Monthly Archives: April 2012

Ghost in the Machine

Wet day timetable! Bah.

For those not in the know, we shorten our lunchtime by about 15 minutes when it’s really wet. Normally I love this because it means I get home earlier but unfortunately today it meant a shorter meeting with my kids! Add to that the fact that there were debating meetings going on and a soccer competition under way I was amazed to get the 20 kids that I did.

Anyway. It went well.

I gave them a quick recap of last week’s pareidolia slide and quickly moved onto the audio pareidolia examples. We chatted about incomprehensible song lyrics. We’ve all listened to songs with garbled lyrics. You try really hard to understand what’s being sung but just make anything out. Eventually, in frustration, you look up the lyrics online and it suddenly falls into place. From that point on you hear the lyrics perfectly and can’t even remember what it was like not being able to understand them.

That’s basically what happens in audio pareidolia. You listen to some static or music being played backwards and might hear some weird sounds. Somebody hears their name in the noise (because you can always recognise your own name), tells you about it and from then on you can’t hear anything else.

We listened to a clip of Jim Morrison singing the words “treasures there” from the amazing song, Break on Through. When played in reverse it sounds like a garbled mess. That is of course until somebody points out that it sounds like “I am Satan”. Now that’s all I hear.

The real highlight of the session was listening to a clip of some EVP, or electronic voice phenomenon. This is where people take recording devices into empty rooms and interpret the static created by interference (mobile phone, AM/FM radio, TV…) as voices from the dead. Or aliens. But mostly the dead.

None of my kids could understand what was being said until the subtitles appeared. Then it became obvious. It seems pretty silly but there’s something slightly creepy and unsettling about listening to static and hearing voices in it. I honestly don’t blame for hearing ghosts. Still, a rational mind tries to find more reasonable solutions than ghosts. We can’t prove that it isn’t ghosts but I wouldn’t be putting money on it.

You can download the PowerPoint presentation I used on the Resources page.

On a wonderful note, one of my senior students has put together a logical fallacy quiz! She’s found several statements containing fallacies and wants us to figure out which ones they are. It means I’ll have to do some more sessions on fallacies to get them up to speed but how wonderful! It makes me so happy to see the kids getting into things and taking the initiative like this. Some others are also interested in running some sessions themselves.

Right now I am a very, very happy teacher.

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Faces in clouds, tigers in jungles.

Today was the first day back at school after two weeks off so I was a little worried about a lack of attendance. I decided to pre-empt this by making the bulletin notice a little more interesting than usual:

“Want to find out why seeing faces in clouds can stop you from getting eaten by tigers? Today at lunchtime in the MERC Symposium.”

This seemed to work and I wound up with over 30 kids crammed into my room. Success!

I begun by showing them a picture of clouds and asking them to count how many faces they could see. Most could see one or two with the rest seeing none at all. Unfortunately for those unable to see a face, they soon discovered that their fate was to be eaten by tigers.

How many faces can you see?

If none, you are now dead.

Then were then shown a photograph of a jungle. I asked the students to try to find the tiger. Most of them were able to spot it fairly quickly.

Don’t spend too long looking for the tiger. Trust me.

This thrilled me, because the jungle is empty. Once I stopped laughing at them, I gave them the good news that they would probably survive longer than most people.

Imagine you’re in a jungle and you see a pattern in the distance that could potentially be a tiger (or lion or bear or dinosaur).   What do you do? Hang around or run like hell? If you run away the worst that will happen is you look like an idiot. On the other day, sticking around could result in you becoming some creature’s lunch.

Some people hypothesise that this survival led to the development of our remarkable ability to detect faces in random patterns. It supposedly explains why we see people in clouds, trees and grilled cheese sandwiches.

We refer to this quality as pareidolia.

Next we went through a series of images and the students tried to spot the faces. I hadn’t expected this bit to become as much of a treasure hunt as it did! Kids were shouting out as soon as they found them and pointing them out to their friends. It was a very noisy, very enjoyable time.

They took a while to spot this one.

This one frightened them.

The figure on the right is actually a tree.

Can you spot Homer?

Angry milk.

Of course, most of the examples of pareidolia we see in our culture are religious ones. People see Jesus and Mary in just about everything. I assume people also see Buddha and Mohammed but you never hear about that, do you?

The classic ‘Mary in Grilled Cheese Sandwich’

The less classic “Mary in Bird Poop”

The students very quickly clued on to the fact that the images could be anybody’s face. You are going to see whatever you want to see. A Catholic is more likely to see Jesus whereas  my students only saw Dumbledore.

Jesus on a stingray, or Dumbledore…?

The conversation really got going at this point but course the bell rang. I will continue with the session next week and also show them some example of audio pareidolia including EVP.

Continued…

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