Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
July 31 2009 2:30 PM


Thanks to my friend Chebutykin, I was pointed at the Faces in Places blog, a paean to pareidolia. It's a collection of inanimate objects making faces at you. There's also a Flickr group with zillions more pix.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

As I was walking the exhibit hall of Comic Con, I was struck again by our ability to see faces and recognize them in patterns. I was moving along the Artists' Alley, where artists of all stripes hang their wares for sale. When you see a face painted on canvas, it's not really a face, of course, yet we recognize it as one. Sometimes they are very realistic, and sometimes they are extremely minimalist.


In fact, the canonical smiley is as minimal as it can be: just two dots and an upward-curved arc underneath. How much less could it be? Yet it is impossible not to see that as a smile; that's how maniacally hardwired our brains are to see faces.

So the next time someone sees Jesus or Mary or Michael Jackson or Elvis in a wood grain pattern, think on the simple smiley, and remember that our brains are funny, funny things.

And also? Have a nice day.