Home > Paper Chase, Science > Psychological Influences in Seeing Inscriptions on the Shroud of Turin

Psychological Influences in Seeing Inscriptions on the Shroud of Turin

November 11, 2015

… the normal psychological processes underlying perception of writing, and the tendency of these processes to produce illusory perceptions, should be an essential consideration when addressing the existence of religious inscriptions on religious artifacts such as the Shroud of Turin.


In sum, the aim of this research has not been to question the authenticity of the Shroud or the presence of images of a human body and face. Instead, our focus has been the claims made concerning the existence of religious inscriptions which many believe cast crucial light on the provenance of this important artifact.


imageOn October 28, 2015, PLoS ONE, a peer-reviewed, open access journal, published Seeing Inscriptions on the Shroud of Turin: The Role of Psychological Influences in the Perception of Writing by Timothy R. Jordan, Mercedes Sheen, Lily Abedipour, and Kevin B. Paterson. (You can also access this article from the U.S. National Library of Medicine
at the National Institutes of Health)

Do access the article and read it. It is well done. 

Abstract:

The Shroud of Turin (hereafter the Shroud) is one of the most widely known and widely studied artifacts in existence, with enormous historical and religious significance. For years, the Shroud has inspired worldwide interest in images on its fabric which appear to be of the body and face of a man executed in a manner consistent with crucifixion, and many believe that these images were formed in the Shroud’s fibers during the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. But, more recently, other reports have suggested that the Shroud also contains evidence of inscriptions, and these reports have been used to add crucial support to the view that the Shroud is the burial cloth of Jesus. Unfortunately, these reports of inscriptions are based on marks that are barely visible on the Shroud, even when images are enhanced, and the actual existence of writing on the Shroud is still a matter of considerable debate. Here we discuss previous evidence concerning the psychological processes involved generally in the perception of writing, and especially when letters and words are indistinct. We then report two experiments in which the influence of religious context on perception of inscriptions was addressed specifically, using an image of woven fabric (modern linen) containing no writing and with no religious provenance. This image was viewed in two different contexts: in the Religious Context, participants were informed that the image was of a linen artifact that was important to the Christian faith whereas, in the non-religious Neutral Context, participants were informed that the image was of a simple piece of linen. Both groups were told that the image may contain faint words and were asked to report any words they could see. All participants detected words on the image, and indicated that these words were visible and were able to trace on the image the words they detected. In each experiment, more religious words were detected in the Religious Context condition than in the Neutral Context condition whereas the two contexts showed no effect on the number of non-religious words detected, indicating that religious context had a specific effect on the perception of illusory writing. Indeed, in the Neutral Context condition, no religious words at all were reported in either experiment. These findings suggest that images of woven material, like linen, inspire illusory perceptions of writing and that the nature of these perceptions is influenced considerably by the religious expectations of observers. As a consequence, the normal psychological processes underlying perception of writing, and the tendency of these processes to produce illusory perceptions, should be an essential consideration when addressing the existence of religious inscriptions on religious artifacts such as the Shroud of Turin.

Categories: Paper Chase, Science
  1. daveb of wellington nz
    November 11, 2015 at 6:15 am

    It’s a most interesting experiment, actually two separate experiments, 24 observers in the first, 80 in the second to obtain a stronger result. For each experiment, the groups were split in half, all were aged 18-21, university students (presumably all from the same university, and possibly therefore of a particular local culture), about two-thirds female, one-third male.

    They were all shown an A4 size photograph of a piece of ordinary modern linen and told that it may have words on it. Those who were informed that it was a photo of a religious artifact reported on average 1.7 (24 group) or 2.3 (80 group) words with religious significance, with an SD of about 0.7, while those in the control group reported much fewer words but all of no religious significance.

    A few issues readily come to mind. How representative is such a group from such a narrow age range; what university faculties were represented or were they all psychology students; would a preponderance of female observers result in a greater tendency to see pareidolia; is there a localised religious bias, i.e. were they Southern baptists, or from Yale or Harvard; etc.? There might also be a scaling factor, an A4 photograph is much smaller than a 4m x 1m linen cloth. From the report it would seem that the average observer in the religious context might see perhaps two religious words, more or less. If many more words were reported by several observers, would that mean that the words are in fact very likely present, rather than not, and would a larger artifact need to be adjusted for scale?

