Have you heard of Pareidolia?

Most people have never heard of pareidolia, but nearly everyone has experienced it

200px-Man_In_The_Moon2Pareidolia 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 or the Moon rabbit, and hearing hidden messages on records when played in reverse. Related to sound it’s called auditory Pareidolia.

The word pareidolia comes from the Greek words para (παρά, “beside, alongside, instead [of]”) in this context meaning something faulty or wrong; and the noun eidōlon (εἴδωλον “image, form, shape”), the diminutive of  eidos.

Pareidolia is a type of apophenia involving the perception of images or sounds in random stimuli, for example, hearing a ringing phone while taking a shower. The noise produced by the running water gives a background from which the brain perceives there to be patterned sound of a ringing phone. A more common human experience is perceiving faces in inanimate objects: the headlights and grill of an automobile can appear to be “grinning”.

Apophenia is a term attributed to Klaus Conrad by Peter Brugger, who defined it as the “unmotivated seeing of connections” accompanied by a “specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness”, but it has come to represent the human tendency to seek patterns in random information in general, such as with gambling and paranormal phenomena

Apophenia is heavily documented as a source of rationale behind gambling, with gamblers imagining they see patterns in the occurrence of numbers in lotteries, roulette wheels, and cards. One variation of this is known as the Gambler’s Fallacy.

Fortune telling and divination of the wishes of the spirit world are often based upon discerning patterns produced by what otherwise would thought to be meaningless, chance events. The concept of a Freudian slip is based on what had previously dismissed as meaningless errors as containing meaning for the unconscious, and likewise for The Interpretation of Dreams.

Examples of pareidolia

The Face on Moon South Pole is a region on the Moon (81.9° south latitude and 39.27° east longitude) that was detected automatically in an image from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter by a computer system using face recognition technologies, as a result of an award-winning project that was part of the International Space App Challenge 2013 Tokyo.

See USGS: Earth’s Moon







Satellite photo’s of a mesa in Cydonia.

Cydonia (region of Mars) is a famous example, often called the Face on Mars. Later imagery from other angles did not include the shadows.

See Marsface Project

[Gallery: Mars Illusion Photos: The ‘Face on Mars’ and Other Martian Tricks]




More examples of pareidolia

(click an image to enlarge)










Man’s face seen in clouds before death – video

Description: Lismore resident Marion Dawson says a photo of clouds that bear a remarkable resemblance to her late brother Gerry Wells gives her “goosebumps”. The photo was taken on January 9 at Ocean Shores, on NSW’s far north cost, at the same time as Mr Wells was flying overhead from Brisbane to Sydney to visit family and friends, the Northern Star reports.
Mr Wells, 62, died from a heart attack only a few days later on January 24.
Mr Wells, who lived in Brisbane, never saw the photo, which was taken by a former editor of the Northern Star, Russell Eldridge, and published in the paper on January 11.
It was only after Mr Wells passed away that a friend of his son saw the photo on the internet.
The family used the cloud photo in a leaflet handed out to people at his funeral.
Ms Dawson said they all got goosebumps when they saw the similarity.
She said she did not believe it was a coincidence that Mr Wells was flying to Sydney to catch up with family and friends while the photo was being taken below and that he still managed to get home to say goodbye to his wife one last time.
“I truly believe somebody greater than us knew this was about to happen,” she said. |  

More info: Cumulonimbus clouds | Face perception

More examples of cloud pareidolia

face clouddeer clouddancing cloudsCumulonimbus cloud3Cumulonimbus cloud2Cumulonimbus cloudCircumhorizontal arc









Cloud pareidolia 33 examples of meteorological pareidolia.


Perceptions of religious imagery in natural phenomena


The Shroud of Turin: modern photo of the face, positive left, digitally processed image right.

Perceptions of religious imagery in natural phenomena, sometimes called simulacra, are sightings of images with spiritual or religious themes or import to the perceiver. The images perceived, whether iconic or aniconic, may be the faces of religious notables or the manifestation of spiritual symbols in the natural, organic media or phenomena of the natural world. The occurrence or event of perception may be transient or fleeting or may be more enduring and monumental. The phenomenon appears to approach a cultural universal and may often accompany nature worship, animism, and fetishism, along with more formal or organized belief systems.

