You want to know one thing I love about the human brain? The ability to create patterns where there is none. This is one of the ways we make sense of the world, for it is far more beneficial for us to find a pattern when it represents itself in everyday life than to accidentally miss one.
Imagine our ancient ancestors, without the abiloity to predict, from their own observations, what would happen when clouds ammassed to the east, or as the sun set, or when the wind blew in strong from a certain direction. Without the ability to identify and decipher the clues around us, we would surely be stuck in the stone age. On a more specific scale, we have grown to see the pattern of the human face in abstract forms created by man and by nature. The phenomenon of seeing an image in a seeingly random shape is celled “pareidolia“, and it is a favourite among the faithful of today, particularly in the Christian faith, and particularly in the USA (a symptom of a much larger problem).
We have all heard the stories of the visions of Jesus in a toasted sandwich, of the Virgin Mary in a tree stump, of the hand of god in a jar of peanut-butter and jam, and the faithful cry “IT’S A SIGN!” Only it’s not a sign, it is our mind in the act of trying to find patterns in what would otherwise be chaos. I have seen pareidolia all my life. I used to love seeing faces in wallpaper or carpet patterns as a child. These days I am lucky enough to live in a house full of wallpaper, and I see figures in it all the time. Never once did I think of it as a sign, but I do recall asking my mum why I saw them. She answered “Well you do have a good imagination!”
One in particular, once seen, I cannot unsee, and is in the image below.
Hover over the image below to see the pareidolia.
Our entire hallway is covered in this wallpaper, and I see many many cats in it every day. Whether the designer of this wallpaper intended there to be cats in it is unknown, but surely, once seen, it places itself in an area of my brain that cannot be undone.
Michael Shermer has done some great talks and written some great articles about pareidolia, and the mind tricking itself. I will go into these ideas more in further articles.
So as part of my dedication to you, dear reader, to entertain and to inform, I will post photos of pareidolia when I see it, and point it out to you. In fact I will actively seek to find pareidolia in my every day life, who knows what I might see. I also invite people to show me examples of pareidolia when you spot it, and I’ll add it to my blog.