“To love another person is to see the face of God.”
— Les Miserables
The Hubble telescope has opened up the stars to our perusal and the mysteries of space for our faint human eyes.
Among these are a number of photos where people claim to see the face of God, or the breath of God, or evidence of God’s presence in the gases and stars of a nebula. This facial recognition is a phenomenon known as pareidolia, a phenomenon where the brain sees faces in places where faces aren’t supposed to be. Pareidolia is what you’re feeling when you see the face of Jesus or Mary in your grilled cheese, in the clouds or on the front of a car, when conspiracy theorists wave around pictures of Mars’ Cydonia crater, or — in one of the earliest reported instances of the phenomena — when you have your face turned towards the Man in the Moon. Pareidolia also exists in technology, when facial recognition software yanks out a hill formation or a funny sign and recognizes it as a set of human eyes, a nose and a mouth.
Here’s a video that shows pareidolia in action, with a creator that explains how he sees the “Face of God” in one particular stellar formation:
Why do we see faces everywhere? Well, it could be a function of our brains trying to make sense of information and sort things into familiar patterns. That’s where our expectations come in — artists might be more oriented towards seeing the Mona Lisa or Dali’s Scream in their breakfast and smile with the coincidence, while the religious might see Mary or the Buddha and see it as a miracle or proof of the supernatural. We’re certainly wired for it from an evolutionary perspective, according to Dr. Nouchine Hadjikhani of Harvard University — in their first hours of life, babies will fixate on other human faces, whether it’s a mother, a father, or a nurse.
At Sacred Earthlings, we’ll propose that pareidolia exists because, in some way, we are looking for the face of God.
At any rate, pareidolia can be lucrative as well as scientifically interesting. Here are some instances where fake faces made their viewers a very real mint:
— The Nun Bun, an image of Mother Teresa in a cinnamon bun at Nashville’s Bongo Java;
— A 10-year-old grilled cheese sandwich with the image of Mary;
— A chicken nugget that resembles George Washington;
— and a house in Swansea, England that looks like Hitler.
As for pareidolia in everyday life, all you have to do is go outside and look out to the street.
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