Sunday 15 July 2012

Pareidolia and Tricks of the Mind

This is an aerial view of a geological feature to the east of Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada known as the Badlands Guardian. It clearly resembles a human head possibly wearing some form of traditional head dress.
The feature that resembles ear-buds is a service road leading to a small oil well.

Incidentally, The feature is actually concaved, (it is an erosion valley), however, it  looks convex because our brain instantly recognise a configuration that closely resembles a human face. The pattern matching ability of our brain is converting this random geological feature into a face, makes it look convex and calls upon cultural references to give us the perception it is listening to an iPod.

This picture is a bust of the Mayan King Pacal. Compare this with the image above.

If Erich von Däniken had seen these two images together, he would have had a cow.

Our ability to recognise patterns and to cross reference them to things that are familiar to us is a fundamental function of the brain. All animals that can see also make sense of the world around them by pattern matching.

The brain isn't perfect and often makes mistakes. It often mis-interprets visual cues and gives us false positives. This explains why a child sees monsters and ghosts in their bedroom when the light has been turned out and the moon is casing unfamiliar shadows. The brain goes into overdrive trying to make sense of what it sees... and the brain is excellent at recognising faces in random imagery.

The people in this picture are mostly Catholic and their brains have been fooled into seeing an image of the Virgin Mary in the interference pattern caused by the anti-UV film on this office window in Clearwater Florida.

They have linked the pattern they see in the window to the very strong cultural reference of their belief in the Virgin Mary as depicted in orthodox religious art. 

The connection is so strong that they can not differentiate between reality and optical illusion. To them, this is a real supernatural event, Mary is somehow present and many have come to worship her.

Likewise, Christians can easily recognise a Pareidolia image of Jesus Christ in this dog's butt.

Had this image been manifest in a waterfall or a Butterfly wing, no doubt Christians would be flocking to worship it, However, the cultural significance of a dog's asshole is enough to override the cultural significance of an apparent image of Jesus Christ and they will recognise it for what it is, a trick of the mind.

Cultural references and familiar imagery plays a key role in how our brain matches the image we see to how we interpret that image.

In the image below, almost all adults will immediately see two lovers but to a young child, they will only see dolphins. In fact an adult will need to look carefully just to see the dolphins.

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