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Keyword: ‘apophenia’

Posting For a Slow News Day

July 28, 2015 13 comments

Psychosis set in when the radiocarbon dating results for the Shroud of Turin were
announced, or when the due date of the Mayan apocalypse came and went.

imageIt is about apophenia and pareidolia: the short essay, Beware of the Man in the Ashtray by Neels Blom appearing in Business Day (BDlive of South Africa). Well, no, not really. It is about politics. Well, no, not really. Well maybe if you lived in South Africa you might think so.

Oh, did I mention the Shroud of Turin is mentioned. But it is not about that.  Fly fishing? Pluto?

It is entertaining. And if is very well written. And it is not an essay. It’s and Op Ed. That’s enough.

By-the-way, we’ve discussed apophenia and pareidolia many times in the blog (those are links to pages in this blog). We discussed fishing once.  Well, no, not really.

Categories: Uncategorized

You would think someone at LiveScience would know better by now

August 12, 2014 4 comments

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.

Categories: Pareidolia Tags: ,

LiveScience Goofs Again

December 13, 2012 7 comments

Kim Ann Zimmermann, in an article, Pareidolia: Seeing Faces in Unusual Places, writes in LiveScience:

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.

We’ve covered this extensively in this blog, most recently four months ago when I wrote these words (again) from an earlier post:

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.

Is there pareidolia on the shroud? I think so: the coins over the eyes, lettering, flowers, scorches that look like clowns. We’ve been there many times.

Categories: Uncategorized

Les Fredette’s Crucifixion Nail: Why I am Skeptical About It

August 17, 2012 10 comments

Les Fredette seeing what he thinks is a crucifixion nail has inspired me to repost something I wrote in November 2010. It explains, in large measure, why I am skeptical of his claim about a nail and many other such similar claims. For those bored with me repeating myself, don’t read it.

 

image"I think I see the light coming to me, coming through me giving me a second sight." Those are words from the song, "I Think I See," by Cat Stevens, written years before Yusuf Islam, as he is now called, converted to Islam. It was, some said, a metaphor for the promised land.

Maybe!

"And sometimes the light [I think I see] at the end of the tunnel isn’t the promised land. Sometimes it’s just New Jersey," Jon Stewart said at the "Rally to Restore Sanity," not meaning, of course, to criticize Yusuf Islam who was at the rally to sing his more famous song, "Peace Train."

In Shroud circles, when you hear the four-word phrase, "I think I see" you immediately think of Ray Rogers. "I think I see, won’t do," he wrote concerning one person’s observation that was pretty much only one person’s observation. "I think I see is not a scientific statement," he wrote often. To me, in an email, he wrote: "tests and measurements will always have more credibility than ‘I think I see.’"

What others said they saw, Rogers said he thought they merely thought they saw. I agree.

imageOne 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.

The folks at the Harvard Law School are very much interested in this subject, as one might imagine they would be. In an interesting article on a fascinating blog they maintain called The Situationist, they explore the subject. They begin by pointing out that Carl Sagan once wrote:

As soon as the infant can see, it recognizes faces, and we now know that this skill is hardwired in our brains. Those infants who a million years ago were unable to recognize a face smiled back less, were less likely to win the hearts of their parents, and less likely to prosper. These days, nearly every infant is quick to identify a human face, and to respond with a goony grin.

But it need not just be faces. Takeo Watanabe, a neuroscientist at Boston University, "suggest[s] that subliminally learning something ‘too well’ interferes with perceptions of reality." The blog article continues:

[P]eople have gotten so used to seeing faces everywhere that sensitivity to them is high enough to produce constant false positives. This tendency to become hyperattuned to common stimuli may represent a survival advantage. "If you lived in primeval times, for instance," Dr. Watanabe said, "it would be good to be very sensitized to tigers."

z-Martian_face_viking_croppA famous example is the giant face on Mars from a NASA photograph. In 2001, Michael Malin, the president and chief scientist at Malin Space Science Systems, wrote an article entitled "Unmasking the Face on Mars." It is published on NASA’s official website. In it he wrote:

Twenty five years ago something funny happened around Mars. NASA’s Viking 1 spacecraft was circling the planet, snapping photos of possible landing sites for its sister ship Viking 2, when it spotted the shadowy likeness of a human face. An enormous head nearly two miles from end to end seemed to be staring back at the cameras from a region of the Red Planet called Cydonia.

