Have you ever looked up at the moon and seen the shape of a rabbit on its surface? Or perhaps you’ve toasted a slice of bread and seen a face on it. What’s the deal with this weird phenomenon of seeing something familiar on objects that couldn’t possibly have that design intentionally?
The answer to that simple question is a word that is quite difficult to pronounce, but essential for this explanation.
Derived from the Greek words para (meaning ‘instead of’, although here it means ‘wrong’) and eidōlon (meaning image or shape), pareidolia is a phenomenon where people see faces or distinct shapes, although in reality, the lines and shadows on the object are completely random.
The ‘Moon Rabbit’ is only one of several famous occurrences of this phenomenon. Another bizarre such sighting is a rock formation on the surface of Mars that looks just like a face! The following image was captured by the Viking 1 Orbiter in 1976.
Why Does This Happen?
The main cause behind pareidolia, according to experts, is actually evolution. To be more specific, it would have been highly advantageous for early humans to determine the emotions of another person based on their facial expression, thus enabling them to either run away or defend themselves if they sensed that the other person was angry. This theory is supported most strongly by an unlikely source… babies!
Even newborn babies have the ability to detect a face among random lines. Therefore, if you show a baby a photo of the following vegetable, the baby’s attention will be fixated at the specific points where the vegetable appears to resemble a face.
This indicates that the ability to recognize faces is hard-wired into our brains – a skill that we possess, rather than develop.
A Powerful Brain
Another explanation for pareidolia is related to the fact that our brains are powerful information processing systems. The brain is constantly experiencing many different inputs and trying to make sense of them all. As such, when we see something that looks vaguely familiar, our brain latches onto that piece of vague information and puts it into our established “box” where it fits best. In the case of the ‘Moon Rabbit’, our brain decides that the shape looks like the outline of a rabbit, so it immediately tells us that we’re seeing a rabbit, and at that point, it becomes very difficult for us to see anything else.
Pareidolia is a fascinating phenomenon that happens to human beings all the time. We enjoy seeing faces and other familiar objects in everyday life, just like we do when we stare at the clouds and try to describe the images our brain recognizes. Now you know why you see those things. It’s not that the clouds are preparing to attack us; our brains are simply trying to make sense of the world around us.