A Little Pareidolia and the Gift of Gab

When I look at white billowing clouds in the sky (not this morning…it’s dark), I can see a thousand shapes. Dogs, birds, human faces, you name it. Once I remember seeing what looked like a long stone wall alongside a highway. I’m in good company with such hallucinations. It’s not uncommon for me to hear the phenomenon discussed or to read about it in sweet stories about children who, while looking innocently skyward, see fairy tale figures dancing through the sky. It’s not just clouds, though. The hallucinations occur while looking down at the ground.

Yesterday morning, I gazed outside at the leaves and dead branches littering the ground beneath my window. I was surprised to see, quite clearly, the head of a laughing dog, a boxer, looking back up at me. The rest of the dog’s body melted into the ground, but the face and hears and the open mouth were clearly visible. I stared at the image for thirty seconds or more. It didn’t move. But when I let my eyes drift away for only a second, it was gone. I tried to return my gaze to precisely the same spot. It was a useless attempt to recapture the dog’s image.

Those children and I who saw things that aren’t there may have experienced a phenomenon called pareidolia. The term is defined as a “psychological phenomenon that causes some people to see or hear a vague or random image or sound as something significant.” The explanation of the phenomenon goes on to say, “Pareidolia is a type of apophenia, which is a more generalized term for seeing patterns in random data.” Actually, I rather hope that neither the kids nor I are coping with either pareidolia or apophenia, because both terms seem to carry with them a close relationship with psychoses of one kind or another. Yet I see the terms, especially pareidolia, bandied about to explain the sightings of animals on the surface of the moon and Jesus on toast and tortillas.

I’m not sufficiently intrigued by the idea this morning to explore it further. My “exploration” took all of three minutes on Google. But with a little dressing up of the language, I suspect I could convince an unsuspecting reader who wandered by that I knew whereof I speak. That speaks more to others’ gullibility than to my “gift of gab.” (Side note: “Gift of gab” is defined as “the ability to speak with eloquence and fluency.” What term would be used to describe “the ability to write with eloquence and fluency?” I do not know. But I want to.)

And that’s all for now.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to A Little Pareidolia and the Gift of Gab

  1. I know, right?! It’s fascinating. I “see things” on a regular basis. In clouds, on the ground, in trees. I think we’re both gifted or crazy. Maybe both. 😉

  2. bev wigney says:

    Funny about that — I “see things” that way all the time — random tile patterns that reveal a laughing horse’s head — the grain and knotholes in a piece of wood that look like a bear’s head — and so on. I’ve always seen it as a gift. I have a close friend out in Oregon who sees objects this way too. I remember one evening, standing on the banks of the Abiqua River in the Cascades and he pointed at the silhouette of the tree canopy above us and asked if I saw a gorilla craddling the continent of Africa in its arms — and I did — very distinctly. Oddly enough, after I got to know my friend’s father, he told me that he also “saw things” all the time. One day while I was staying with him, he asked me to come and look at the hedge in the front yard to see what he thought he saw there. He pointed it out and I said, “Looks like a man wearing a top hat.” Oh, he laughed so much as he said he’d seen the same thing. Such a fun memory.

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