There must have been a degree of surprise among mission controllers back at the Jet Propulsion Lab when the face appeared on their monitors. But the sensation was short lived. Scientists figured it was just another Martian mesa, common enough around Cydonia, only this one had unusual shadows that made it look like an Egyptian Pharaoh.

Indeed—and we should not be surprised by this—many people were convinced that this was a gigantic monument of some sort created by humans or human-like aliens who once lived on Mars. NASA re-photographed the mesa from different angles. They used the same ray tracing technology (think VP8) that is used to show the 3D image of the face on the shroud to show that the Martian face was not a face at all. Had it been, the results would have been similar to the results obtained from the face on the shroud. The face was a pareidolic image. But some people, not unlike flat-earthers, remain convinced that it is a face.

The images of a person, certainly a man if we look closely, exists on the shroud. Many well pronounced features are part of that image. But there may be other parts of the image that some people claim to see that are probably pareidolic perceptions.

Takeo Watanabe’s views "that subliminally learning something ‘too well’" results in false positives may explain many reported images and features of the shroud image. A botanist may see images of flowers and plants. A numismaticist may see images of ancient coins. A dentist may see what looks like teeth. It would be totally unfair to say that this is what happened when such experts saw these things. But it would be unfair to not suggest the possibility.

The shroud is dirty, creased and wrinkled. It has been exposed to dust, moisture, smoke from fire and almost certainly candles and incense. It has been exposed to moisture and there are clear water stains in places. It has been folded different ways and rolled up for storage. Folding causes creases. It has been held aloft and probably hung in ways that over time caused stretching. The cloth was woven on a hand loom with handspun thread that is not perfectly uniform. All of this contributes to visual information and visual misinformation.

coins.23So does the banding patterns, the variegated appearance of the cloth. We know that it alters the appearance of the face very dramatically. It certainly must contribute to what some say they see on the shroud. For instance, if you look closely, you are likely to see what looks like teeth behind the man’s lips, as though somehow the image contains x-ray qualities. But vertical banding lines may be the reason we see teeth. Clear banding lines extend well beyond the teeth, beyond the face even, and seemingly for the length of the cloth.

Photography also introduces visual noise. Different films have different contrast characteristics that can significantly change the appearance of faint details. Lighting may create small shadows between threads and among wrinkles and creases. Even the color temperature of lighting can have an effect because different films are subject to different colors being reflected from the cloth. What we perceive in a photograph of the shroud may not be what we see if we look at the cloth with our own eyes.

People have seen coins over the eyes; and not just coins but enough details to identify them as specific coins minted by Romans for Jewish use around the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. People have identified flowers and plants that are specific to the environs of Jerusalem. The list of things seen goes on and on. There are, supposedly, a hammer, a nail, a fluffy shaped sponge tied to a reed, a coil of rope, a pair of dice and part of a plaque with enough lettering in Greek, Latin and possibly Hebrew to identify it as saying, "Jesus of Nazareth." But are these things really imaged on the cloth? Are there criteria for deciding?

Consensus among people who closely study the images on the shroud is valid so long as that study is as completely objective as possible. Worldview nullification must be avoided at all cost. It is not proper to reject these images because you don’t believe the shroud is real. But it is fair to be skeptical, as in the case of the flowers, teeth, coins and lettering because there is identifiable noise such as the banding, wrinkles and crinkles and whatnots.

"’I see’ said the blind man as he picked up his hammer and saw," so goes the excruciatingly ridiculous old English ditty. "I see flowers, I see teeth . . ." You get the idea.

flower8I would like to see the flowers. I see something that looks like two flowers. I’m not convinced they are flowers. I’m not trained enough in botany to know many other types of flowers to look for. I’ve read the books. Studied the charts and diagrams. Looked at pictures through gadgets. I don’t see the flowers. I want to see. Show me. Show me that these images are not pareidolias or apophenias or phantasms or I-think-I-sees. Show me that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t New Jersey.

Sciencebod’s 3D Problem

January 30, 2012 6 comments

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.

More on Max Patrick Hamon and the Coin-on-Eye Issue

October 25, 2011 5 comments

The comments about the coin-on-eye issue have gotten rather testy, For instance when Max Patrick Hamon writes:

Spy details on ancient coin types “behave” like fingerprints. Body images (resolution limit 0.5cm) should not be mistaken with blood images (resolution limit 0.5mm). Many Shroud researchers (including Barrie Scwortz) makes repeatedly the same confusion. He also totally ignore the thread count per square centimetres. The only snag with Barrie Schwortz’s faulty opinions is that thousands of his website viewers are all too ready to believe him.

