Pareidolia Search

Posted by on March 25, 2011 in Fun | 12 comments

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.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

12 Comments

  1. If you’re considering evolutionary cause for paredolia I think you need to consider further back than the stone age.
    The ability to recognise pattern would certainly prove useful to our ancestors way back in tree level: recognising which clumps of greener leaf tips indicate berries in season etc. I think it is a useful trait for all animals to have. Possibly only in humans with our stupid big brains has it become peverted to recognise patterns that don’t even exist.
    A side effect, of course, is when you see a shapeless rag or bit of cardboard box in the road while driving, and your brain insists on making it into a dog, or something before with proximity you are frced to accept that it really is shapeless.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    • Yes of course it goes back further than that. My point was that we couldn’t have arrived where we are without it. In any case this will be a bit of fun, so I hope you enjoy it. :)

      VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  2. This is just one aspect of our species “bad brains” that should be taught in school. Others on the list: Milgram Obedience study, Fundamental Attribution Error, Stanford Zimbardo Prison study.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  3. I particularly like #29 in this witty gallery of 50 things that look like faces. Some of these photographers have a remarkably skilled artistic ‘vision’

    See if you can spot the porno ones :)

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  4. See http://www.badastronomy.com/bad/misc/lenin.html

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  5. Tree level? Even further than that… way further. We’re talking about pre-tetrapod, pre-vertebrate life here. The basic mechanism in the brain that is responsible for all of this is the ability to identify vertical symmetry, considering that pretty much all animal life is vertically symmetrical when seen from the front (as an attacker) or from the back (as defenseless prey). The ability to recognize faces and other patterns is simply a modification of this basic symmetry identification.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  6. I love optical illusions and pareidolia and magic. It illustrates that you can not depend on the 5 senses and the brain to tell you the truth of reality, that you can always be fooled. So the skills of science are required to find the fundamental rules of this universe. Wild imaginings do not get you very far.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  7. GREAT article! If you wanted to make a follow-up, there are people who have been blind their whole lives and were given surgeries to be able to see. Those formerly blind, though, were completely unable to arrange the seemingly-random sensations of light and sound into any meaningful “picture.”
    It sounds like they lack what you discuss in this article. They cannot visually interpret patterns which assume the forms of someone’s face. They can see their childs eyeball, but they simply cannot put that into context with the childs nose, mouth, etc… it’s all just a mess of lines to them. Very fascinating stuff. Maybe you could write a follow-up about that? Would definitely read!

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  8. I have collected a few examples of faces in ordinary objects. How do I forward them to you?

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  9. Pareidolia reminds me of North American tech jobs. At first you see them, and then they are gone.

    See you in Bangalore.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  10. I didn’t see a cat. I saw the profile of a breast.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
  11. I’ve often wondered if I were one of few people who had this “gift” to see something that others don’t. More often than not, the images that pop out at me in patterns are often dark. I’m not a violent person nor do I ever want to invoke the power of satan in my life by no means – but the images just appear whether I want them to or not. Many things that I see are the heads of creatures like werewolves, demons or gargoyle-type figures and sometimes I see images of heads of animals; mostly lions and bears. Sometimes I’m treated with a sighting of a downright goofy image of a funny looking face or head and on occasion a rare and odd looking bird. I used to think that if I ever mentioned this to anyone they would think I were on drugs or just mentally ill. I’ve come to accept my “gift” as part of my creative brain at work. I do happen to be an artist in the area of painting, drawing, music and composing. Maybe that’s why I’m in touch with my pareidolia or apophenia talents.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)

Have your say

%d bloggers like this: