Evolving Thoughts

Pareidola rules!

i-84728bb53b4651ff321379da02f5d46b-dn10131-1_250.jpgNew images of the Cydonia “face” show, as expected, that it’s just another piece of Areology, not a monument left by aliens.

But this will not stop the woowoos from claiming that this is evidence of long-gone alien monument building. In a classic case of pareidola, the same psychological process that lets people find Jesus in a pancake or Mary in a fence post, Cydnoia is beyond rational thought. Pareidola is also the reason why people see patterns of design in living things. It suits us to see evidence of intention in the living world, because that’s what we evolved to do. We are supposed to work out the intentions of others from patterns, but a few false positives, such as seeing spirits in trees or purposes in natural disasters doesn’t matter. From the perspective of evolution, that is. From the perspective of truth-gathering, though, it’s a serious problem.

In a recent development, work on schizophrenia has shown that the feeling of agency is located, more or less, in the left temporoparietal lobe of the brain. I wonder if that part of the brain, together with the face matching module in the extrastriatal cortex, is responsible for the anthropomorphism of nature in general?


  1. #1 Alex
    September 24, 2006

    Areology..that reminds me of John Wyndham’s The Outward Urge. Two astronauts are on Mars, after a third is killed in an accident. One of them has had a bang on the head in the same accident, and is demonstrating rather disturbing behaviour, from which he is only distracted by the other’s proposal to get on with some geological sampling – not geology, areology, he insists.

    He still goes mad in the end.

  2. #2 Ian H Spedding
    September 24, 2006

    Didn’t that same debate crop up in one of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars books? They argued about whether large-scale landscape gardening of the planet should properly be called ‘terraforming’ or ‘areoforming”.

    I like the idea of being able to refer to ID proponents as ‘pareidolators’, though.

  3. #3 Ian H Spedding
    September 24, 2006

    …as an aside, would seeing the image of Raymond Burr in a block of stone be call ‘paremasonry’?

  4. #4 Gaia sighs...
    September 24, 2006

    Since you claim to be a “scientist”, I really think you ought to be more careful when using words with fangs… they ~do~ have a penchant for boomeranging and savaging the speaker’s ass.

    Being a layperson, but still reasonably cognizant, I find it impossible to grok the hubris of those who ridicule a peer based on evidence perceived through what could very well be a more sophisticated, but unrecognized, form of the same mechanism they claim is the source of their opponent’s misunderstanding.

    The map is ~not~ the territory. Images based on computer modeling depend entirely upon data selection and the parameters utilized by whatever particular model is chosen, neither of which, in the case of these new Cydonia images, seem to be available for public inspection at this time. To use visualizations, the genesis of which could well be a form of programmatic pareidola, as “evidence” with which to mock opponents seems rather hypocritical, and definitely antithetical to Science.

  5. #5 Phil Plait
    September 24, 2006

    Yeah, my thoughts on this are on my blog. It’s really the final blow, but of course, that won’t stop the Face Machine. Sigh.

  6. #6 John Pieret
    September 25, 2006

    Yeah well, but how about the skull?

    Next you’ll be telling us that you don’t think this appearance of Jesus is real!

  7. #7 Mark Paris
    September 25, 2006

    Sighing Gaia, no matter what data you see, they comprise a map. Even if you observe it with your own eyes, your brain is simply mapping the impinging photons onto a perceived space. At that point your brain does what the human brain does very, very well – pattern matching. You should really brush up on the concept of pareidola.

  8. #8 John Wilkins
    September 25, 2006

    Ian Spedding. I’m sending goons to deal with you for that pun.

  9. #9 Gaia sighs...
    September 26, 2006

    Mark of Paris:

    And, if a “pattern” is delibrately distorted to mislead, as was the infamous “catbox” image of the Face upon its trumpheted release by Malin Space Science Systems as being the new, definitve view of this contrversial object?

    I’m quite well aware of what pareidola is. I’m also aware that raw data can be manipulated to advocate for a particular viewpoint at the expense of both Science and the truth – as has been documented regarding the MSSS release of the image cited above.

    Eschewing conspiracy theories, can you tell me why there’s no site where the public can have access to the raw data used to produce the computer interpretations the ESA sets before us as images from Mars? And, why are we denied access to whatever specific software’s been used in their production?

    Still holding my breath,


  10. #10 John Wilkins
    September 26, 2006

    Do you need it? The direct images, unprocessed, are available from their web site, and they are simply showing the image mapped onto stereoscopic elevations. And the unprocessed images do not look in the slightest like a manufactured structe.

  11. #11 Gaia sighs...
    September 27, 2006

    “Do you need it? The direct images, unprocessed, are available from their web site, and they are simply showing the image mapped onto stereoscopic elevations. And the unprocessed images do not look in the slightest like a manufactured structe. ”

    In a word, yes. Or, at least unfettered access to the raw data – if not for myself, then for researchers who question computer simulations presented as true images, then used in campaigns that evoke the impression of reckless debunking while purporting to be scientific fact.

    While it may not have been the ESA’s intent, headlines like “Pareidola rules!” and similar, sensationalized “put-downs” appearing on Science blogs and in the MSM certainly foster such impressions. Add the fact that any intellectual honesty upon which Science depends is dishonored when respected scientific peers are offered as objects of ridicule – indeed, not outright, but by the ridiculer fugitively hiding his intent behind a key-click as was done to Tom Van Flandern here – and one begins to look askance not only upon the data, but upon the integrity of its disseminators.

    That said, I’d like to say a word about “direct”, “unprocessed” images.

    When the first, long delayed MOC images were released to the public by their sole gatekeeper, MSSS, a number of years ago, they were released in two forms, .IMQ and .IMG.

    .IMQ files were stated to be raw” images, and unprocessed. During the course of examination by members of the public, it was discovered that a number of these “raw” images had definite artifacts (clipping, removal and superimposing of image areas one upon the other, and more) that resulted in discontinuity of terrain, and that could only be attributed to some form of preprocessing. My interest piqued, I contacted the proprietor of MSSS and, in the course of our private e-mail exchanges, was told that yes, .IMQ images were, indeed, preprocessed. It seems remarkable that this has never been stated publicly (as far as I know.) Since then, I’ve had a rather jaundiced view of all claims of images returned by cameras orbiting Mars being “raw,” particularly claims made by those who are the sole source of the images.

    (I never did manage to ascertain why the .IMQ images referred to had the oddities I’ve described, only that they were, indeed, preprocessed.)


  12. #12 Gaia sighs...
    October 25, 2006

    As a follow-up on the image we’ve been discussing, I’ve recently found another image of the same object, produced by the German team from the same data – this time sans the “horn”. Of course, odds are the general public will never see it – both because it is buried within ESA’s site and requires persistent searching to find, and because it looks far too much like an actual face. It can be seen at http://tinyurl.com/ykgd2c

  13. #13 Gaia sighs...
    December 6, 2006

    For a reply from a highly respected scientist to your misleading ridicule vis-a-vis your essay “Pareidola rules!” see Tom Van Flandern’s article at http://tinyurl.com/y3nzml

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