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.



1 Comment

Filed under McKinnon Secondary Sceptical Society

One response to “Faces in clouds, tigers in jungles.

  1. Pingback: Ghost in the Machine | Sceptic School

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