Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon

🌿 budding

Today I learned (or, re-learned) about the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon1, which of course means I am destined to re-hear about it at least once a week for the next month.

the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon (aka frequency illusion) is when a concept or thing you just found out about suddenly seems to crop up everywhere.

When it’s a bad thing

There’s a corollary between the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon and confirmation bias. You see things because you’re primed to see things. Drawing conclusions here can be dangerous.

A common example is: I’ve just learned about the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. Maybe I then start noticing people talking about it on Twitter and in my book club. I might draw the conclusion that this is a trending topic, and that the volume of conversation has in fact increased.2

This conclusion is likely incorrect - I am making it just because I notice the phrase more than I did before.

This can then lead to “perhaps people are talking about it more because I wrote about it” and drawing assumptions and conclusions from these connections.

When it’s a good thing

Being subconsciously “on the lookout” for connections to a concept or term you just learned can help you draw together different things in different domains.

This is, arguably, exactly the point of a digital garden! By seeing your works as a work-in-progress, it encourages connections between topics you’re thinking about. Dense linking between notes is a representation of Baader-Meinhof in action, because it represents your mind drawing connections between things just because you wrote notes about them.

The power of densely-linked notes is a way of self-triggering the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.

Using it to your advantage

Much like the Three-Strike Rule for Blogging, noticing when the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon is playing out can help you see links in things you didn’t see before.

Yesterday I was talking about karma and dice-rolling systems in tabletop RPGs. Today I was having a conversation about the theory of insurance and collective risk-management. When I hear things about luck in insurance theory, the frequency illusion in my brain triggers, connecting it back to discussing luck in RPGs. Boom! That’s a connection thread I didn’t see before. Now I have a new angle for discussing RPGs - from an insurance risk-management perspective. Maybe I’ll hear about luck systems again in a few days now that I’m primed to notice it. Seems ripe for a blog post now.3

  1. If you're wondering why this is named after a West German terrorist gang, the origin story is from 1994 when an online commenter wrote: "an incident in which I was talking to a friend about the Baader-Meinhof gang (and this was many years after they were in the news). The next day, my friend phoned me and referred me to an article in that day’s newspaper in which the Baader-Meinhof gang was mentioned. Quel surpris!"  

  2. I think there are connections here to the idea of Memetics and how ideas transmit through society.  

  3. Seriously, stay tuned for this one.  

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