Respectful Insolence

Pareidolia parade 2008

I have to admit that I’ve always had a soft spot for pareidolia, that phenomenon wherein people see things that aren’t there because human brains are wired for pattern recognition. As a child (and even as an adult), I loved lazily looking up at the clouds and envisioning animals, objects, and people in the clouds. That’s why very early on in the history of this blog I started posting about pareidolia, starting with an appearance of the Virgin Mary in Chicago under a freeway underpass for the Kennedy Expressway near where I used to live in the late 1990s, with my most recent installment having been a vision of the Virgin Mary with the Baby Jesus in a Lava Lamp.

Thanks to revere, however, I now have access to a retrospective of the best Christian pareidolia stories in the news for 2008. Man, oh, man, I never knew Jesus and Mary showed up in so many places in just one year:

I bow before the face of so much pareidolia goodness. I do, however, disagree with revere when he says, “But their stations keep shoveling it out. Because really stupid shit is OK if it’s in the name of religion.” Actually, “really stupid shit” is OK as long as news producers perceive it as being interesting to their audience–in other words, as entertaining–and thus likely to improve ratiings, hence the continued proliferation of stories about ghosts, alleged sitings of Bigfoot, and, as I had some fun with about a year ago, even orbs.

Pareidolia stories are perceived as fun, and TV news only uses such nonsense with a
Christian basis because the pervasiveness of Judeo-Christian religion in our culture makes such images always among the most common ones that people are likely to impose on various objects and among the ones their viewers would be most interested in hearing about. If the U.S. were a completely atheist nation, people would see something else in potato chips, Lava Lamps, pieces of wood, dirty windows, and various other objects.

But what, I wonder? Richard Dawkins? Charles Darwin?

Comments

  1. #1 JennyJo
    March 15, 2009

    The human mind is a wonderful thing indeed!

    There is also a fascinating syndrome called Bonnet’s syndrome, where people have the most exraordinary visual hallucinations, which, surprisingly enough, don’t scare them at all. The first time I read about it was in a book called Disturbances of the Mind by Douwe Draaisma, see http://www.nlpvf.nl/book/book2.php?Book=589

  2. #2 dilaceratus
    March 15, 2009

    If the US were an entirely atheist nation people would sill, surely, see patterns out of noise– perhaps even of Dawkins or Darwin. The difference would be that a non-religious people wouldn’t be trained by superstition to find such pattern-identification meaningful.

  3. #3 KristinMH
    March 15, 2009

    If the U.S. were a completely atheist nation, people would see something else in potato chips, Lava Lamps, pieces of wood, dirty windows, and various other objects.

    But what, I wonder? Richard Dawkins? Charles Darwin?

    You haven’t been following the news as closely as you think! ;)

    http://www.theonion.com/content/news/evolutionists_flock_to_darwin

  4. #4 ignatz topolino
    March 15, 2009

    From BoingBoing:

    http://www.boingboing.net/2006/11/15/charles-darwin-appar.html

    When is he going to show up on my tortillas?

  5. #5 Magnus
    March 15, 2009

    That Darwin stain in the Onion article doesn’t even look remotely like a person to me, let alone like Darwin.

    I like this one

    http://www.coasttocoastam.com/gen/page2970.html?theme=light

  6. #6 foole
    March 15, 2009

    Man, oh, man, I never knew Jesus and Mary showed up in so many places in just one year

    They’ve both got an agent who’s dynamite!

  7. #7 N.C.
    March 15, 2009

    But what, I wonder? Richard Dawkins? Charles Darwin?

    Elvis, duh.

  8. #8 Joe
    March 15, 2009

    To be fair, pareidolia stories are only for the christian fringe. The mainstream only accept authenticated, autographed photographs.

  9. #9 JennyJo
    March 15, 2009

    Sorry for my post here, it was awfully beside the point. :-(

  10. #10 Pareidolius
    March 15, 2009

    What’s with the whole “image of our redeemer” appearing millions of years before he lived business? Everyone knows that the world is only 6000 years old. Sounds like it’s time for . . .