Within Christian traditions, many instances reported involve images of Jesus or other Christian figures seen in food; in the Muslimworld, structures in food and other natural objects may be perceived as religious text in Arabic script, particularly the word Allah or verses from the Qur’an. Many religious believers view them as real manifestations of miraculous origin; a sceptical view is that such perceptions are examples of pareidolia.

The original phenomena of this type were acheropites: images of major Christian icons such as Jesus and the Virgin Mary which were believed to have been created by supernatural means. The word acheropite comes from the Greek ἀχειροποίητος, meaning “not created by human hands”, and the term was first applied to the Turin Shroud and the Veil of Veronica. Later, the term came to apply more generally to simulacra of a religious or spiritual nature occurring in natural phenomena, particularly those seen by believers as being of miraculous origin.

Example: see video


Click to see video A familiar spiritual image appeared in the smoke above a burning Fresno home in Nov 2014 while at the exact moment, a panicked bystander screamed, “There’s still someone in the building!” Smartphone video shot of the fire shows a clear image, formed in the bellowing wisps of dark smoke, of what witnesses at the scene are calling the face of Jesus. Shortly after the divine face of the Lord Jesus Christ appeared in the tower of smoke, a neighbor headed warnings shouted from the crowd and entered the burning building to save his friend. Ironically, the face of Jesus was seen in a “good Samaritan” situation.

More xamples:
Monkey Tree Phenomenon
Veil of Veronica
Bélmez Faces
Marian apparition
Weeping statue



Carl Sagan (an American astronomer, cosmologist,astrophysicist, astrobiologist, author, science popularizer, and science communicator in astronomy and other natural sciences) 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. The evolutionary advantages of being able to discern friend from foe with split-second accuracy are numerous; people who accidentally identify an enemy as a friend could face deadly consequences.
He Iargued this in his 1995 book, “The Demon-Haunted World – Science as a Candle in the Dark (download ebook.pdf | audiobook)

A 2009 magnetoencephalography study found that objects incidentally perceived as faces evoke an early (165 ms) activation in the ventral fusiform cortex, at a time and location similar to that evoked by faces, whereas other common objects do not evoke such activation. This activation is similar to a slightly earlier peak at 130 ms seen for images of real faces. The authors suggest that face perception evoked by face-like objects is a relatively early process, and not a late cognitive reinterpretation phenomenon. An FMRI study in 2011 similarly showed that repeated presentation of novel visual shapes that were interpreted as meaningful led to decreased fMRI responses for real objects. These result indicate that interpretation of ambiguous stimuli depends on similar processes as those elicited for known objects.


This figure consisting of three circles and a line is automatically and subconsciously recognized as a “face”, despite having only a few basic features of an actual face. This is an example of the mechanisms the brain uses for facial recognition.

These studies help to explain why people identify a few circles and a line as a “face” so quickly and without hesitation. Cognitive processes are activated by the “face-like” object, which alert the observer to both the emotional state and identity of the subject – even before the conscious mind begins to process – or even receive – the information. The “stick figure face”, despite its simplicity, conveys mood information (in this case, disappointment or mild unhappiness). It would be just as simple to draw a stick figure face that would be perceived (by most people) as hostile and aggressive. This robust and subtle capability is hypothesized to be the result of eons of natural selection favoring people most able to quickly identify the mental state, for example, of threatening people, thus providing the individual an opportunity to flee or attack preemptively. In other words, processing this information subcortically (and therefore subconsciously) – before it is passed on to the rest of the brain for detailed processing – accelerates judgment and decision making when alacrity is paramount. This ability, though highly specialized for the processing and recognition of human emotions, also functions to determine the demeanor of wildlife.

Combined with Apophenia (identifying meaningful patterns in meaningless randomness) and hierophany (a manifestation of the sacred), pareidolia may have helped early societies organize chaos and make the world intelligible.

Can you trust your eyes?

Google Faces Program

Google_Face_TitleGerman design studio Onformative is undertaking perhaps the world’s largest and most systematic search for pareidolia. Their Google Faces programme has been spending sniffing out face-like shapes in Google Maps.

Google Faces is scanning the entire globe several times over from different angles. So far the programme has pinpointed an eerie profile in Russia’s remote Magadan region, a fellow with hairy nostrils next to Priory Road in Ashford, Kent, and a mangy creature in the mountains of Alaska, among others.

