Found this Dana Boyd quote via a Substack. She is ostensibly talking about QAnon, but speaks more broadly about the phenomenon known as apophenia.

“Apophenia” refers to the idea of making connections between previously unconnected ideas. Unlike the concept of learning, apophenia suggests a cognitive disorder because the connections made are not real. They are imaginary. People see patterns that don’t exist and devise elaborate internally coherent explanations for non-sensical notions.

Like the cognitive process of apophenia, the social mechanisms of conspiratorial thinking are rooted in reality. It’s the pattern that’s non-existent.

Have to respectfully disagree here. The pattern is very much existent in the mind of the experiencer. That is, it is experientially really, regardless of its outward reality. In other words, it is fundamental to the hyperreal.

Boyd herself later seems to admit this in the post:

From the outside, it looks completely unreal, but on the inside, it feels quite real.

It’s not that QAnon is not inherently dangerous (it is very much so). It’s that things that are experientially real to the person(s) experiencing them have equal or often greater impact to those peoples’ lives and behavior than things that are outwardly real, but don’t necessarily correlate with their lived experience.

I tried (but probably failed) to cover this in my hyperreality framework. It’s hard to talk about these kinds of fine-grained but essential distinctions, especially when the knee-jerk reaction is to call them cognitive disorders and ignore their core reality in terms of the human experience.

Can people take it way too far and it becomes problematic? Absolutely. But that’s part and parcel of hyperreality. It’s the deep disorientation and confusion that sets in when authority and context get flattened, and everything gets blended together and re-organized based on “likes” instead of prior notions of validity. It’s not a prescription to cure what’s happening; it’s a diagnosis of the condition. I’m not sure there is a cure, and if there was, it would most likely have to be a cure for the entire human condition.