    In any real experiment, the objective must needs be limited. From this experiment it may be concluded that there is a psychological susceptibility to a suggestion that religious words may be present when they are not, but it cannot inform when words are in fact faintly present.

  2. Tristan Casabianca
    November 11, 2015 at 6:19 am

    I really don’t know if there are writings on the shroud.

    But I what I do know is that there is a significative difference between young students (less than 22 years old) unaware of pareidolia, like in this study, and professional optical engineers and historians well aware of this psychological phenomenon.

    • November 11, 2015 at 7:05 am

      But I what I do know is that there is a significative difference between young students (less than 22 years old) unaware of pareidolia, like in this study, and professional optical engineers and historians well aware of this psychological phenomenon.

      Are you sure? Because I think the whole term ‘pareidolia’ is overused in Shroud research, while the problem is different:

      Here you got those inscriptions from Castex, as well as Marion & Courage and Frale books:

      http://thierrycastex.blogspot.fr/

      Here you have (physically) some greyscale structures that can be “creatively” interpreted as letters, or even whole inscriptions. But “creative interpretation” does not prove (nor disprove) they are real. To have a good sense whether they are real structures, or merely random noise, you need more.

      I think the inscriptions & coin issues are good material for Monte Carlo simulations. These are routinely performed in similar issues in other (non-Shroud related) studies. The main question is why no one has performed them yet with regards to the alleged Shroud inscriptions & coins?

      Perhaps I know a few people who could perform such a simulation. But simply, I don’t want them to get involved in Shroud research, knowing what the hell enviroment it is.

  3. piero
    November 11, 2015 at 11:46 am

    I was curious about the argument:
    “Monte Carlo Simulations” and then
    I have found the following links:

    https://www.countbayesie.com/blog/2015/3/3/6-amazing-trick-with-monte-carlo-simulations

    http://decision-analytics-blog.lumina.com/monte-carlo-simulations/monte-carlo-simulation-tips-and-tricks/

    Are You really experts in this field?

    I have read what Wikipedia
    wrote:
    >Analytica is a visual software package
    developed by Lumina Decision Systems
    for creating, analyzing and communicating
    quantitative decision models. …

    Link:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Analytica_%28software%29

    So…
    I’d be interested to know your opinion
    on these links …

    http://www.lumina.com/products/free101/
    http://www.lumina.com/products/analytica-cloud-player/

    … Am I going a bit too off topic?
    So…
    At the end, perhaps, I should admit
    that I still have to spend some time
    in order to learn (link:
    http://stat.wharton.upenn.edu/~stjensen/stat542/lecture14.mcmchistory.pdf ),
    also considering the History:
    Los Alamos right after World War II
    and MCMC methods… etc. …
    I beg your pardon about that confusing
    approach (in front of a “simple problem”,
    see also: the case of an OCR software
    and Monte Carlo simulations)…
    due to the lack of time.

    I hope in your help.

  4. daveb of wellington nz
    November 11, 2015 at 2:45 pm

    O.K. I have carried out several Monte Carlo simulations during my working career and also since then during personal research projects, so I’m well acquainted with what they can and cannot do. Typically each possible outcome depends on a number of events all with different probabilities and frequency distributions. A random number generator then determines whether a particular event occurs or not according to each event’s probability, and the outcome for a particular simulation obtained. Several simulations, perhaps 1,000, are then run, and the overall probability distribution for the outcome obtained. Several different approaches may be possible. I have some difficulty in envisaging how a Monte Carlo simulation might be applied in deciding whether a perceived object is real or not. Can you elucidate what you envisage?

    Turning now to the authors’ paper and the overall problem:-
    1. From the paper, it would seem that if several investigators asserted that they could see very much more than 2 inscriptions (say mean plus two SDs) then that ought to be evidence that the inscriptions are in fact real, but if less than this they may only be pareidolia. If the investigators all claimed independently to see the same inscription in the same place, that would be good evidence that the inscription was real. However there are other issues that I’ve mentioned above, the scaling issue, and the selective bias of the observers in the model experiment.

