Thursday, September 20, 2012

Faces in the crowd

Evolution does interesting things, with unintended consequences.

Obviously, a key feature for the survival of any species is the ability to differentiate between friend and foe. If you don't recognize a predator coming toward you, or don't realize the hot girl in the cave next door is one of your own kind, you're unlikely to pass your genes on to the next generation.

As a result we're hardwired to recognize other human faces. We may have left the caves way behind us, but the basic programming is still in place, and damn near impossible to override.

Anyone recognize this picture?





How long did it take you to see a face? Likely 1 second or less.

It's an area of Mars called Cydonia, photographed by the Viking 1 probe in 1976. Scientists at the time dismissed it as a coincidence of light and shadow, but that didn't stop a number of writers (particularly Erich Von Däniken) from including it in horseshit pseudoscience. It got great publicity in non-scientific circles as "proof" of life on Mars, or as evidence that extraterrestrials had previously visited our backwater solar system.

The area in question, of course, is still on Mars, and been imaged many times since then. Here's a shot from 2000: Doesn't look much like a face anymore, huh?






This is called pareidolia, and is, in my opinion, a fascinating phenomenon.


We see faces in clouds:






In cars:





Pretty much anywhere:




Of course, with particularly famous faces, such as Jesus, Mary, or Elvis, this gets even weirder. Even before the internet age the news had occasional stories about figures (usually religious) being seen on toast, tortillas, trees, ceiling stains, and shadows on walls. With the advent of the web, however these sorts of things attract considerable attention quickly. Our continuing fascination with them is an ironic commentary on an ancient survival mechanism that keeps us from becoming something else's dinner.

It's also led to a rather bizarre cottage industry where you can now modify your toaster to put Jesus, or other famous faces, on your breakfast.

So my point here is that when you see a face on anything, whether it's bread, woodgrain, or a cloud, to just marvel at it. It's the way your fascinating brain functions to make sense out of random patterns, and keep you from becoming lion poop.

And beyond that, it's nothing.


The end.


23 comments:

Anonymous said...

The second picture of Cydonia looks like my mother-in-law.

Officer Cynical said...

I arrested that last guy yesterday. What an asshole he was!

Anonymous said...

Read blog , have dog butt shoved in your face. What a deal.

Jono said...

I was going to modify a frying pan and sell Jeezus pancakes on ebay. Early retirement, here I come!

C said...

pretty cool- so my question is, what do people with prosopagnosia see? BTW I decided on general pediatrics, though one of my best friends is applying in neurology (she loves your blog too)

Limitless Lisa said...

Holy moly. I am both traumatized and mesmerized by the dog butt. Nice touch.

Charles said...

Not only do I see the face on the car; but, it most definitely is a friendly female face!

Does this mean that I have a "thing" for cars?

Anonymous said...

Charles, just stay away from the exhaust pipe. It's Hot!

Paul McCartney said...

You mean maybe I only THINK I've just seen a face???

John Lennon said...

No, you idiot. That's the one that you keep in a jar by the door.

Ami said...

When my son was six we drove past a Dodge dealer. He suddenly YELLED from the back seat, "OH MY GOD!!!"

"What?!! What??!!" Hell, I thought we were about to be hit by a meteor or something.

"That truck!! It looked JUST LIKE Rob Schneider!!!"

He is still weird at age 25, by the way, although he hasn't mentioned Rob Schneider, having learned that one does not do that in polite company.

heterodyne said...

I fail with the cloud face - pity, love seeing things in clouds...

Anonymous said...

Why the dog-butt? Does it remind you of one of "those" patients?
But the hair on that butt seems to pretty neat though, every one of them in exactly the right place...Craig???

Anonymous said...

Why the dog butt? Look a little closer. It's "Jesus". Took me a while to see it, though. Like those crazy pictures where you need to go cross eyed to see what it really is.

bobbie said...

Ah've found Jay-sus!!!

Halleluiah & Amen!

Anonymous said...

@ heterodyne to me the cloud looks like a squirrel leaning back a little!

Anonymous said...

When I started taking Topamax for migraines, this kind of thing was magnified.. blobs of weeds looked like animals sitting in the yard, clump of grass might look like a bird, some other random object might look like a person. Must be the same part of the brain..

Jenn said...

It's still a face. Now it's Aslan. Proof that Narnia exists!

Anonymous said...

Making lunch, I flipped a grilled cheese sandwich and clearly saw the face of Elvis! I got so excited, called my friends and forgot to turn off the frying pan. That set off the fire alarm, firefighters came and one ate the sandwich during the dense smoke. Graceland lost an important new icon.

Name said...

Now it looks like a face that got smashed right in...

heterodyne said...

Tried it again today and immediately saw the awesome profile in the cloud - Hurray!

But the squirrel's there as well
Who needs drugs :D

C said...

the human engineered things might have been engineered to sort of have a face, but for the natural ones, the face is in the eye of the beholder.

Anonymous said...

Paredolia makes perfect evolutionary sense when you consider that babies need to identify faces, make eye contact, and smile at faces in order to encourage adults to nurture them.

 
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