Tag Archives: Pareidolia

Facial personification of a car in a sideshow ride

personified car with a face on a sideshow ride

Car with a face on a sideshow ride

How creepy is this? Another example of a sculpture or creative design that features personification added to the form of an everyday object. My particular interest in personification is my own theory that personification synaesthesia (as experienced by myself) or something like it gives rise to superiority in face memory (or being a super-recognizer) by naturally making the faces of unknown people more memorable and interesting. But the personification of objects is not limited to synaesthetes or people with unusual perception of faces. The personification of objects is a theme that can be found in sculpture, design, art and advertizing, and I’ve written about an photographed many examples at this blog. Not all personification in sculpture or design takes the form of a face, as in this creepy sideshow ride car. One could say that the fanciful face of this pretend car is a reference to pareidolia, which is a psychological phenomenon in which the mind interprets random or vague images or stimuli as having a pattern or significance. Some classic examples of pareidolia are seeing animals in clouds or seeing faces in rock cliffs orhearing voices in white noise. Even though the fronts of motor cars have little in common with faces (except that maybe a person looks forward through both, and a mouth and a radiator grille are intake openings), the pattern of two headlights above horizontal design features in a symetrical layout at the front of a car makes the human mind think of a face. It is thought that we are so sensitive to face-like patterns because our minds are designed to look for faces. All the same, I’d rather not have to look at one as creepy as this one.

Pareidolia in a squashed plastic choc-milk bottle

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=619558368056300&set=a.352718398073633.93806.131153923563416&type=1&theater

Faces, faces everywhere

I’ve been following with great interest the Mindscapes series of articles in New Scientist magazine by Helen Thompson. This week is no less fascinating, maybe even more. It’s about a man whose personality changed following two strokes, paradoxically transforming from criminality to sensitivity, with the strokes also triggering an unstoppable surge of artistic creativity. The artist’s name was Tommy McHugh. He passed away last year. Such artists by virtue of brain transformation are sometimes labelled as acquired savants, and the interesting thing is that they often seem to experience synaesthesia, which raises the question of whether they were always synaesthetes or perhaps synaesthesia is latent in all people, and can be uncovered by changes in brain functioning. What especially interests me about McHugh’s art is the extraordinary focus on faces in his paintings and also sculptures, many of them having such subtle depictions of multiple faces that they could be described as a celebration of pareidolia. Colour is also clearly an aspect of visual experience that McHugh enjoyed experimenting with. I was also struck by McHugh’s description of what it was like to have the first stroke; when he woke up in hospital he saw a tree sprouting numbers. That sounds like just the type of non-psychotic hallucination that Oliver Sacks described in his recent book Hallucinations. It is my understanding that faces, colour and graphemes including numbers are all processed in the fusiform gyrus. The fusiform gyrus is also believed to be involved in at least some types of synaesthesia. I know about this stuff because I have experienced synaesthesia involving faces, graphemes, colours and just about everything that goes on in the fusiform gyrus, and I’m apparently naturally gifted in face memory ability. It looks as though McHugh could also have experienced synaesthesia, judging by the title of one painting “Feeling the Feelings Tasting Emotions”. Yes, I’ve experienced that too. A few years ago I speculated that the famous synaesthete Bauhaus artist Kandinsky showed a focus on the things processed in the fusiform gyrus in one of his paintings (Upward), including a face that could be missed by viewers not gifted with a goodly dose of pareidolia.  This might be what happens when your fusiform gyrus gets off it’s leash, and McHugh insisted that it was the best thing that ever happened to him.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23523-mindscapes-stroke-turned-excon-into-rhyming-painter.html

http://www.tommymchugh.co.uk/ex_pictures_gallery/index.html

http://www.tommymchugh.co.uk/ex_sculptures_gallery/es_index.html

http://www.tommymchugh.co.uk/index.html

Swans

Here’s an odd observation from a young child who has since infancy displayed an odd talent at visual recognition of things that are barely noticeable, possible synaesthesia and a marked tendency toward pareidolia.

While travelling in a booster seat at the back of a car the child was looking at the road directory. The child declared that she knew why there are swans on the Swan River. The child was looking at a map of the Perth Water section of the Swan River. She insisted that when the swans were flying around, they look down and spot a section of river that looks like the shape of a swan, which gives them a nice feeling of familiarity, so they fly down and land there. You can see this if you look at the map, but I never would have picked the swan shape unless I had it pointed out to me. Kids!