And when Hamon writes: “On the contrary Barrie’s arguement is very weak and his opinion not qualified,” followed by “Remember: when there are two Jews, there are three opinions!”

I must remind him that he is wrong. He must have been thinking about Episcopalians.

It sort of started on August 29, when I wrote a posting entitled, “Pareidolia and the Shroud of Turin: Yes and No.” I was expanding on some points I had made in an earlier posting when I wrote, “I Don’t See Flowers and Coins and Teeth on the Shroud of Turin.”  I had staked out a skeptical position on coins, flowers, lettering and all manner of things and shapes that people think they see on the shroud:

flower8[I]t is fair to be skeptical, as in the case of the flowers, teeth, coins and lettering because there is identifiable noise such as the banding, wrinkles and crinkles and whatnots.

"’I see’ said the blind man as he picked up his hammer and saw," so goes the excruciatingly ridiculous old English ditty. "I see flowers, I see teeth . . ." You get the idea.

I would like to see the flowers. I see something that looks like two flowers. I’m not convinced they are flowers. I’m not trained enough in botany to know many other types of flowers to look for. I’ve read the books. Studied the charts and diagrams. Looked at pictures through gadgets. I don’t see the flowers. I want to see. Show me. Show me that these images are not pareidolias or apophenias or phantasms or I-think-I-sees. Show me that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t New Jersey.

The posting received little or no attention. Maybe it was the title. Maybe the New Jersey-ites didn’t like it.

Then, recently, I stated that I thought it would be nice if the HAL9000 HD images of the shroud were made public. The reaction was strong. To my surprise not everyone agreed. This resulted in a series of posts with numerous, initially thoughtful comments by many people. They were: 1) “Value of Putting HAL 9000 Shroud of Turin Images Online,” 2) “Free the HAL 9000,”  3) “More on Freeing the HAL 9000: Yes, what is the Archdiocese of Turin afraid of?,”  4) “Comment Promoted: Of Coins and Flowers and More on the Shroud of Turin,”  5) “There is an Image of a Flying Saucer on the Shroud of Turin” and  6) “Paper Chase: Max Patrick Hamon on the Coin-on-Eye Issue.”

To this last posting, the most important one to read, now viewed more than 3700 times and now having some 32 highly-charged comments, Max Patrick Hamon, who presented at Frascati, Italy, and Torun, Poland, offered this comment:

Dan, I wish you had asked me how much credence I give 1979-2008 Filas et al’s coin image extractions. In spite of my deep respect for Filas’, Whanger’s and Moroni’s pioneering work, my answer would have been NONE!

I might even have added: I am convinced “THEIR COIN IMAGES” are not there. Both optically and numismatically speaking I CAN PROVE IT.

However, the whole irony of it is I myself detected and identified incomplete Pilate coin impressions… on the suspected areas. Both optically and numimactically, I do hope it will be convincing even to the uninitiated eye.

When can all of us with our uninitiated eyes see the evidence? The statement is too bold to go unsubstantiated. Will this new evidence overcome the primary objections to “Filas’, Whanger’s and Moroni’s pioneering work,” namely the weave of the cloth, the visual noise (what photographs are being analyzed?) and cultural/religious objections?

We are having quite an argument about unpublished material. Did readers of this blog or anyone from the Shroud Science Group attend a talk by Hamon at Frascati or Torun?

Max, I’ll let your comments fly even when you write: “Yannick, you’re REALLY THICK.” But I would like to see substance beyond the abstract you offered which touts your qualifications while diminishing the rest of us.

Pareidolia and the Shroud of Turin: Yes and No

August 29, 2011 1 comment

image

Definitely, Victor Tran has a wonderful quotable quote:

The face of Jesus on a burnt tortilla. Now why would the most influential figure to the Christian community manifest itself on a tortilla wrap and a burnt one at that.

I posted what follows this paragraph back in November of 2010 under the title, “I Don’t See Flowers and Coins and Teeth on the Shroud of Turin.” Now, a blog posting, by Victor Tran, Pareidolia – WTC, Jesus, Devil faces in random objects in Ambitious Mindsets suggest to me that I should repeat the posting with a couple of additions in red. So here we go:

"I think I see the light coming to me, coming through me giving me a second sight." Those are words from the song, "I Think I See," by Cat Stevens, written years before Yusuf Islam, as he is now called, converted to Islam. It was, some said, a metaphor for the promised land. Maybe!

