During our lecture on cognition we also discussed the phenomenon of Pareidolia in great depth. The Collins English dictionary defines Pareidolia as “the imagined perception of a pattern or meaning where is not exist.” The most common association with this phenomenon is to see faces in strange places, such as in carpet textures, toast, and even on the surface of the moon. Pareidolia is often closely linked with religion, with many people having claimed to see Jesus or the Virgin Mary in food, tree trunks even in bird poop on a windscreen. Many of these ‘artefacts’ have made their original owners rich, with items going on EBay for thousands of dollars. In fact, the majority of famous cases of Pareidolia are associated with religion. Often the case seems to be that many people have a strong need for evidence of the authenticity of their beliefs and their own self-importance, perhaps on a subconscious level.


Pareidolia is also sometimes used as an art practice. Leonardo da Vinci encouraged his students to looks at ink stains and wall textures to find unique and interesting landscapes and figures, as a source of inspiration for paintings. Since Pareidolia is mainly based on certain patterns of tone, many artists have explored this idea. I saw this portrait of the Virgin Mary in Venice in 2011, by Ukrainian artist Oksana Mas. It is made up of 15 000 wooden eggs covered in different patterns. The pictures below show a far away photo, and a close-up photo.


Constellations found in the night sky are also forms of Pareidolia. Ancient people saw patterns in the stars, which they used to tell stories specific to their cultures. Today, we remember them mainly by their Greek names. For instance, the constellation, Cygnus, is named for the Greek word for Swan.


It is most often associated with the Greek legend in which the God Zeus disguised himself as a swan to seduce the mortal woman Leda. However, in reality it actually looks like this;


Not incredibly similar to the form of a swan (another name for this constellation is the Northern Cross, which is probably more appropriate), but today, astronomers find these useful as maps to clarify the positions of individual stars.

The phenomenon of Pareidolia brings up many questions about our species. Many believe that humans are hardwired from birth to recognise the basic features of the human face. Carl Sagan suggested it is a survival technique – seeing something that turns out to be an illusion will not harm you, but to miss something in a situation, such as a lion hiding in a bush, could potentially mean the difference between life and death.

And now, here is an example of Pareidolia which I found on Tumblr