You would think someone at LiveScience would know better by now

pareidolia again and again and again

imageIn a LiveScience article Man in the Comet: Why We See Faces Everywhere we read:

Though the face on the comet, with its shadowy profile, looks almost sinister, it is far from unique: Humans are wired to see faces everywhere.

In fact, the phenomenon is so common that it even has a name: Pareidolia, which in Greek means, in essence, "faulty image."

"Your brain is constantly trying to make the most out of just the tiniest thing," said David Huber, a psychologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who has studied the phenomenon. "You’re sort of in overdrive on imagining from limited information that there is a face."

Faces, faces everywhere

From the Shroud of Turin, thought to carry the imprint of the crucified Jesus’ face and body, to faces in the clouds and the Virgin Mary on a grilled cheese sandwich, people have always seen faces in everyday objects. Even the faintest hint of eyes, nose and a mouth in roughly the right places will often trigger the brain’s facial recognition system, Huber said.

[ . . . ]

Brain processing

When people see faces in images, a brain area called the fusiform face region lights up in brain scans, said Kang Lee, a developmental neuroscientist at the University of Toronto, in Canada, who has worked with Huber on several studies of how people process faces.

This brain region is likely a key junction point where low-level visual information is processed to say "Aha! It’s a face," Huber said.

The distance between facial features seems to play a key role in the brain’s ability to spot and uniquely identify different faces.

As I pointed out back in December of 2012, LiveScience carried this bit of insanity then and that posting was called LiveScience Goofs Again:

A prime example of pareidolia and its connection to religious images is the Shroud of Turin, a cloth bearing the image of a man — which some believe to be Jesus — who appears to have suffered trauma consistent with crucifixion. The negative image was first observed in 1898, on the reverse photographic plate of amateur photographer Secondo Pia, who was allowed to photograph it while it was being exhibited in the Turin Cathedral.

Are there no editors at this magazine? In the three short paragraphs just above the paragraph I just quoted, Zimmermann very correctly and very clearly defined pareidolia as follows:

imageThe psychological phenomenon that causes some people to see or hear a vague or random image or sound as something significant is known as pareidolia (par-i-DOH-lee-a).

The word is derived from the Greek words para, meaning something faulty, wrong, instead of, and the noun eidōlon, meaning image, form or shape. Pareidolia is a type of apophenia, which is a more generalized term for seeing patterns in random data.

Some common examples are seeing a likeness of Jesus in the clouds or an image of a man on the surface of the moon.

The picture of a man on the Shroud of Turin is not at all mere random data. It is unmistakably a picture of a man. It might be a yet unexplained work of art. It might even be a photograph by Leonardo da Vinci.  (Humor me, I’m just trying to make a point). It might be the product of some natural phenomenon. Or it might be a miraculous acheiropoieton, an image not created by human hands. But it is not a pattern of random data that just so happens to look like a man. That would be so extraordinary and so statistically implausible as to be truly miraculous. It is not a pareidolia.

Whatever anyone may think about the shroud’s authenticity, there is one thing everyone should agree about: the image of a man with a well-featured face on the shroud is not a pareidolia.  Here is a handy search of this blog on the subject.

4 thoughts on “You would think someone at LiveScience would know better by now”

  1. I’m told by some people that if you look closely at Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, you can make out what appear to be the faces of 13 people above coloured blobs that, viewed in the correct light, look almost as if they resemble bodies around a dining table. I mean, pareidolia or what?

  2. I have several pareidolia tucked away in family photograph albums, and several more in My Pictures folder on my hard drive. Strangely most of them resemble either family relatives or people I have known at various times. A few of them actually look like me!

  3. It looks like an alien sculpture.
    But …
    Where are the alien hieroglyphics?
    Where’s the code of the “Life-capsule” (= containig insects, flowers, plants, etc. !)
    launched by ET to populate the solar system?
    — —
    Here I will tell you my story … :
    Thirty years ago I bought the book “Evolution from Space”.
    Fred Hoyle (in collaboration with Chandra Wickramasinghe) was a champion
    of the modern theory of panspermia. Panspermia is essentially the theory
    that life comes from off the Earth …
    Have you developed your own stories about ‘Cosmic Ancestry’ ?
    Have you chosen an “anthropo-insect” space race ?
    … Insects from space ?
    How identify the limit dose of radiation ?
    Where are the set required experiments?
    See also the argument :
    “Life in space and its arrival on Earth (and Mars)” …
    — —
    Alexander Ivanovich Oparin (1894-1980) was a Soviet biochemist
    who was famous for his studies of the origin of life…
    In the 1920’s and 30’s, he developed the idea of the chemical emergence of life.
    Oparin argued that, as chemicals mixed together over time, they formed more complex chemicals. With longer periods of time, they formed even more complex organic chemicals.
    But he rejected the notion of panspermia.
    Instead Hoyle and Wickramasinghe followed the theory of Panspermia
    (see also : Svante Arrhenius and his book : “Worlds In The Making:
    The Evolution Of The Universe”) …
    — —
    After a decade long journey (at least) let us return to reality!

    >COSIMA (Cometary Secondary Ion Mass Analyser) is a secondary ion mass spectrometer equipped with a dust collector, a primary ion gun, and an optical microscope for target characterization. Dust from the near comet environment is collected on a target. The target is then moved under a microscope where the positions of any dust particles are determined. The cometary dust particles are then bombarded with pulses of indium ions from the primary ion gun. The resulting secondary ions are extracted into the time-of-flight mass spectrometer.
    >The core of the COSIMA instrument is a time-of-flight (TOF) secondary ion mass spectrometer (SIMS) equipped with a dust collector, a primary ion gun, and an optical microscope (COSISCOPE) for target characterization.
    — —
    Where is a similar plan for the Holy Shroud?
    Perhaps the unconscious hope of finding evidence of extraterrestrial origin for Life
    is stronger than the will to analyze the Shroud (here, on Earth!)…

  4. Current exploration of Comet 67P by Europe’s Rosetta spacecraft may reveal whether it contains life-forming organic molecules or not. Otherwise the hypothesis must be that such molecules formed over many millions of years on Earth.

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