In 1958, Klaus Conrad published a monograph entitled Die beginnende Schizophrenie. Versuch einer Gestaltanalyse des Wahns, in which he described in groundbreaking detail the prodromal mood and earliest stages of schizophrenia. He coined the word "Apophänie" to characterize the onset of delusional thinking in psychosis. This neologism is translated as "apophany," from the Greek apo [away from] + phaenein [to show], to reflect the fact that the schizophrenic initially experiences delusion as revelation. Skeptic's Dictionary

But this is all Greek to me! Regardless which is correct, how do the 2 compounds below relate to apophenia?

The word itself is relatively new although the phenomenon itself is as old as mankind. It’s first use is credited to the psychiatrist Klaus Conrad back in 1958 in his catchy-titled Die beginnende Schizophrenie: Versuch einer Gestaltanalyse des Wahns, which translates to the equally scintillating The origins of schizophrenia: A Gestalt analysis of paranoia. The word was coined from the Greek “apo” (ἀπό) meaning “away from” or “apart,” and the word “phren” (φρήν) meaning “mind” or “cognitive faculties” – literally “away from the mind.”

This is Hypothesis 1. How does "away from the mind" relate to apophenia?

In his recent book, A Dictionary of Hallucinations (2009), the clinical psychiatrist Jan Dirk Blom suggests that the word is actually a misspelling of apophrenia, with the “r” having been lost in translation. However, if the word derives from “apo” and another Greek word, “phainein” (from the root φαίνω) meaning “to make appear,” then apophenia is correct after all. Phonetically, the latter is simpler so the “error” may be explained by a hearer’s desire to make life simpler.

This is Hypothesis 2. How does “phainein” relate to apophenia? What does, or doesn't, apophenia "show" or "make appear"?

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1 Answer 1


Apophenia "makes appear" or "manifest" meaningful patterns and connections where there are none. Conrad, of course, had in mind severe forms of it. He talks about Aha-Erlebnis (aha experience, revelation) in connection with apophany, and could have been motivated by epiphany, which has the same root, in his coinage. But, in contrast to genuine revelation in epiphany (manifesting to the subject), apophany's revelation is delusional (from the subject herself) and comes from inability "to achieve an exchange of reference frames or perspectives, i.e., to consider the situation — even if only temporarily — with the eyes of the other(s)". In Conrad's own words (quoted from Mishara, Klaus Conrad (1905-1961): Delusional Mood, Psychosis, and Beginning Schizophrenia):

"Borrowing from ancient Greek, the artificial term ‘apophany’ describes this process of repetitively and monotonously experiencing abnormal meanings in the entire surrounding experiential field, e.g., being observed, spoken about, the object of eavesdropping, followed by strangers... His ‘world’ becomes transformed into a situation specifically meant to ‘test’ him... everything becomes conspicuously salient. The patient often interprets the course of events as if a film were being made or a theater-piece performed."


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