"And sometimes the light [I think I see] at the end of the tunnel isn’t the promised land. Sometimes it’s just New Jersey," Jon Stewart said at the "Rally to Restore Sanity," not meaning, of course, to criticize Yusuf Islam who was at the rally to sing his more famous song, "Peace Train."

In Shroud circles, when you hear the four-word phrase, "I think I see" you immediately think of Ray Rogers. "I think I see, won’t do," he wrote concerning one person’s observation that was pretty much only one person’s observation. "I think I see is not a scientific statement," he wrote often. To me, in an email, he wrote: "tests and measurements will always have more credibility than ‘I think I see.’"

What others said they saw, Rogers said he thought they merely thought they saw. I agree.

image 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?"

And then I read today in Victor’s posting:

However, Pareidolia does provide a psychological explanation for many delusions based on sense perception such as UFO sightings, the Shroud of Turin, and messages on records played backwards (backmasking).

Technically, he is correct; correct if he is referring to images of flowers and coins and lettering and all manner of things like nails and brooms.  But Victor is not correct if he means the face. And the way he wrote his blog entry and the way he focused in facial images, I think that is what he meant.

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.

The folks at the Harvard Law School are very much interested in this subject, as one might imagine they would be. In an interesting article on a fascinating blog they maintain called The Situationist, they explore the subject. They begin by pointing out that Carl Sagan once wrote:

As soon as the infant can see, it recognizes faces, and we now know that this skill is hardwired in our brains. Those infants who a million years ago were unable to recognize a face smiled back less, were less likely to win the hearts of their parents, and less likely to prosper. These days, nearly every infant is quick to identify a human face, and to respond with a goony grin.

Victor repeats what Carl Sagan wrote that I had posted above. Do look at his blog entry. And what follows is why he is technically correct beyond the subject of faces (which is much more fun).

But it need not just be faces. Takeo Watanabe, a neuroscientist at Boston University, "suggest[s] that subliminally learning something ‘too well’ interferes with perceptions of reality." The blog article continues:

[P]eople have gotten so used to seeing faces everywhere that sensitivity to them is high enough to produce constant false positives. This tendency to become hyperattuned to common stimuli may represent a survival advantage. "If you lived in primeval times, for instance," Dr. Watanabe said, "it would be good to be very sensitized to tigers."

z-Martian_face_viking_cropp A famous example is the giant face on Mars from a NASA photograph. In 2001, Michael Malin, the president and chief scientist at Malin Space Science Systems, wrote an article entitled "Unmasking the Face on Mars." It is published on NASA’s official website. In it he wrote:

Twenty five years ago something funny happened around Mars. NASA’s Viking 1 spacecraft was circling the planet, snapping photos of possible landing sites for its sister ship Viking 2, when it spotted the shadowy likeness of a human face. An enormous head nearly two miles from end to end seemed to be staring back at the cameras from a region of the Red Planet called Cydonia.

There must have been a degree of surprise among mission controllers back at the Jet Propulsion Lab when the face appeared on their monitors. But the sensation was short lived. Scientists figured it was just another Martian mesa, common enough around Cydonia, only this one had unusual shadows that made it look like an Egyptian Pharaoh.

Indeed—and we should not be surprised by this—many people were convinced that this was a gigantic monument of some sort created by humans or human-like aliens who once lived on Mars. NASA re-photographed the mesa from different angles. They used the same ray tracing technology (think VP8) that is used to show the 3D image of the face on the shroud to show that the Martian face was not a face at all. Had it been, the results would have been similar to the results obtained from the face on the shroud. The face was a pareidolic image. But some people, not unlike flat-earthers, remain convinced that it is a face.

The images of a person, certainly a man if we look closely, exists on the shroud. Many well pronounced features are part of that image. But there may be other parts of the image that some people claim to see that are probably pareidolic perceptions.

Takeo Watanabe’s views "that subliminally learning something ‘too well’" results in false positives may explain many reported images and features of the shroud image. A botanist may see images of flowers and plants. A numismaticist may see images of ancient coins. A dentist may see what looks like teeth. It would be totally unfair to say that this is what happened when such experts saw these things. But it would be unfair to not suggest the possibility.

