More pareidolia

By Phil Plait | July 20, 2005 11:14 pm

Pareidolia never sleeps.

That’s the psych term for seeing patterns (usually faces) in random patterns. Like, say, the “face” on Mars, or Lenin in a shower curtain, or, of course, the mother of all faces: the Virgin Mary in a stain on an underpass.

People tend to see what they wish to see, so of course any vaguely longish oval with a smear around it looks like Jesus. Scale is not important; you can see Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich, or in a bank window (scroll down that page to see it).

Some people see Jesus in the Eagle Nebula, which is hard to beat for scale. Still for terrestrial terms, this new one ain’t so bad.

It’s brought to you courtesy of Google maps, it’s two miles wide and four long, and it’s in Peru. I’ll admit, it does look like a face, but unless Jesus bears an uncanny resemblance to Gandalf (or perhaps Confucius), I’m guessing that some people are seeing a wee bit too much into this. Of course, when you see something like this:

… maybe Gandalf isn’t such a bad guy to have around.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Cool stuff, Time Sink

Comments (16)

  1. Wow, the Fomalhaut/Sauron eye image is absolutely stunning. Big thanks for showing it – I’d never seen it until now. Absolutely incredible. Truly makes you contemplate how vast this all is.

  2. Samara

    Wow…loved this article. You figure if it was Jesus, he’d be a little less vague about what he looked like and where he showed up.

  3. Nah, that’s obviously Slartibartfast!

  4. cjmr

    Are there still glaciers in Peru, then?

  5. Great stuff.. been visiting your site on and off for years now, but only just realised that you’ve started a blog as well.

    I just finished reading your treatise on astrological bunkum and loved it! Began wondering — are you a religious guy? Or perhaps “religious” is too strong a word.. let’s rephrase that: do you believe in God/a higher power/whatever? I’m undecided but definitely leaning toward the doubters.

    Some people, including some scientists, simply have two different “compartments” in their heads: one for scientific thinking and the other for “faith-based” thinking. Which is why I thought I’d ask you what your approach is.

  6. Maksutov

    Plenty of glaciers in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile. The Andes top out at well over 23,000 feet, with many peaks over 20,000′. Even though some are close to the equator, the conditions are fine for glacier formation.

    Re the face in what appears to be a talus field, it’s a stretch to me. Give it a few more years of erosion, landslides, and general weathering, and whatever it is (if anything) will be gone.

  7. Drooling Iguana

    It’s not Jesus, it’s Slartibartfast! Apparently at the point along the Probability Axis that we currently occupy (at which the Earth has not yet been destroyed to make way for a new hyperspace bypass) Slartibartfast won an award for Peru rather than Norway.

    Actually, it king of does look like the Face of God as seen in Monty Python’s Holy Grail.

  8. Wait, wasn’t there a coment saying this was man-made? The author must have deleted it. Oh well; I couldn’t find any info on that, and I really doubt anything like this would be done artificially; it would look better, for one thing!

  9. Thomas Siefert

    In Mexico in the ’80’s on a whitewashed wall a face with a stunning resemblance to jesus began to appear. After a while with the usual commotion following these things, it turned out that the face was actually a poster announcing a Willie Nelson concert. The poster had been painted over and when the paint began to fade Willies face started shinning through.

    I know this is not the same as pareidolia because this was an actual face being seen, but I still like the story.

    I’ve read this story in a Willie Nelson autobiography and the only other reference to this incident I’ve been able to find was on an obscure website about cargo cults. So this might be an urban myth, but again…. I still like the story :-)

  10. Roy Batty

    The eye of Sauron is obviously looking for this

  11. Funny, I didn’t realize that Jesus or Mary had ever posed for a drawing or a painting to leave behind a historical record of what they looked like! The pilgrims who journey to see these “faces” must have some ancient relic that heathens like myself are forbidden to see.

    I once saw Abe Lincoln’s profile in Mermac Caverns…but the flashlight had to be shined just right. Obviously, one could probably find a face in any natural pattern with the right angle and lighting.

    Hey, is that Saruman?

  12. I recently took the Hubble image of the Hourglass Nebula (which to me looks like a huge eye) and did a bit of Photoshop maniplation on it to make this striking picture for a CD cover:

    Incidentally – thanks for giving me the word “Pareidolia” – I’ve GOT to use that in a title for a piece of music somehow!

  13. If anyone sees any pareidolia more detailed than the photo on the lower left – please let me know. fred ressler.

  14. Many people are skeptical of the “spiritual” “solipsistic” aspect of pareidolia. It is because they don’t photography the images themselves. This makes the reality an idea.Part of the greatness of pareidolia is showing how much we haven’t seen, and hopefully doing something about it. These images have been supressed by the Church/State/Military/Industrial/Educational systems to further their own cause and keep us in the dark. See William Blake on everyone being a visionary till the C/S/M/I/E relaces vision with pre- occupied vision (blindness).

  15. Wow! You’re still getting replies to this!

    So I thought I may as well add mine.

    On my blog Wanderin’ Weeta I have done a few posts about pareidolia, and posted several interesting photos to demonstrate, ending today with a “Jesus on the cross” on a stone, with a pilgrim on the back of the same stone.

    Posts here, here and here (the “Jesus stone”).

    More for your collection!


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