    TALES FROM THE INTEGRATIVE BIBLE: THE UNTOLD STORIES

    That slab was a prototype from when Yaweh went into the business of making Jesus-themed countertops with his BFF Lucifer in June of 5900 BC. Lucifer warned against making them “too busy”, but oh no, Yaweh went all pyrotechnic and thundered “look here bitch, who do you think invented interior design?” Well when they hit the home improvement stores, they sold like shit sandwiches at a church social, so, being the big, narcissistic sociopath that he was, Yaweh blamed Lucifer and totally unfriended him. God made Lucifer clean out his desk and told Michael and Gabriel to escort him off the premises and that’s how the whole “Fall” thing really started. Moral? Don’t get counterproductive with god.

    With apoligies to Ponsonby Britt and Hans Conried.

  11. #11 Marc
    March 15, 2009

    Whenever I see stories, I can’t help but think Homer Simpson had the right approach to food appearances: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUnH9NECSUU

  12. #12 Phoenix Woman
    March 15, 2009

    The whole “orbs” thing is rather like the whole “bullet wounds on Ron Brown’s post-mortem X-ray” crapola. The “bullet wounds” were the result of a rather filthy X-ray machine, which is why they showed up, in the same positions, in every other X-ray that machine was taking at the time.

  13. #13 Diane
    March 15, 2009

    I’m an atheist and I didn’t see the virgin Mary in the grilled cheese sandwich. I saw Marlene Dietrich. I like old movies so I saw what was familiar to me.

  14. #14 laura
    March 15, 2009

    Our sauna has the picture of Lenin’s head in a wall.

  15. #15 Susannah
    March 15, 2009

    I’m an atheist, and I have a “Jesus stone” on my desk. It is a stone with a crucifix on one side, and the flagellants from the time of the Black Death on the other.

    But then, I’m always seeing patterns; dinosaurs in logs, elephants, birds, mythical monsters, assorted faces in puddles, …

    I think they’re fun. And the Jesus stone is funny.

  16. #16 davidp
    March 16, 2009

    What about Phil Plait’s vision of Lenin on a shower curtain http://www.badastronomy.com/bad/misc/lenin.html ?

  17. #17 Tracy W
    March 16, 2009

    I’m an atheist and I “saw” Charles I of England’s head on top of a punga tree once. I blinked and it went away again.
    I think the most likely explanation for the event is that I had an exam on English history from 1558 to 1666 in two days time. This implies that atheists will see whatever they have particularly been thinking about lately.

  18. #18 amhovgaard
    March 16, 2009

    People will see faces, humanoid figures and animals/monsters. Like they tend to do when looking at Rorschach ink-blot pictures. It’s just a brain thing; the patterns our pattern-seeking brains tend to look for. Of course, some people just see ink blots…

  19. #19 The Perky Skeptic
    March 16, 2009

    Pff! I never see Rorschach in ink-blots, but I do occasionally see Nite Owl.

  20. #20 Skemono
    March 17, 2009

    What about Phil Plait’s vision of Lenin on a shower curtain http://www.badastronomy.com/bad/misc/lenin.html ?

    That’s not Lenin. That’s Colonel Sanders.

  21. #21 John H
    March 17, 2009

    In my last toilet I actually had Charles Darwin in the lino on the floor. I thought this was seriously cool.

    There were also two flying wombats (which struck me as odd as wombats cannot fly).

    My current bathroom carpet reflects the face of the Mekon if the shower door is at the right angle. (Or it might be Alec Douglas Home).

    No jesus stuff so far. Maybe there is an atheist-pareidolia seperate to the religious buffoon pareidolia.

    My partners boxer dog looks like Darth vader.

    And sometimes my Maine Coon’s face looks like the Predator.

    The last one scares me !

  22. #22 catgirl
    March 17, 2009