    2. A wicked thought occurred to me last night. In university sponsored psychology experiments it is common to use psychology students as the observers as being part of their practical training. This creates a selective bias. The students become trained guinea pigs, and after some experience may well guess the real purpose of the experiment, and so develop a skill in detecting the expectation of the experimenters, and seeking to please their professors, give a result that meets that expectation. The experimenters being trained psychologists would be aware of this, and consequently the use of psychology experiments in this environment may be vulnerable to a mischievous intent, and consequently result in a suspect report.

    • November 11, 2015 at 3:14 pm

      I have some difficulty in envisaging how a Monte Carlo simulation might be applied in deciding whether a perceived object is real or not. Can you elucidate what you envisage?

      More less, we upload the Shroud results (coins, inscriptions) as potential outcome, we set a random model for greyscale distribution, and check whether obtaining a pattern of inscriptions/coins through the random process is likely or not. We set some significance level, we run several simulations, and we count a number of random “coins/inscriptions” obtained.

      And then we decide whether it is likely that alleged coins or inscriptions are real, or just random noise.

      Details to be worked out.

    • November 11, 2015 at 3:16 pm

      Daveb:

      O.K. I have carried out several Monte Carlo simulations during my working career and also since then during personal research projects,

      Would you manage to deal with the Shroud issue?
      Because it may be real input to the coin/inscriptions issue.

      • daveb of wellington nz
        November 11, 2015 at 3:48 pm

        I’d need to think about it a lot more. Looks like a lot of graphics work would be involved, don’t know that my old PC could handle it. Certainly a helluva lot of work.

        • November 11, 2015 at 3:58 pm

          If you have a lot of free time after retirement (and want to contribute an important paper re the Shroud)…

          Perhaps it is a motivation to invest into a new laptop.

  5. daveb of wellington nz
    November 11, 2015 at 3:52 pm

    “If the investigators all claimed independently to see the same inscription in the same place, that would be good evidence that the inscription was real.” But not necessarily, it might still only be an artifact of the weave.

    The face on the planet Mars was plain enough for all to see, but that did not make it a real human face. It was actually a mesa. For an excellent NASA report on the face see:
    http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2001/ast24may_1/

    • Hugh Farey
      November 11, 2015 at 5:35 pm

      This is an important point. A pareidolia is usually very clear to all observers – a cloud which looks like an elephant, for example – but it is obvious that there is no connection between the observed shape and the mechanism which produces it. In the case of the Shroud, if all observers could agree that there was an image of a coin on the eyelid (or any of the other paraphernalia supposedly cluttering up the Shroud), the connection between the observed image and the proposed mechanism which produced it would be much more difficult to deny. But they don’t. Any more than the unbiased students of Zayed University, Dubai, saw in another piece of unmarked linen.

  6. Louis
    November 11, 2015 at 6:02 pm

    Dr. Barbara Frale dwelt on the process involved in the “inscriptions”, however it is doubtful if any identification by any expert is possible if the object itself is not seen. That is where psychological influences come into the picture and that applies to both inscriptions and coins.
    https://www.academia.edu/7447446/Was_there_a_link_between_the_Knights_Templar_and_the_Turin_Shroud_An_interview_with_Dr._Barbara_Frale
    Dr. Paolo Di Lazzaro warned about the problems inherent in “seeing” inscriptions, flowers, coins and so on on the Shroud. He felt that image processing could lead to wrong results and gave the reasons in the response to question 8, also providing an example:
    https://www.academia.edu/11355553/Dr._Paolo_Di_Lazzaro_explains_his_research_on_image_formation_on_the_Shroud_of_Turin

  7. chuck hampton
    November 12, 2015 at 7:43 pm

    Even when I “try” to see these with a larger than life 2nd generation negative from Enrie’s 1931 photo of the face and chest – nothing. The coin over the right eye is the only other image detected by my eyes.
    Red herring?

  8. Sampath Fernando
    November 12, 2015 at 8:17 pm

    This is what I read in an article:

    I was puzzled by the fact that on certain photographs these letters were visible and not on others, so I consulted professional photographers. They told me that because the image is present only on the most superficial one to two fibers of the cloth, (each thinner than a human hair), the FOCUSING OF THE LENS (distance) by the individual photographers is of the utmost importance and that varies from photographer to photographer.

  9. Hugh Farey
    November 13, 2015 at 2:35 am

    That’s a new idea to me, and makes sense. However, committed artefact-observers such as Alan Whanger claim that their observations can be seen in a wide variety of different photos.

  1. No trackbacks yet.
Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: