Sciencebod’s 3D Problem

imageA reader writes:

I recall one of your postings in which you recounted the story of someone who claimed that there really wasn’t a picture of a man on the shroud, that what we all saw was no different then a picture of Jesus that appears on a slice of toast. As I recall, no amount of explanation could convince him to change his mind.

Of course not. That would violate the first law of kookiness.

Now, excuse me for interrupting the reader’s email to repeat a part of what I wrote that the reader refers to:

One day, I was astonished to receive an email from someone who claimed that we only think we see an image of a face on the Shroud. What we think is an image, he told me, is merely the happenstance accumulation of smudges and stains on the cloth. It is no different than an imaginary image of Jesus on a burned slice of toast. It is a pareidolia, an apophenia. I had never heard of either of these words. Now I have. As far as I can see, they mean the same thing. According to my Merriam-Webster dictionary apophenia is "the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data." Pareidolia is defined as apophenia.

I wrote back. "The image is too detailed. It is too realistic and too complex to not be the real face of a man. When I say real, I mean by any means. Absent other evidence this includes painting, photograph or something else that we don’t understand."

But he persisted. His mind was made up. "You can’t prove it," he wrote back. "It could be pure coincidence and you don’t know for a fact that it isn’t. What is the threshold for perceiving an image? What are the criteria for saying that the image is of a man? Are you an expert on the human face?" . . .

I suspect that there is a rather fuzzy swath of undecidedness between certainty that an image is of a face and is not. Given the setting and circumstance and a measure of sanity in whatever our worldview may dictate to us, we can usually avoid undecidedness. If I see a face in the clouds, I know it is a phantasm (another cool word), an illusion, an apparition of sorts. I am sure most of us think the same thing if we see a face on a piece of toast or in a smudge of a windowpane. It should be easy to know what we see for any given context. If I see a face in a Picasso, even if it looks less like a face than what I see on my morning toast, I know it is an image of a face because of the context. But what about the face on the shroud? It is a face? The context is clear. There is an entire body there – admittedly, at the risk of being declared incompetent, maybe a pareidolia. I don’t know how the face got there but it is a face.

Now to resume the readers email:

imageDr. Sciencebod has the same sort of problem with 3D. He fails to distinguish between fully expected pseudo-elevations from burn marks and the real-elevations visible on the real image of a man on the shroud. This is apparent when he writes, “So-called 3D-encoded information is an artefact of the computerised imaging – which explains why the 1532 burn marks appear as a hologram-like 3D as well as the image itself.”

A bit of disclaimer is in order. I’m not convinced that the shroud is real. At the same time I’m not convinced it is fake. So for me it is a mystery. If it is real, I am not at all inclined to think the image was caused by energy left over from some sort of physical resurrection. I have seen no convincing evidence for that. But even if I had I would have significant difficulty accepting it. I am a Catholic much more in sympathy with progressive Catholic scholars like Crossan who interprets the resurrection as a statement of faith and not as a physical event in a scientific or historic sense.

However, the 3D, which Dr. Sciencebod so casually dismisses, is ever so appropriate for the shape of a human form that it is silly to think otherwise unless one confuses reality with toast. Even so, the 3D effect obtained by plotting luminescence may not be a real measure of distance between body and cloth. It may be something entirely different that we have not imagined. But it is not casually dismissible. Regardless of how it came about, it is a real property of the image. One cannot claim to have found a method by which to create the image on the shroud unless one can show how that method encodes this property. One cannot claim it’s an artifact in order to escape this pass/fail criteria.

NOTE: Top picture is from Discover Magazine. Bottom picture is called “Face in the Shroud.” It is a 3D rendering of data in the shroud image undertaken by Ray Downing for the History Channel special, The Real Face of Jesus.

6 thoughts on “Sciencebod’s 3D Problem”

  1. It may be appropriate to say that the effect of the process which created the image is 3D encoding even though we do not know the exact mechanism of image formation.

    Does anyone know if tests were ever done with cadavers (morbid, I know) wrapped in shrouds (made like Ray Rogers had made)? I can’t find anything with regards to that. I don’t know how feasible such experiments would be but I’d be curious to see if by replicating the conditions of the burial with several specimens and examining the shrouds at different time intervals if anything might be learned.