A wonderful bit of pareidolia from last year

https://twitter.com/BlawnDee/status/267016613738450944

https://twitter.com/BlawnDee/status/267016613738450944/photo/1

More tests to try

I’ve noticed that the “Test My Brain” website from the Harvard University’s Vision Lab has been revamped since I last visited it, and there are some face-related tests and another memory related test. I’m not sure but it looks like the CFMT might also be there to do, and possibly a test that is related to pareidolia. When I get a spare moment I’ll have to have a crack at them and investigate.
Test My Brain http://www.testmybrain.org/

 

Pareidolia pictures

Xanthorrhoea plant looks like an Aboriginal man's face - pareidolia

“Blackboy” looks like a “black man” at park in Perth suburb – an example of pareidolia

Orange glass vase in window display looks like a face from one angle - example of pareidolia

Orange glass vase in window display looks like a face from one angle – example of pareidolia

Shipwreck by Steve Croquett at Sculpture by the Sea Cottesloe 2012

Shipwreck by Steve Croquett at Sculpture by the Sea Cottesloe 2012

Pareidolia at Sculptures by the Sea – our child clearly has an excellent left fusiform gyrus

Shipwreck by Steve Croquett at Sculpture by the Sea Cottesloe 2012

Shipwreck by Steve Croquett at Sculpture by the Sea Cottesloe 2012

I took our youngest with me when I visited this year’s Sculptures by the Sea at what is known to some locals as Cottesloe Main Beach. We had a wonderful time, and her favourite scuplture was the lounge room made of sandbags on the sea shore (Comfort Zone by Alessandra Rossi), but I think our child really got more fun out of playing with other kids with the sculpture Xing by Graeme Pattison. I would love to see some local government pruchase this sculpture for installation at a playground. As soon as she saw the Shipwreck sculpture by Steve Croquett our child identified it as two faces, not a shipwreck. This instant interpretation no surprise to me. Even as a baby our child has had an uncanny ability to detect visual patterns which are not apparent to others. I once noticed our child as a baby laughing at the calendar that was hanging in our kitchen. It was a freebie produced by our local council and it had a rather cheap attempt at art in it, in which a photo of faces was superimposed with some other image in a way that made the cheery faces rather hard to pick, but our little girl had noticed them. Our child was also quite gifted at spotting spiders all around the house which no one else noticed, even very small ones, very thin Daddy-long-legs spiders, and spiders way up on the ceiling. Our young one also loves to point out animal shapes in clouds, or in shapes found in natural objects, and I can always see the same thing when my attention is drawn to the shapes by our child. I suspect that our child’s interest and perhaps talent in identifying visual patterns might be genetically related to my unusual ability in face recognition. She has at times expressed observations that appear to be evidence of synaesthesia, which I experience and which runs in our family, but it is hard to know what to make of this as our child is young and some synesthesia researchers believe that all young children experience synaesthesia.

It appears that the term that is used for the ability to spot face-like visual patterns is pareidolia, but the definition of this term found in the Wikipedia isn’t really the same as what our child does. The Wikipedia defines pareidolia as a psychological phenomenon in which random or vague stimulus is perceived as significant. Our child doesn’t percieve the shapes as significant – our child percieves the shapes in non-face objects as resembling faces, but clearly understands that they are just resemblances, and there is no indication that our child thinks there is anything particularly significant about what is seen. The term pareidolia is also too general to define what our child does – our child notices patterns in visual stimuli to an unusual degree, but does not notice patterns in auditory stimuli to any unusual degree, as far as I can tell, but the term pareidolia appears to be not sepcific to any sensory mode. I would like to see a more specific term for identifying patterns in random or vague visual stimuli and an even more specific term for identifying faces in random or vague visual stimuli. I’m surprised that scientists haven’t already created terms for these things.

In January of this year an interesting  fMRI study exploring the relationship between pareidolia and face perception was published in the science journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. One of the authors of the study is from Dartmouth College and another is from MIT, two US universities where world-leading studies on face recognition are done. Two interesting articles about the study were also published in January, one at Wired magazine and the other at MIT News. To summarize the findings, the pattern of activations found in the left and the right fusiform gryri were interpreted as evidence that the left fusiform gyrus does the job of noticing face-like patterns in images, while the right fusiform gyrus also performed face processing, but did not duplicate the task done by the left, but instead performed the job of deciding whether or not a face-like image is in fact a real face. It is thought that these brain areas work together to interpret images. So it appears that the department of pareidolia in the brain is the left fusiform gyrus, while judgements about what is a real face are performed in a separate but similar and linked part of the brain. I think this arrangement will make sense to anyone who understands the processes that give rise to creativity and reflective thought. Different modes of thinking by different parts of the brain, in a series of stages, make up the process of intellectual creation. Turn-taking and specialization are features of this type of process, and it is no surprise to me that a most important part of the brain, the fusiform gyrus, also works in this way.

Sculptures by the Sea  http://www.sculpturebythesea.com/Home.aspx

Wikipedia. Pareidolia.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareidolia

Brown, Mark How does your brain know when a face is really a face? Wired.co.uk January 10th 2012.  http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-01/10/face-perception

Trafton, Anne How does our brain know what is a face and what’s not? MIT News. January 9th 2012.  http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2011/face-perception-0109.html

Ming Meng, Tharian Cherian, Gaurav Singal, Pawan Sinha Lateralization of face processing in the human brain. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Published online before print January 4, 2012. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2011.1784.   http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2012/01/03/rspb.2011.1784.abstract