When You See The Man In The Moon Or Faces In Cloud Formations You’re Experiencing?
If you’ve ever seen a face in the clouds, the man in the Moon looking down at you, or been startled when a pattern of shadows outside your window resembled a face, you’ve experienced a phenomenon known as pareidolia.
Pareidolia, broadly speaking, is the visual form of apophenia (the perception of patterns within random data or unrelated context). Although you can use the term to describe any situation where the human mind perceives there to be a significant pattern where there is none (such as if you were to perceive the shape of a cloud as that of a whale or dragon), it occurs most frequently with the perception of faces as human beings are particularly adept at discerning differences in faces (and thus often see faces where there are not, in fact, faces).
When you hear a child describe the back of a car as having a “mean face,” for example, you’re seeing pareidolia in action: the arrangement of the tail lights, bumper, and other design elements on a car often do resemble a face and our brains are more than happy to match the rough pattern we see to a face instead of merely the rear of a sedan.
So the next time you find yourself on a camping trip peering out your tent flap into the darkness looking for the source of that snapped twig, relax: the face you see in the woods looking back at you isn’t a psycho killer lurking in the pines but just your overactive mind and a good dose of pareidolia. Probably.