Hi, it’s Catherine here today, the C of C.D. Hersh. I learned a new word the other day—pareidolia (parr-i-DOH-lee-ə), and I thought it might be fun to share it on the SMP blog today
Pareidolia means to see meaning where there is none. It is also defined as the tendency to interpret a vague stimulus as something known to the observer. The Skeptic’s Dictionary defines it as a type of illusion or misperception involving a vague or obscure stimulus being perceived as something clear and distinct. In other words, we see something, hear something, or smell something where there really isn’t anything.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been experiencing pareidolia all my life, in more ways than one. I’ve often inserted meaning into conversations with people who made absolutely innocent statements than I’ve taken umbrage to. I’ve interpreted vague stimuli as clear, distinct invitations to do something when the person I was talking to had no intention of going in that direction.
I have frequently been guilty of the more appropriate definition of the word whenever I see objects in the clouds,
in the swirls in the linoleum
in shadows on the walls
I can clearly see the man in the moon face, the faces on the surface on Mars,
and the Horsehead Nebula in the NASA pictures
I hear the phone ringing in the shower, when it’s not ringing. I smell things on the air when no one else does, (and have on several occasions known what my mother was fixing for dinner because I smelled it a mile away) and yes, I’ve heard the hidden words in In A Gadda Da Vida played backwards.
Skeptics would say our brains are wired to see faces and that’s why we see them where none really exist—there’s really nothing there but random patterns. But I rather like the other, more mysterious approach to pareidolia—the one that leaves me with goosebumps, averting my eyes from the devil in the door, and whooping out a big OOOOHHH whenever I see something unexpected on my burned toast or staring at me from the electrical plug on the kitchen wall.
Skeptics believe the misty faces peering over the shoulders of people in dimly lit photos are just random shapes, not real faces—or maybe I should say dead, spooky faces people claim them to be. Because I can see them so clearly they might claim I have an overactive imagination, but that’s okay too. I revel in that imagination. It’s what makes me a writer. It keeps life interesting, and it gives me something to do when I’m staring for hours at watermarks in the ceiling at the doctors’ offices.
I’m never bored if there’s a random pattern somewhere in my sight line. I’m always searching for that illusive picture. And who knows … I might see something someday that inspires a new story. After all, what is writing but the sparking of a vague, obscure stimulus into something that’s clear and distinct?
Here’s a few pareidolia pictures you might enjoy. Do you have one of your own favorites?