Apophenia is the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data. The term was coined in 1958 by Klaus Conrad, who defined it as the "unmotivated seeing of connections" accompanied by a "specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness".
While observations of relevant work environments and human behaviors in these environments is a very important first step in coming to understand any new domain, this activity is in and of its self not sufficient to constitute scientific research. It is fraught with problems of subjective bias in the observer. We (like the experts we study) often see what we expect to see, we interpret the world through our own personal lens. Thus we are extraordinarily open to the trap of apophenia.
—Klaus Conrad, A Cognitive Approach to Situation Awareness: Theory and Application
In statistics, apophenia would be classed as a Type I error (false positive, false alarm, caused by an excess in sensitivity). Apophenia is often used as an explanation of paranormal and religious claims, and can also explain a belief in pseudoscience.
Conrad originally described this phenomenon in relation to the distortion of reality present in psychosis, but it has become more widely used to describe this tendency in healthy individuals without necessarily implying the presence of neurological differences or mental illness. In the case of autistic spectrum disorders, including Asperger's syndrome and individuals who are autistic savants, individuals may in fact be aware of patterns (such as those present in complex systems, large numbers, music, etc) that are infrequently noticed by neurotypical people. Rather than being aware of patterns that do not exist, autistic individuals may be aware of meaningful patterns within situations that appear meaningless to others.
Determining meaning from chaos.