I ran into a woman I know at Waitrose yesterday. ‘What are you doing here?’ I asked. ‘I’ve never seen you here before.’
‘But I’m always here on a Monday afternoon,’ she said.
I just stared at her. ‘What, you always do your shopping on the same day? How is that possible? What if you run out of things a day early? What if you have something else to do that day? What if you have people coming round on Friday and you’ve used up all the nice food?’
She stared at me and backed away a bit, probably wondering why doing her shopping on the same day each week was enough to provoke such a show of outrage.
But really. Who does the shopping on the same day every week?
Well, I’ve asked around, and it turns out lots of people do. Lots of people do the washing on Monday too. And have pizza every Friday night.
The thing is, I’m peculiarly blind to patterns. I lived in NYC for ten years and never noticed which day of the week the garbage collectors came. It happened every week, and every week it woke me up at 6am, but I never once thought, ‘oh, tomorrow’s Wednesday, it’ll be those damned garbage collectors again.’
I’m interested in patterns at the moment, because I’m writing about a person capable of extracting more information out of ordinary life than the rest of us. My ‘seer’ led me to the phenomenon of apophenia — the experience of finding apparently meaningful patterns or connections in random or meaningless data. I’ve experienced that too — a few months during which certain combinations of numbers appeared with peculiar frequency. After those few months, the apophenia (if that’s what it was) just went away. Poof.
Patternicity is a similar phenomenon — defined as ‘the tendency to find meaningful patterns in meaningless noise’, in other words, finding patterns where none exist.
I’d settle for noticing the ones that do.