Friday, July 23, 2004

Seeing Patterns Where None Exist

The whole Annie Jacobsen nonsense is indicative of a phenomenon I've long been fascinated by, namely the tendency of the human mind to grasp for patterns everywhere, even when none exist. Now Boing Boing provides a link to another story that is indicative of this tendency.

Crowds are flocking to a hardware store in Rio Grande Valley, Texas, to see an image of Jesus that has appeared on a tinted window at the business.

The image first appeared on a True Value store window on July 19 and caused employees to wonder where it came from.

Since being discovered, the image has not faded.

People at the store agree that the image resembles the face of Jesus Christ with a crown of thorns.
Maybe there's something wrong with my eyesight, but no matter how hard I try, I can't make myself see the "Christ with a crown of thorns" mentioned in the story, at least not from the accompanying picture (included below).

Christ with Thorns?

It's incredible just how strong the need to see patterns can be: for instance, try listing any old bunch of random numbers in a sequence, and soon enough someone will step up and confidently tell you about their supposedly hidden significance. The Bible Codes rubbish (also see here) preys on just this human failing, as do all conspiracy theories.

POSTSCRIPT: There's actually a technical term to describe the sort of erroneous pattern-recognition I'm talking about - Pareidolia.