Monday, July 28, 2008

Stuff Believers Like: #1 Pareidolia

(The goitered Virgin Mary on a grilled cheese sandwich)

For most people, burn marks on a grilled cheese sandwich look like, well, burn marks on a grilled cheese sandwich. They might notice, if it is pointed out to them, that the combination of two charred and somewhat rounded areas located adjacent to each other, and above two vertically oriented additional marks, look somewhat like eyes, a nose and a mouth. They will then go about their business which, in this case, probably entails eating a grilled cheese sandwich. But for believers, burn marks in a grilled cheese sandwich might look like something entirely different.

In one famous example, which also involves a grilled cheese sandwich, a Florida believer saw an image of the Virgin Mary on her cheese toastie and went on to garner 15 minutes of fame and $28,000 from an online auction. And there have been countless similar discoveries involving religious figures in or on food, notably the Nashville NunBun and the Lake Arthur Jesus Tortilla, but not all involve culinary canvases or religious characters. Believers have found holy icons on bank windows and dental x-rays, sometimes drawing crowds of thousands of fellow believers, and seen the evidence of ancient civilizations on nearby, relatively speaking of course, planets.

Nonbelievers are quick to point out that these patterns discerned within random and meaningless noise, the psychological phenomenon known as pareidolia, almost always involve faces because of hard-wiring in the human brain. They might quote somebody like Carl Sagan or go on about the evolution of pattern recognition based survival mechanisms, but such ramblings will fall on deaf ears. The believers will continue to see images related to their delusion of choice in the knots of pine doors or satellite photos from Mars while the rest of us will be satisfied with looking at cloud animals.

No comments: