Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Pareidolia




The human brain does amazing things. One of these things is that the human brain looks for patterns and tries to match incomplete information to known patterns in order to make sense of its environment.

It is unsurprising that such a trait was naturally selected along the long road of evolution: if you imagine 2 of our prehistoric ancestors tens of thousands of years ago... one of them will fill in the blanks from very little information while the other won't. When a noise is heard, one of these men will get ready to fight or run away, even if it was nothing. That's a bit of extra stress, but no big deal. When it happens to be a real sabretooth tiger, this guy will have a chance to survive. The other person who did not react when hearing the noise will simply be eaten. So, only the prehistoric guy with pareidolia will survive and have children with pareidolia.

In your childhood, have you ever played the game with a friend or a sibling, to identify similarities between the shape of clouds and objects of everyday life? Have you ever seen clouds in the shape of a bird, a face, a dragon, a horse? That's pareidolia for you!

Image licence: CC BY-NC 3.0 Fir002

Pareidolia is useful, most of the time. But sometimes we see things that don't make sense, or of which sense we cannot grasp. And then our brain will fill in the blanks in a way that is not ideal. Many reports of UFO's are consistent with pareidolia. There are even cases of people filming a scene and noticing later that an object moves at incredible speed when replaying the tape... which ends up being a fly or a bird appearing to be very fast when in fact it was just really close to the camera.

Another recent example, was the following photo published on Reddit leading to people suspecting it might be a crime scene with a blood trail. I won't divulge yet the answer of what is exactly in the photo and I'll let you figure out what you see.



Conclusion

Sometimes our brain plays tricks on us. So next time you see something that should not exist or could not exist... it probably does not exist. If you're the 1st person who ever witnesses real extra-terrestrials, then good for you and it will be awesome that you can change the world thanks to your encounter! But you should be extra sure. If what you saw was blur, distant, or too quick for the eye to focus, then probability has it that it was just pareidolia.

Now you know the #1 source of UFO sightings and discovered an amazing thing about the brain.

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