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It’s Not Jesus, It’s Pareidolia

April 29, 2009

Pareidolia is best described as the psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus being perceived as significant. This includes seeing shapes in the clouds and hearing satanic messages when playing 80’s rock music backwards. Here is an example:

face

This is obviously the “face” seen on Mars. For the longest time there were conspiracy theories claiming Mars had intelligent life on it. That is, until 2001 when this newer, higher resolution image was taken of the same formation.

mars-face

You change the angle slightly and get a clearer image and it’s not much of a face anymore.

Religious people (mostly Catholics) have a hard time coming to terms with pareidolia. When anything resembling a face or outline of a body is found thousands of people will travel to it and pray around it, as though their god really wants to communicate his divine presence through a grilled cheese sandwich.

Do you see Jesus? Or maybe Charles Manson?

jesusormansoncharles-manson

Or Maybe there really is a deliciously chocolate secret message for us all in this kit-kat bar:

jesuskitkat_682_785333a

Sometimes people really go out of their way to find things to promote their religious agenda, like 17,000 light years. Some people seem to think this pulsar depicts the hand of their respective god.

1240255602227

Obviously, none of these images are actually of a divine nature. They are coincidences completely within the range of possible random occurrences. If you see something in one of these you have put it there. Don’t be ashamed, the brain naturally does this as part of it’s programming to keep you safe. Just stop fucking worshiping kit-kat bars already!

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24 Comments
  1. April 29, 2009 11:18 pm

    Actually, the newer picture of the “face” on Mars just intensified the conspiracy theories – I mean, isn’t it obvious? The government and NASA covered up the evidence by making that new, faked image. They did this because, er, the aliens told them to? Or because of the secret bases on Mars where the new race of cyborg warrior gay married people are being hatched? They’re always a little vague on why NASA, which would wet itself to be able to announce a microbe, let alone pyramid building aliens, would cover up such evidence.

    • April 30, 2009 9:54 am

      It’s the godless pinko-communist reptilians that are mind controlling the U.N.!

  2. April 30, 2009 6:55 am

    I must be too brain dead today..I’m not seeing anything in the kit-kat..

    – Schev

    • May 1, 2009 7:58 pm

      Might I suggest a six pack and then try again?

      It worked for me (hiccup)

      Hey SF… i think I saw Jesus talking to me. He told me to tell you: “keep up the good work son!”

      (hiccup)

  3. April 30, 2009 8:26 am

    Thanx for putting all the photos together — nice job.

    Interestingly enough, there is an accepted principle in some branches of Oriental Medicine (and I imagine in Western Herbal Medicine too) where if a plant looks like some part of human anatomy, it should have some remedial effect on pathology in that part of human bodies.
    An example: Lotus Root has channels running through it so when it is cut it looks like lungs look. Lotus Root is used to treat phlegm in colds.
    Such a notion of similar form to treat similar form is silly, of course, but common. The problem is, if you try 1000 herbs that share something with lungs, one of them might work. Then, with selection bias, you forget the other 999 failures and, BANG! , you have another “confirmed” superstition. We humans are funny. Oh yes, I myself fell for this in the past. Silly me.

    • Chryss Hart permalink
      June 25, 2009 11:34 pm

      I would like to point out that this notion of similar form used to treat similar form may be assisted by the very well documented placebo effect. If people believe something will cure them, in a great many cases, it will. This obviously isn’t foolproof (i have never heard of anyone being cured of cancer or similar terminal illness due to the placebo effect) but in the case of the common cold, the placebo effect does work. Very well, I might add.

      I am glad I stumbled upon this article because I didn’t know the scientific term for “pattern recognition”. My husband and I take great joy in putting various nebula photographs up as out desktop background and then seeing what forms we make out of the random clouds of billowing gases. But we know that there’s nothing significant there. It’s not God trying to talk to us. Though we are not atheists, we are neither Christian nor stupid. We don’t think that belief in “divinity”, for lack of a better word, automatically nullifies scientific findings. And we don’t believe that “because the gods said so” is a good enough reason for something (like why relativity and quantum mechanics just don’t mesh terribly well). Sorry, I seem to have strayed from the topic. Anyway, keep up the good work. This is a very good blog and I look forward to reading more.

      Chryss Hart

  4. April 30, 2009 11:51 am

    These always crack me up. Yes, I think if someone I knew really believed that Jesus came to them in a tortilla, I would have to explain to them that I will be unable to converse with them seriously ever again.

  5. April 30, 2009 7:15 pm

    Now you mention it, I see Charles Manson.

    Which is the whole point really. No one knows what jesus really looked like so a picture of a bearded male face could be any beardy guy.

  6. Michael permalink
    April 30, 2009 10:01 pm

    I saw Ted Nugent in the grilled cheese.

  7. Lyle permalink
    May 1, 2009 11:47 am

    I want a skillet that will cook a grilled cheese sandwich (or whatever I want) with the face of Jesus. Maybe I could sell about one a month on ebay.

  8. May 1, 2009 7:10 pm

    I love the chocolate one. Funny how most of the jesus ones correspond to a Shroud of Turin image.

  9. May 3, 2009 3:29 pm

    I had the pleasure of explaining this phenomenon to a couple of religious nuts once. I used to term “pattern recognition” (only because I wanted to avoid that glazed-over look I tend to get when dispensing scientific jargon) to describe these occurrances and compared them with our natural ability to see a face almost anywhere…i.e. smiley faces. Comics have mastered this very basic principle of human perception. They seemed to understand and agree with all of this until they realized the implications for many purported “miracles”. Upon this epiphany, they backpedaled faster than the Flash. (For a full and fascinating discussion of this, I refer you to Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics and its sequels.)
    Like with so much else, religious individuals have no problem with science, sociology, etc. until it serves to squash one or more of their “sacred, inviolate” beliefs. At that point, these fields of study are said to be obviously biased, flawed or in some cases openly hostile to religion. News flash: Science is not “hostile to religion” per se; it is “hostile to ignorance and falsity”. Deal with it.

