Pareidolia, see faces and figures where there are not
The world is a complex place , indomitable, and exists independently of our ability to recognize it. The landscapes pile on top of each other, overlapping (or not doing so) and crowding into mountain ranges, fjords and rainforests. The wind constantly changes the canvas of clouds that cover the sky, and under them parade their own shadows, which try to follow them by running over the uneven topography of the globe.
Every twenty-four hours the light comes and goes and everything that has the property of reflecting it totally changes its appearance. Even on a smaller scale, our possibilities of knowing directly through our senses do not improve.
Do you know what a 'Pareidolia' is?
Animal life, endowed with autonomous movement, is characterized by changing place, form and appearance infinitely many times over a generation, and changes in the frequencies of light, added to the continuous change of place and position of our bodies, make that the raw data of everything we perceive is chaos impossible to understand.
Pareidolia as a way to find meanings
Luckily, our brain is equipped with some mechanisms to recognize patterns and continuities in the midst of all that sensory mess. Neural networks are the perfect means to create systems that always activate in the face of apparently different stimuli. Hence, we can recognize people close to us despite their physical and psychological changes. Hence also that we can apply similar strategies in different contexts, apply what we have learned to different situations and even recognize plagiarism in a piece of music. However, this ability also has a very striking side effect that is called pareidolia .
Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon consisting of the recognition of significant patterns (as faces) in ambiguous and random stimuli. Look, for example, at this duck:
Once you have realized that its beak looks like the caricatured head of a dog, you will never be able to stop having this effect every time you see a duck of this type. But not all pareidolias are as discreet as this. Evolutively we have developed neural networks responsible for process relevant stimuli , so that some patterns are much more evident to us than others.
In fact, at some point in our evolution the visual system with which we are equipped became incredibly sensitive to those stimuli that remind us of human faces , a part of the body that is of great importance for non-verbal communication. Later on, at a point in our history we became capable of making countless objects following simple, recognizable and regular patterns. And at that moment the party began:
Fusiform rotation: our face radar
Our brains are equipped with specific circuits that are activated to process the visual information relative to the faces in a different way from the rest of the data, and the part of the brain that contains these circuits is also responsible for the phenomenon of pareidolia.
This structure is called fusiform gyrus , and in a matter of hundredths of a second it makes us see faces where they are, but also where there are none. In addition, when this second possibility occurs we can not avoid having the strong feeling of being contemplating someone, even if that someone is actually a tap, a rock or a facade. That is the subconscious power of the fusiform turn: whether we want it or not, it will be activated every time we see something that vaguely resembles a face. It is the counterpart for having designed a brain that is prepared to face a lot of changing and unpredictable stimuli.
So, although because of these pareidolias we sometimes feel watched ...
... and although sometimes we notice that we have missed a joke ...
One of the many greatnesses of the human brain
... it is good to remember that these phenomena have their reason for being in the special treatment that our brain dispenses to the patterns that can be read in full flux of confusing images. Our brains make us wise, but nature makes our brains useful. As of today, when your brain detects a face where there is only one object, you will also remember this article.