Batman's Return Predicted in Weather Forecast?
A good friend of mine works as a meteorologist over at Weather Nation. On Monday, he tweeted the above still-shot from the Rapid Precision Mesoscale (RPM) weather forecasting model. As you can see, the forecast called for five to ten inches of rainfall along Eastern Texas over a three-day time-span and also, apparently, the return of the Dark Knight.
Such a resemblance begs the question: what does this image really indicate? Do meteorologists know something that we don't? Is Batman set to return for yet another Christopher Nolan-directed sequel? Or, is he, in fact, really working as a weather forecaster by day and masquerading as the caped crusader by night?
The answer to all those questions (except, perhaps, the third one) is a resounding no. The image, while intriguing, doesn't mean anything beyond it's designed intent, which is to show precipitation totals. The Batman connection is merely an insignificant correlation drawn by the brain, a byproduct of its relentless search for patterns.
Abetted by thousands of years of evolution, your brain is constantly on the lookout for something meaningful. Why? Because noticing such details offers an advantage. Take this example: Imagine your great-great-great-great-great, etc. grandfather walking through a dark forest. Suddenly, he thinks he sees a vague, yet ominous shadow out of the corner of his eye. If he assumes the shadow is a vicious beast and decides to run away, he minimizes his chances of becoming lunch. But if he assumes the shadow is innocuous and continues walking normally, and the shadow turns out to be a saber-toothed cat, he gets eaten. Seeing, recognizing, and reacting to simple, patterns -- however irrelevant they may be -- was often a win-win for our ancestors. Thus, our brains evolved to be on the lookout for even the slightest hint of peril.
Additionally, the brain often invents patterns to deliver us a sense of self-control. In 2008, researchers at the University of Texas had subjects search for images in random television static. Subjects repeatedly reported seeing consistent images, though none were ever displayed.
The experience of seeing meaningful patterns or connections in random or meaningless data is known as apophenia. At the extreme, apophenia can drive people to believing conspiracies and end-of-the-world prophecies. On a more basic level, it fuels superstitious behavior, like knocking on wood or crossing-fingers.
Or seeing bats in blobs of precipitation.