  2. The resurrection is not a physical event, and this man is Catholic?

    That is like saying one is Catholic, but that the Eucharist is a ham sandwich; in other words, it is an asinine statement to make.

  3. I can understand someone arguing that the 3D information in the image wasn’t created by an actual 3D body – ie, that the image was deliberately fabricated somehow to *seem* 3D by shading areas such that their hue would correspond with their depth on a real face. I don’t believe that, or think it’s even a tiny bit plausible given what we know about the Shroud, but at least it’s a logical statement. If, on the other hand, sciencebod is really trying to say that the 3D encoding is all an illusion, that it’s just pure luck that it has the appearance of depth and that plotting the depth based on hue with a computer produces such an accurate 3D image of a face, based on the fact that the burn holes produce a variation in hue as well, then he’s simply nuttier than a Snickers bar, and it’s amazing that anybody is wasting more than a single breath dismissing his idea as less than wrong.

  4. >I am a Catholic much more in sympathy with progressive Catholic scholars like Crossan who interprets the resurrection as a statement of faith and not as a physical event in a … historic sense.

    Crossan believes that “Jesus’ body, far from being resurrected, was probably buried in a shallow grave and eaten by dogs.” That means Jesus is NOT “ascended into heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father, from where he will come to judge the living and the dead.” Crossan’s dead Jesus cannot save anyone or make intercession to the Father for their sins. According to St Paul, Crossan’s (and his ilk’s) faith is empty of content and he/they are of all men the most to be pitied (1Cor 15:14-19).

    If this reader REALLY believes what Crossan believes (and I note that he/she does not actually state that), then he might be a Catholic (or a Baptist, or an Anglican, etc), but he/she is NOT a Christian.

    There are people who believe the Shroud is authentic (like the late Rodney Hoare, a past Chairman of the British Society for the Turin Shroud, who even wrote books defending the Shroud’s authenticity, but who believed Jesus never died on the cross) but who are not Christians.

    That is OK in Sindonology (“the scientific study of the Shroud of Turin“) but it is NOT OK in Christianity. There are Christians who don’t believe the Shroud is authentic (I was one for nearly 40 years), who are my brothers and sisters in Christ. There are non-Christians (like Barrie Schwortz-owner of who are my brothers and sisters in the Shroud. But the two brotherhoods are NOT the same. And the brotherhood in Christ is INFINITELY more important than the brotherhood in the Shroud.

  5. >”You can’t prove it,” he wrote back. “It could be pure coincidence and you don’t know for a fact that it isn’t. What is the threshold for perceiving an image? What are the criteria for saying that the image is of a man? Are you an expert on the human face?” .

    On that basis it would be impossible to decide whether “the Face on Mars” was a representation of a real alien face, or just a rock formation that by coincidence happens to look like a human face.

    The test, as Dan said, is in the level of detail. The Face on Mars only LOOKED like a face at a low level of resolution and from a certain angle in a 1976 Viking 1 photograph. It was later shown by NASA in 1998, when its Mars Global Surveyor “snapped a picture ten times sharper than the original Viking photos … the image first appeared on a JPL web site, revealing [the Face on Mars to be] a natural landform.”

    So a fake only gets more and more unlike the real thing as the level of detailed scrutiny increases. The Shroud, on the other hand, has only become more and more like the real thing, as the level of scrutiny has increased. Members of the 1978 Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP), like the late Ray Rogers and Barrie Schwortz, were confident that it would only take a short time of their detailed scientific scrutiny, for them to detect that the Shroud was a fake. Yet that that did not happen. After 5 days of the most intensive scientific scrutiny, none of the STURP team, were able to conclude that the Shroud was a fake.

    And today, a third of a century later, the Shroud continues to only look more and more like the real thing, the very burial sheet of Jesus, bearing the imprint of His crucified, dead, and resurrected body, and less and less like a fake.

    The only reasonable (and consistent if one believes the Face on Mars is just a rock formation) conclusion, is that the the Shroud is NOT a fake, but is in fact JESUS’ and its image is “a literal `snapshot’ of the Resurrection” (Wilson, I., “The Turin Shroud,” 1978, p.210).

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