Patterns in the dusk

Via Bruce Schneier, it’s impressive the non-existent patterns that our minds will find in the environment:

During the war, rumors began to filter back to Britain about a German “engine-stopping ray.”2 The site of the supposed misadventure was invariably near a television tower. Jones relates,

As usually reported, the phenomenon consisted of a tourist driving his car on one of the roads in the vicinity, and the engine suddenly ceasing to operate. A German Air Force sentry would then appear from the side of the road and tell him that it was no use his trying to get the car going again for the time being. The sentry would, however, return and tell him when he would be able to do so. The sentry appeared in due course, and the engine started.3

The linked article suggests that in times of stress, people are more likely to find false patterns; the stress and fear are undermining our ability to think clearly.  The ‘stress hormone’ that people typically think of is cortisol, but I can’t find any papers linking cortisol to finding false patterns – or apophenia as I’ve learned it is called.  That’s probably because it’s a hard thing to search for; ‘cortisol false patterns’ will just result in articles about patterns of cortisol!  So if anyone has something knowledgable to say, please pass that knowledge on!

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