whales”

    You can save Tibetan whales. Or you can turn the page.

  16. avatar
    misha marinsky February 4, 2013 at 11:58 am #

    Arthur: with your Prisuses

    I have several bumper stickers on my Smart car:

    “Don’t let Imelda go barefoot.”

    “Save Tibetan poltergeists”

    “Everything dry cleans better”

  17. avatar
    Arthur February 4, 2013 at 12:12 pm #

    Thomas Brown: And which may explain “ghost sightings” as well. A lot of them, anyway.

    “Of the 1,000 adults interviewed Dec. 17-18, the HuffPost/YouGov poll revealed 45 percent believe in ghosts, or that the spirits of dead people can come back in certain places and situations. When asked if they believe there’s a life after death, 64 percent responded Yes. While 59 percent of adults don’t believe they’ve ever actually seen a ghost, 43 percent also don’t think that ghosts or spirits can harm or interact with living people.”

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/02/real-ghosts-americans-poll_n_2049485.html?utm_hp_ref=weird-news

    I wonder how many birthers are also ghosters? All of them?

  18. avatar
    Feinne February 4, 2013 at 1:50 pm #

    I think we all know this is Obama’s actual birth certificate:

    http://www.balloon-juice.com/managed-images/COLMKBTWL_01.gif

  19. avatar
    richCares February 4, 2013 at 2:01 pm #

    I specifically created the smiley faces under orders from Soros, it was to represent Obots laughing at birthers. I did quite well, even laughed myself. Soros was pleased and even gave me a bonus of a 2 day trip to Kenya with no expenses paid.

  20. avatar
    Loren February 4, 2013 at 2:21 pm #

    “First, the brochure wasn’t Obama’s PR kit, it was a publishers brochure that listed many authors,”

    I imagine this was just a slip-up Doc, but it wasn’t a publisher’s brochure; it was a literary AGENT’s brochure. Which means that it wasn’t used to promote the book to stores and buyers; it was used by the literary agency as a promotional tool for their firm.

  21. avatar
    JD Reed February 4, 2013 at 3:43 pm #

    You're full of shit:

    Your need to be his bitch requires additional explanation beyond my expertise.

    Wouldn’t have to travel far to go beyond the expertise you’ve just displayeed.. If the origin of the Kenyan birth lie was with Obama’s agent’s biographical misunderstanding it would have surfaced long before late 2012. But birthers latched onto it only last year. Believe me, if they had known about it in 2008, say, the public would have heard about it in 2008. But it didn’t happen that way. What you’re asseembling is a bass-ackwards chain of events, to use a term borrowed from my late father.

  22. avatar
    D. Pavlov February 4, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

    Dr. WHAT? has no proof whatsoever that their is a legitimate being in the WHite House. Dr WHAT, says that he agreed with Dr. Taitz that he had no proof whatsover to show that the DUNG in the WHite House is there legitimately.

    Dr. What attempts to ring the bell so that the Pavlov bloggers that post here can begin to ‘drool’ over their expectations that the WH fraud will survive the birthers push for proof that there’s an elegible person in the White House.

    Dr WHAT, answers the Fukino call… Fukino ‘rings the bell” and then Dr WHAT …begins to drool over the expectations that a morsel of a false factoid will appear to support his ridiculous premises and idiotin examples of how one can confuse themselves with an anxiety to be recognized.

    Dr WHAT rotated an image that is shaped like an “a” with some marks in it that appear to be a ‘smiley face’. Well there’s another fact taht the dots in that ‘a’ may just be resiedue from an attempt to shage the ‘a’ using a graphic program’s eraser.

    The birthers have evidence produced by the WH SCOUNDREL … the bithers didn’t create any of the false documents that are under investigation. The Obot teams created the false documents, and how stupid are they to do such a poor job. Those documents are the birthers ‘state 1′ alert that there’s threat that needs to be reconciled… facts of forged docments created by the Obots team… The Obots false documents can listed as that which causes the Obots to drool…they are the ‘bells ring’ that brings on the drooling… while the birthers laugh at them whie fighting to get a JURY of sane people to find the WH impostor guilty of fraud.
    Now heres a judge that has it all together; he has about 15 years on the Wa. Supreme Court and has stated that their is something dearly wrong with the Wa. State AG. This Linda Jordan sanction caper will burn some Obot ass… for sure. The case may just bring in the Seattle law firm that represents the USURUPER as accomplices to have the Wa. AG place sanctins on Linda Jordan.

    http://obamareleaseyourrecords.blogspot.com/2013/02/ret-wa-supreme-court-judge-fights-obama-sanctions.html

  23. avatar
    roadburner February 4, 2013 at 3:55 pm #

    D. Pavlov:
    drivel

    sounds like *falcon* or one of his crazy crowd of sychophants has come to play!

    hey, want to buy a kenyan birth certificate?

