Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant. Common examples include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds, the man in the moon, and hearing hidden messages on records played in reverse. Pareidolia originates from the Greek para “beside”, “with”, or “alongside” meaning, (in this context) something faulty (as in paraphasia, disordered speech) and eidōlon “image”. Pareidolia is a type of apophenia (unmotivated seeing of connections).
There have been numerous instances of perceptions of religious imagery and themes, especially the faces of religious figures, in ordinary phenomena:
- In 2004, a grilled cheese sandwich with the “Virgin Mary”‘s face sold on Ebay for $28,000.
- The Rorschach inkblot test uses pareidolia in an attempt to gain insight into a person’s mental state.
- The backmasking technique was popularized by The Beatles, who used backward instrumentation on their 1966 album Revolver.
Carl Sagan hypothesized that as a survival technique, human beings are “hard-wired” from birth to identify the human face. This allows people to use only minimal details to recognize faces from a distance and in poor visibility but can also lead them to interpret random images or patterns of light and shade as being faces. (wiki, Daily Picks and Flicks)