Find your face

Also read: Google Earth spots 6 familiar faces  



Auditory Pareidolia

Listen to examples of auditory pareidolia


Can you trust your ears?


Electronic voice phenomenon

In 1971, Konstantīns Raudive wrote Breakthrough, detailing what he believed was the discovery of electronic voice phenomenon (EVP). EVP has been described as auditory pareidolia.

Electronic voice phenomena (EVP) are sounds found on electronic recordings which resemble speech, but are reportedly not the result of intentional recording or rendering. EVP’S are commonly found in recordings with static, stray radio transmissions, and background noise.
Recordings of EVP are often produced by increasing the gain (i.e. sensitivity) of the recording equipment.

Ghost-evpParanormal explanations
Paranormal explanations for the origin of EVP include living humans imprinting thoughts directly on an electronic medium through psychokinesis and communication by entities such as spirits, nature energies, beings from other dimensions, or extraterrestrials. Portable digital voice recorders are currently the technology of choice for EVP investigators.
Interest in EVP surrounds claims that they are of paranormal origin,although a number of natural explanations have been offered including apophenia (finding significance in insignificant phenomena), auditory pareidolia (interpreting random sounds as voices in one’s own language), equipment artifacts, and hoaxes.
Investigators today, equipped with electronic gear—like EMF meters, video cameras, and audio recorders—scour reportedly haunted venues, trying to uncover visual and audio evidence of ghosts. Many use portable recording devices in an attempt to capture EVP. (Some EVP enthusiasts describe hearing the words in EVP as an ability, much like learning a new language. Skeptics suggest that the claimed instances may be misinterpretations of natural phenomena, inadvertent influence of the electronic equipment by researchers, or deliberate influencing of the researchers and the equipment by third parties).

How to record EVP >>


Allegations of backmasking in popular music, in which a message is claimed to have been recorded backward onto a track meant to be played forward, have also been described as auditory pareidolia.

In September 1969, conspiracy theorists claimed some Beatles records contained clues to Paul McCartney‘s supposed death. Many heard the words “Paul is dead,” when the songStrawberry Fields Forever” was played backwards, a process known as backmasking. This is a common urban legend often repeated to this day.

More info on Backmasking | Backward message | Reverse speech | List of backmasked messages




6 thoughts on “Have you heard of Pareidolia?

  1. Pingback: Part 1- Exercise 1.1: Paredolia – Visualstudies1

  2. Pingback: As Writers We Can’t Edit Our Own Work—Or Can We? | Maureen Grenier

  3. Despite humans seeing this way since the beginning of time, did you know pareidolia was only first used in 1994 by Steve Goldstein ( http://wordspy.com/index.php?word=pareidolia )? I believe it does not accurately define what is happening with this action.
    I like to say that it is Extractionism: the art of recognizing resemblances, extracting and subsequently presenting them (no need for wierd words like apophenia, simulacra, pareidolia, paranoiac-critical method). Resemblances exist whether we discover them or not and are part of a universal law that micro mirrors macro.
    This is the technique I used to discover the Old Man in the Peanut! ( https://vimeo.com/19776260/ ).This meta label now allows other fields to be coupled under one umbrella concerning a very specific way of looking at the world, such as a psychoanalytical tool (Rorschach), biomimicry, camouflage, analogy, eggcorns, the visual pun, constellations, peanut carvings, tea leaf reading, Makapansgat pebble, & droodles just to name a few! One could not mention these under the heading ‘pareidolia’.
    By the way, Extractionism is one of the few artforms, if not the only, that is regularly covered by international news agencies!! When an Extractionist discovers a resemblance and gives it life, especially if it is a Striking Resemblance, it will go viral. Consider the latest example:
    Marja-Terttu Karlsson, 52, from Pajala in northern Sweden is a photographer who has captured the uncanny shape of a celestial animal resembling a wolf rising from earth into the sky.

    Watch the video here: http://www.tv4.se/nyheterna/artiklar/h%C3%A4r-f%C3%B6rvandlas-norrskenet-till-en-varg-makal%C3%B6st-himlafenomen-567437d9b9a9f6d3af000584

    See more of Marja photography here: https://www.facebook.com/marjaterttu.karlsson


  4. Pingback: Mars Anomalies: Dome Box on Mars – Naturally formed, Man-made or a Classic Case of Pareidolia? | Book of Research

  5. Pingback: Weird looking Clouds Explained | Book of Research

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