Sunday 5 February 2017

When the mind wanders, it sees faces...

A few days ago, I had the unfortunate experience of being stuck for a while in a room that was in need of renovation. There was nothing to read, nothing to do, and I couldn't move. My eyes had nothing else to look at than the stains and holes in the floor. Before long, the shapes started to take on meaning. There was a baboon, there was Mickey Mouse, and right before me was a fire-breathing dragon!
This stain looks like Mickey Mouse
Mickey Mouse

It is interesting how we all see patterns in random things like clouds and stains. Who has never looked at clouds drifting across the sky, and seen people and animals? I often see maps of familiar countries and fictional worlds in the clouds. Trees and mountains can have faces and bodies, so clear that I can clearly understand where the myths of Trolls come from. 

This is called pareidolia. It is what happens when the brain interprets a random image as a familiar pattern. The single most common pattern generated in this way is a human face. Pareidolia is the phenomenon behind the "face of the moon", the inkblot test, and some say it is the reason why we can see a smiley icon as a smiling face. 

This stain looks like a naked woman performing hammer throw
Naked woman throwing a hammer
There are many communities and blogs out there dedicated to pareidolia. All of them, at least the ones I have found, are filled with images of things that look like faces. All it can take is a pair of dots, and the human brain will interpret it as "looking at you". Even the word "look" contains a pair of eyes when we look closely at it! 

When I was a child, my bedroom had curtains with large brown flowers on it. That pattern gave me nightmares, because my young eyes saw a witch in the flowers. She was wearing cat eye glasses and a scarf. I couldn't understand why my parents' couldn't see the witch, when she was clearly staring at me from every flower on those curtains. In fact, I couldn't even see the flowers back then. I could only see the witch and some random swirls. 

This stain looks like a fire breathing dragon
Dragon breathing fire on the ground
A couple of years ago, my parents were cleaning in their basement and found those old curtains from the 70s. They took them up and draped them over a chair in the living room, because they thought I might be interested in taking them with me. There was the witch, staring at me! 

I don't have a picture of the curtains; they are in my parents' house. I do have pictures of the stained floor and its strange inhabitants.