Pareidolia: Seeing Faces

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We have a tendency to find patterns out of normal and meaningless things. One example of this phenomenon is pareidolia: seeing meaningful images in meaningless visual stimuli. If you have looked at a cloud in the sky and perceived a shape of an animal or a face, you have experienced pareidolia. Pareidolia may seem like a harmless and interesting aspect of how the mind works, but it has more influence on society than one would think.

In 2004, it was revealed that a woman has preserved a grilled cheese sandwich for over 10 years, with her reason being that the burnt pattern of the toast resembled the face of Virgin Mary. Certainly, she believes that it was a sign from God, and the sandwich was sacred. Word of this sandwich spread throughout the media, and the woman eventually sold the sandwich on for $28000 to Golden Palace Casino. This shows how pareidolia can make an ordinary item into a valuable sensation.

As silly as the sandwich story sounds, it actually shows us the power of pareidolia. The human brain is hard-wired to recognize faces. When a person sees a face, it only takes milliseconds for the brain to recognize it as a face; when a person sees normal images or objects that look like faces, the brain recognizes it at almost the same speed. This shows that it is not so uncommon for people to perceive extraordinary images out of meaningless visual stimuli. It is important for us to keep in mind that we underestimate the probability of coincidence. So next time you see Lady Gaga's face on your pancake, think twice before you tell everyone about the manifestation of the pop icon in your living room.


Other pareidolia examples:

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This page contains a single entry by wong0421 published on October 1, 2011 2:52 PM.

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