Pareidolia – I See Things

I have a strong inclination to pareidolia. Stronger than most people, near as I can tell. Most people seem inclined to it to some degree. For me it’s been constant for as long as I remember. It’s actually a lot of fun. I can’t say that I’ve ever been truly bored. When nothing else is on my mind I can always fall back on pareidolia, and I do.

Pareidolia is the inclination to see faces in everyday objects. I suppose the most famous example would be the man in the moon, or if you’re in the southern hemisphere it’s the rabbit in the moon. The term also refers to other senses, including hearing messages in records played in reverse. The most common of that type would be hearing Paul is dead when I Am The Walrus is played in reverse, though I’m told there are many heavy metal recordings that have messages on them when played in reverse also.

Pareidolia has been a blessing to me. A great time killer, especially on a rainy day. I’ve done much cloud gazing in my idle moments, and I’ve seen some truly amazing things. I also have a painting, a still life of a vase of flowers sitting on a garden wall that I discovered has at least twenty distinct faces in it, but you have to lying down to see them. I’ve often wondered if they were put there deliberately, such is the distinctness of the faces when you discover them. I’ve read references to artists doing such things.

Another famous example of pareidolia, or I should say, the use thereof is The Rorschach inkblots. The test uses pareidolia to attempt to gain insight into a person’s mental state. The inkblots used are carefully chosen, they have no actual distinguishable images in them, and whatever you see in them comes from your own mind, thus their usefulness as a therapy tool.

The instances of pareidolia that interest me the most are the seeing of religious icons or names in objects. You may recall the case of a New Mexican woman who saw the face of Jesus in the burn marks on a tortilla in 1978. She had it framed and thousands of people came to see it.

A more recent example occurred in Singapore in 2007, the so-called “monkey tree phenomenon”, in which a callus on a tree there resembles a monkey, and believers flocked to the tree to pay homage to the Monkey God.

The most recent example has occurred at Las Palmas restaurant in Calexico, Mexico, on the California border. A cook spotted the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on a griddle. Hundreds of people have flocked to the restaurant to see the image, including a group of Mexican wrestlers, as the image at the top of the post will attest.

Carl Sagan had a theory that human beings are “hard-wired” from birth to identify the human face. He thought it was a survival technique. This could explain pareilolia inasmuch as the ability to use only minimal details to recognize faces at a distance and in poor visibility conditions could also lead them to interpret random images or patterns of light and shade as being faces.

It’s an interesting theory, but for me pareidolia is just a gift that I’ve been more than happy to use all my life.


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