The shroud is dirty, creased and wrinkled. It has been exposed to dust, moisture, smoke from fire and almost certainly candles and incense. It has been exposed to moisture and there are clear water stains in places. It has been folded different ways and rolled up for storage. Folding causes creases. It has been held aloft and probably hung in ways that over time caused stretching. The cloth was woven on a hand loom with handspun thread that is not perfectly uniform. All of this contributes to visual information and visual misinformation.

coins.23 So does the banding patterns, the variegated appearance of the cloth. We know that it alters the appearance of the face very dramatically. It certainly must contribute to what some say they see on the shroud. For instance, if you look closely, you are likely to see what looks like teeth behind the man’s lips, as though somehow the image contains x-ray qualities. But vertical banding lines may be the reason we see teeth. Clear banding lines extend well beyond the teeth, beyond the face even, and seemingly for the length of the cloth.

Photography also introduces visual noise. Different films have different contrast characteristics that can significantly change the appearance of faint details. Lighting may create small shadows between threads and among wrinkles and creases. Even the color temperature of lighting can have an effect because different films are subject to different colors being reflected from the cloth. What we perceive in a photograph of the shroud may not be what we see if we look at the cloth with our own eyes.

People have seen coins over the eyes; and not just coins but enough details to identify them as specific coins minted by Romans for Jewish use around the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. People have identified flowers and plants that are specific to the environs of Jerusalem. The list of things seen goes on and on. There are, supposedly, a hammer, a nail, a fluffy shaped sponge tied to a reed, a coil of rope, a pair of dice and part of a plaque with enough lettering in Greek, Latin and possibly Hebrew to identify it as saying, "Jesus of Nazareth." But are these things really imaged on the cloth? Are there criteria for deciding?

Consensus among people who closely study the images on the shroud is valid so long as that study is as completely objective as possible. Worldview nullification must be avoided at all cost. It is not proper to reject these images because you don’t believe the shroud is real. But it is fair to be skeptical, as in the case of the flowers, teeth, coins and lettering because there is identifiable noise such as the banding, wrinkles and crinkles and whatnots.

"’I see’ said the blind man as he picked up his hammer and saw," so goes the excruciatingly ridiculous old English ditty. "I see flowers, I see teeth . . ." You get the idea.

flower8 I would like to see the flowers. I see something that looks like two flowers. I’m not convinced they are flowers. I’m not trained enough in botany to know many other types of flowers to look for. I’ve read the books. Studied the charts and diagrams. Looked at pictures through gadgets. I don’t see the flowers. I want to see. Show me. Show me that these images are not pareidolias or apophenias or phantasms or I-think-I-sees. Show me that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t New Jersey.

I Don’t See Flowers and Coins and Teeth on the Shroud of Turin « Shroud of Turin Blog

I Don’t See Flowers and Coins and Teeth on the Shroud of Turin

November 14, 2010 4 comments

image "I think I see the light coming to me, coming through me giving me a second sight." Those are words from the song, "I Think I See," by Cat Stevens, written years before Yusuf Islam, as he is now called, converted to Islam. It was, some said, a metaphor for the promised land. Maybe!

"And sometimes the light [I think I see] at the end of the tunnel isn’t the promised land. Sometimes it’s just New Jersey," Jon Stewart said at the "Rally to Restore Sanity," not meaning, of course, to criticize Yusuf Islam who was at the rally to sing his more famous song, "Peace Train."

In Shroud circles, when you hear the four-word phrase, "I think I see" you immediately think of Ray Rogers. "I think I see, won’t do," he wrote concerning one person’s observation that was pretty much only one person’s observation. "I think I see is not a scientific statement," he wrote often. To me, in an email, he wrote: "tests and measurements will always have more credibility than ‘I think I see.’"

What others said they saw, Rogers said he thought they merely thought they saw. I agree.

image 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.

The folks at the Harvard Law School are very much interested in this subject, as one might imagine they would be. In an interesting article on a fascinating blog they maintain called The Situationist, they explore the subject. They begin by pointing out that Carl Sagan once wrote:

As soon as the infant can see, it recognizes faces, and we now know that this skill is hardwired in our brains. Those infants who a million years ago were unable to recognize a face smiled back less, were less likely to win the hearts of their parents, and less likely to prosper. These days, nearly every infant is quick to identify a human face, and to respond with a goony grin.