  10. May 4, 2009 6:07 am

    Indeed, pattern recognition is desirable, thus it is understandable why humans see these odd things. We normally ignore them unless, using confirmation bias, that reinforce our view of the world.

  11. May 4, 2009 6:33 am

    This post inspired me to write a little post on this. Thanks for the inspiration.

  12. May 7, 2009 3:54 am

    Pics aren’t showing for me.
    I don’t believe enough or the Fire and brimstone wall is blocking them.

    • May 28, 2009 2:30 am

      “Fire and brimstone wall”

      Brilliant.

  13. May 28, 2009 2:28 am

    Your blatant lack of representation of the Virgin Mary prompts me to leave you this: Virgin Mary Appears on Griddle in California.

    • Phlox permalink
      July 11, 2009 12:21 am

      lmao “[they] claim there is a strong spiritual presence in the griddle, as well as a pervasive odor of French toast.”

  14. E. Lee permalink
    July 1, 2009 6:31 am

    Please keep in mind that not all Christians believe that these “pareidolia” are genuine miraculous representations of deity attempting in some way to communicate a message to them. Many of us understand and completely agree with the scientific explanations of this phenomenon and see absolutely no impact or bearing whatsoever that these scientific truths have upon the genuine miracles done by Christ as recorded in the New Testament which are the true basis of our Faith. Such as bringing Lazarus back to life after his having been dead for four days, or raising the widow’s son at Nain from the dead, or Christ’s own historical resurrection from the dead.

    This scientific fact that we are apt to see a simulacrum in almost any random visual data or object serve as a “Rorschach Icon” indicative more of our state of mind than a message from God. As such, it is rather harmless, but; when it becomes a modern “confirmation” of our faith which needs no further confirmation it is absurd. Then is when it serves to mislead others about the true Christian Faith by falsely assuming that our faith has not already been firmly established and is in need of some modern “confirmation” to shore it up. It shows instead the weakness of the faith of those Christians who feel such a need. Comparing these frauds of the human mind with the genuine, undeniable, miracles of Christ that are the real basis of our faith leaves the false impression that one is as deniable as the other. The truth of the matter is that the one has absolutely no bearing on or connection with the other. Those weak Christians who appear to be constantly “looking for a Miracle” and are persistently deceiving or deluding themselves that they have actually seen one have a very weak faith in the real miracles that form the true basis of the Christian faith.

    Therefore, as a Christian, I join with all of those who condemn the worship of these false images of Christ and recommend a casual reading of the New Testament to those in need of evidence supportive of the Christian Faith.

    Sincerely,

    E. Lee Saffold

    • Phlox permalink
      July 11, 2009 12:44 am

      “Please keep in mind that not all Christians believe that these “pareidolia” are genuine miraculous representations of deity attempting in some way to communicate a message to them.”

      Well, of course we keep that in mind. If those people didn’t take it seriously, there wouldn’t be much point in making fun of pareidolia. :)

    • Basingstoke permalink
      September 3, 2009 2:43 pm

      I disagree with you. Jesus’ miracles are most likely VERY similar to pareidolia. The NT record of miracles follows (TOO conveniently) the patterns of Moses and Elijah and Elisha. Why do you assume that books written by authors with an obvious “ax to grind” are writing literal history the way you might? Mark, the earliest Gospel, (the vast majority of scholars both conservative and progressive) was written at least 40 years after the events took place, having the obvious agenda to convert pagans and Jews and encourage those who already believed Jesus was Messiah. Paul, the earliest Christian writer, did not write until around the year 50 C.E…. at least 20 years later. A more rational approach to the miracles in the NT is that the writers used them to designate Jesus to be “the Prophet” mentioned to come in Deuteronomy. These events were attributed to Jesus to “prove” he was following in the line of Moses and Elijah/Elisha. And if you read the book of Acts, you will see that Peter “performed” similar “miracles” to Jesus and Paul “performed” similar miracles to them both. What’s the chance of that???? The NT writers compiled stories with a purpose to teach and convert, not convey history as we, the heirs of the Enlightenment now use that term. Think about it.

  15. Phlox permalink
    July 11, 2009 1:29 am

    If I believed those pictures were messages from God, I’d possibly be concerned, if not downright alarmed by their implication. I mean, whatever became of flaming thornbushes and direct intervention in human affairs?
    It’d make a nice plot for a book – let’s say, the OT God wants to retire. So he has a son, Jesus, to take over the family business. OTG sends his son to earth to learn about the business. Jesus does all the stuff of the NT – talking to people, healing them etc. and doing so, he becomes too involved with everyday life and suddenly has qualms about asking people to commit genocide and stuff. The problem is, that OTG needs bloodshed and sacrifices to remain strong, so he intervenes and makes people sacrifice his own son. When Jesus is back in the family residence, called Heaven, they have a nice talk and agree on a compromise: if Jesus promises to instigate the one or the other crusade, he’s allowed to do some good things too and to stay in charge of the business. Jesus, being half-human, is not as powerful as his father, so his means of communication with people are more subtle.. etc.
    Well, I haven’t yet figured out the details and I gotta go to work now. Cu. :)

  16. April 3, 2010 10:04 pm

    Funny! I’m not an atheist, but this was amusing. Well written.
    I tend to think that many so-called believers are actually very materialistic. It has to be brought down to something you can see, touch, photograph.

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