  24. avatar
    JD Reed February 4, 2013 at 4:00 pm #

    To quote another Washington State denjizen, Any … Day .. Now …
    So you say you have one Wash. State justice who believes something is amiss with Linda Jordan’s sanction. Do you state for the record that Ms. Jordan will escape without having to ante up.? Won’t happen; she’ll have to shell out. Would you state for the record precisely how you expect a jury to be created to consider whether Mr. Obama is guilty of fraud? Accomplice to what? From what I know, the AG did not place the sanction on Ms. Jordan, a judge did that. Tou can’t legally blame a lawyer for asking for sanctions.

  25. avatar
    A BOZO February 4, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

    JD Reed February 4, 2013 at 4:00 pm (Quote) #
    Would you state for the record precisely how you expect a jury to be created to consider whether Mr. Obama is guilty of fraud? Accomplice to what? From what I know, the AG did not place the sanction on Ms. Jordan, a judge did that. Tou can’t legally blame a lawyer for asking for sanctions.

    Hahhahahah A BOZO spin commet above… the AG made the billing DUMBO what now ?

    Pavlov just made a comment that there isn’t anyone who can prove who is in the Chief Executive chair without having the ‘original’ documents… don’t you get it “spin-ster’ Bozo

  26. avatar
    DP February 4, 2013 at 4:25 pm #

    Actually, reading Pavlov’s link, it appears the ex-justice simply finds the fine too high. Okay. I suppose that is a debatable point, and the legal system certainly allows for it to be raised.

    His/her belief that birther vindication is imminent, however, is just standard birther cut-and-paste pablum. It’s intended to reinforce their own self-esteem, which is obviously lacking to require such an exercise. Hopefully, they will one day move on to more sane hobbies.

  27. avatar
    misha marinsky February 4, 2013 at 4:56 pm #

    D. Pavlov: Dr. What attempts to ring the bell so that the Pavlov bloggers

    “Woof woof arf arf”

    “Meow”

    D. Pavlov: Now heres a judge that has it all together

    Sanders is a libertarian crackpot.

  28. avatar
    Judge Mental February 4, 2013 at 6:55 pm #

    A BOZO: JD Reed February 4, 2013 at 4:00 pm (Quote) #Would you state for the record precisely how you expect a jury to be created to consider whether Mr. Obama is guilty of fraud? Accomplice to what? From what I know, the AG did not place the sanction on Ms. Jordan, a judge did that. Tou can’t legally blame a lawyer for asking for sanctions.Hahhahahah A BOZO spin commet above… the AG made the billing DUMBO what now ?Pavlov just made a comment that there isn’t anyone who can prove who is in the Chief Executive chair without having the ‘original’ documents… don’t you get it “spin-ster’ Bozo

    Jordan had costs awarded against her for ‘appealing’ a wholly frivolous case completely lacking in merit…..which was an incredibly stupid appeal filing on her part as she was specifically warned what would happen if she did. Surprise! Surprise! She filed it anyway and the judge awarded costs. In the course of arguing against the costs, even Sanders himself is using the excuse that it was a frivolous case.

    Obviously the AG compiled the costs statement, who the hell else could have? He submitted to the court a detailed statement of costs in an absolutely standard and customary manner.

    This is a no brainer. Even if Sanders/Jordan find a means to actually file a motion for reconsideration (which appears to be very doubtful) it’s obviously dead in the water right from the get go.

  29. avatar
    justlw February 4, 2013 at 7:16 pm #

    misha marinsky: “Woof woof arf arf”

    “Meow”

    “Here, kitty-kitty-kitty.” *squawk*

  30. avatar
    The Magic M February 5, 2013 at 11:20 am #

    DP: His/her belief that birther vindication is imminent, however, is just standard birther cut-and-paste pablum.

    Of course. The best thing Linda can expect (and I don’t think it’ll happen) is that the judge will reduce the sanctions to zero. But of course birthers desperately need their regular OMG moment, so they have to believe that somehow magically this will end with the court requiring Obama to prove where he was born and that he meets the Divine Standards of the Two Parent Commandment of Saint Vattel.
    What’s next, “birther suing state over parking ticket expects discovery into Obama records”? Well, I’ve seen that kind of thinking as well. Lakin was one example where a birther thought he could just refuse to do something (obey commands, pay taxes, …) and this would somehow allow him to challenge the President’s credentials.

  31. avatar
    G February 6, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

    Indeed! Of course, the all too predictable ODS crowd have to show up here to prove the pychological points of this blog post true! LOL!

    There is so much sad truth to the simple saying, “Haters are going to hate”… they will simply see what they wish to see, because they lack the emotional maturity to accept anything else. So predictable…especially after nearly 5 years of this nonsense….and so unhealthy to keep oneself stuck in such petty stages of the grief process…

    But back to the blog post topic itself – always fascinating to examine what the human mind is capable of “seeing” and holding onto…and what that says about that person…

    DP: His/her belief that birther vindication is imminent, however, is just standard birther cut-and-paste pablum. It’s intended to reinforce their own self-esteem, which is obviously lacking to require such an exercise. Hopefully, they will one day move on to more sane hobbies.

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