But it need not just be faces. Takeo Watanabe, a neuroscientist at Boston University, "suggest[s] that subliminally learning something ‘too well’ interferes with perceptions of reality." The blog article continues:

[P]eople have gotten so used to seeing faces everywhere that sensitivity to them is high enough to produce constant false positives. This tendency to become hyperattuned to common stimuli may represent a survival advantage. "If you lived in primeval times, for instance," Dr. Watanabe said, "it would be good to be very sensitized to tigers."

z-Martian_face_viking_cropp A famous example is the giant face on Mars from a NASA photograph. In 2001, Michael Malin, the president and chief scientist at Malin Space Science Systems, wrote an article entitled "Unmasking the Face on Mars." It is published on NASA’s official website. In it he wrote:

Twenty five years ago something funny happened around Mars. NASA’s Viking 1 spacecraft was circling the planet, snapping photos of possible landing sites for its sister ship Viking 2, when it spotted the shadowy likeness of a human face. An enormous head nearly two miles from end to end seemed to be staring back at the cameras from a region of the Red Planet called Cydonia.

There must have been a degree of surprise among mission controllers back at the Jet Propulsion Lab when the face appeared on their monitors. But the sensation was short lived. Scientists figured it was just another Martian mesa, common enough around Cydonia, only this one had unusual shadows that made it look like an Egyptian Pharaoh.

Indeed—and we should not be surprised by this—many people were convinced that this was a gigantic monument of some sort created by humans or human-like aliens who once lived on Mars. NASA re-photographed the mesa from different angles. They used the same ray tracing technology (think VP8) that is used to show the 3D image of the face on the shroud to show that the Martian face was not a face at all. Had it been, the results would have been similar to the results obtained from the face on the shroud. The face was a pareidolic image. But some people, not unlike flat-earthers, remain convinced that it is a face.

The images of a person, certainly a man if we look closely, exists on the shroud. Many well pronounced features are part of that image. But there may be other parts of the image that some people claim to see that are probably pareidolic perceptions.

Takeo Watanabe’s views "that subliminally learning something ‘too well’" results in false positives may explain many reported images and features of the shroud image. A botanist may see images of flowers and plants. A numismaticist may see images of ancient coins. A dentist may see what looks like teeth. It would be totally unfair to say that this is what happened when such experts saw these things. But it would be unfair to not suggest the possibility.

The shroud is dirty, creased and wrinkled. It has been exposed to dust, moisture, smoke from fire and almost certainly candles and incense. It has been exposed to moisture and there are clear water stains in places. It has been folded different ways and rolled up for storage. Folding causes creases. It has been held aloft and probably hung in ways that over time caused stretching. The cloth was woven on a hand loom with handspun thread that is not perfectly uniform. All of this contributes to visual information and visual misinformation.

coins.23 So does the banding patterns, the variegated appearance of the cloth. We know that it alters the appearance of the face very dramatically. It certainly must contribute to what some say they see on the shroud. For instance, if you look closely, you are likely to see what looks like teeth behind the man’s lips, as though somehow the image contains x-ray qualities. But vertical banding lines may be the reason we see teeth. Clear banding lines extend well beyond the teeth, beyond the face even, and seemingly for the length of the cloth.

Photography also introduces visual noise. Different films have different contrast characteristics that can significantly change the appearance of faint details. Lighting may create small shadows between threads and among wrinkles and creases. Even the color temperature of lighting can have an effect because different films are subject to different colors being reflected from the cloth. What we perceive in a photograph of the shroud may not be what we see if we look at the cloth with our own eyes.

People have seen coins over the eyes; and not just coins but enough details to identify them as specific coins minted by Romans for Jewish use around the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. People have identified flowers and plants that are specific to the environs of Jerusalem. The list of things seen goes on and on. There are, supposedly, a hammer, a nail, a fluffy shaped sponge tied to a reed, a coil of rope, a pair of dice and part of a plaque with enough lettering in Greek, Latin and possibly Hebrew to identify it as saying, "Jesus of Nazareth." But are these things really imaged on the cloth? Are there criteria for deciding?

Consensus among people who closely study the images on the shroud is valid so long as that study is as completely objective as possible. Worldview nullification must be avoided at all cost. It is not proper to reject these images because you don’t believe the shroud is real. But it is fair to be skeptical, as in the case of the flowers, teeth, coins and lettering because there is identifiable noise such as the banding, wrinkles and crinkles and whatnots.

"’I see’ said the blind man as he picked up his hammer and saw," so goes the excruciatingly ridiculous old English ditty. "I see flowers, I see teeth . . ." You get the idea.

flower8 I would like to see the flowers. I see something that looks like two flowers. I’m not convinced they are flowers. I’m not trained enough in botany to know many other types of flowers to look for. I’ve read the books. Studied the charts and diagrams. Looked at pictures through gadgets. I don’t see the flowers. I want to see. Show me. Show me that these images are not pareidolias or apophenias or phantasms or I-think-I-sees. Show me that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t New Jersey.

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