During our lecture on Cognition I was fascinated by the phenomenon of Pareidolia (par-i-DOH-lee-a) – defined by Collins English Dictionary as: ‘the imagined perception of a pattern or meaning where it does not actually exist, as in considering the moon to have human features‘ – An uncommonly known name for a commonly experienced phenomena. Most scientists consider pareidolia a survival technique as it allows us to read the emotions of an incoming human instantly so we are able to differentiate friend from foe.
While pareidolia is very much rooted in the human condition, Berlin-based design studio Onformative have developed an algorithm to replicate the phenomena using technology and are currently using it to scan Google Earth for face-like characteristics in landscape.
The Shroud of Turin is a famous example of pareidolia. It depicts the face of a beared man, not unlike the stereotypical Jesus, on a cloth. It is not uncommon for the phenomena of pareidolia and religion to be intertwined – a Finnish study recently found that religious people or people with a strong belief in the supernatural were much more likely to see faces in lifeless objects and landscapes. As an experiment I decided to go onto Google and type ‘Jesus face in’ in the search box.
From here on out things got a little bit strange…
Jesus in the cracks of a wall
Jesus on a frying pan
Jesus on the lid of a Marmite tub
Jesus on a half-eaten Kit-Kat
And at this point I decided I had learnt enough about pareidolia and the sad lives some chicken farmers keep.
(2013) Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
Forsyth, M.H. (2012) The Inky Fool: Pareidolia
Zimmermann, K.A. (2012) Pareidolia: Seeing Faces in Unusual Places
Everitt, L (2013) Pareidolia: Why we see faces in hills, the Moon and toasties
Onformative: Google Faces