Face on Mars and other Phenomenon: Pareidolia

There are many instances of faces, religious figures, demons, sounds, and connections made from things that are not made to look like what a person is seeing. These phenomena inspire fear, faith, and wonder when they occur. Some believe these phenomena are signs from a religious figure or even intelligent beings from other worlds. Science believes these phenomena are nothing more than a product of the human beings amazing brain capabilities.
Finding connections between things and recognizing others is an advantage for us humans. Even other mammals have the capability to recognize things that allow them to assess something like danger. For some this in turn keeps them out of harm’s way. Humans can also use recognition to keep out of harm’s way, but with religion this skill also seems to make a tighter bond with their faith. These “signs” tell them that they are being looked over, but are these phenomena really someone watching us and saying “I’m here” or is it just an evolutionary advantage that the brain has produced to help us survive?
These phenomena seem to appear anywhere and on anything. A moth’s wings can look like eyes, a piece of toast may have the Virgin Mary or Jesus Christ on it and a cloud can look like a dog. So why does an object, that has no connection to anything that can appear on it, have the ability to look like something we recognize? Is it God , aliens, or pareidolia? This paper hopes to figure out these questions.

Different Phenomena
First off I’d like to start with some widely recognized phenomena that have occurred and have inspired faith in religion , in evil and good, and in other intelligent beings. The phenomena that lead to this research was the discovery of the “Face on Mars”. In 1975 the Viking Orbiter captured a picture on the Cydonia region of Mars. This picture seemed to show a humanoid face raised from the flat surface around it. When the picture was released many believed that it was no anomaly, that it had to be the work of ancient aliens that had lived on Mars and created this face along with “pyramids” seen close by. The belief was that this area photographed was an ancient civilization populated by intelligent beings who must have resembled humans or knew what humans looked like.
Richard Hoagland , who seems to be a conspiracy theorist claiming that the government is covering up intelligent life on Mars, was a major factor in these ideas. He believes that the face on Mars had to be made because of geometrical shapes and the humanoid likeness the face presents. He believes that these features have to have been a part of an ancient civilization of intelligent aliens living on Mars.
NASA and Carl Sagan have tried to explain this “face” more logically. NASA proposed that the “Face” was nothing more than shadows and light that along with a picture of low quality just resembled a face. Believers in the ancient city, later with technology, made the picture clearer and of better quality and still claimed that it had to be a monument. Carl Sagan offered another explanation that ridges and furrows of the geological feature along with erosion and wind is the cause of this “face”. NASA’s Odyssey orbiter in 2002 took pictures of this region again. The pictures taken really seem to agree with NASA and Sagan’s explanation of the “face”. Here is a statement that was released by NASA in 1976 showing that NASA has always believed that the face was not a face at all.

(213) 354-6000
Viking 1-61
P-17384 (35A72)
PHOTO CAPTION July 31, 1976

This picture is one of many taken in the northern latitudes of Mars by
the Viking 1 Orbiter in search of a landing site for Viking 2.

The picture shows eroded mesa-like landforms. The huge rock formation
in the center, which resembles a human head, is formed by shadows
giving the illusion of eyes, nose and mouth. The feature is 1.5
kilometers (one mile) across, with the sun angle at approximately
20 degrees. The speckled appearance of the image is due to bit errors,
emphasized by enlargement of the photo. The picture was taken on July
25 from a range of 1873 kilometers (1162 miles). Viking 2 will arrive
in Mars orbit next Saturday (August 7) with a landing scheduled for
early September.

EVP or Electronic Voice Phenomenon has been another occurrence that has been documented for years. The belief is that spirits or ghosts can communicate to us using electronic recorders. These recorders can pick up low frequency sounds that humans can not hear normally. These voices are said to be able to be heard through static and radio frequencies as well. This attracts ghost hunters and believers in the paranormal because they consider it proof of a spirit existing in a dwelling. Another explanation of the phenomenon of evp is that all the sound is static (white noise) or radio frequency. When people hear these sounds that can change in pitch and tone, the brain tends to recognize it as speech. This auditory pareidoliais nothing more than finding meaning in meaningless sound (Wikipedia EVP).
While on the subject of spirits, religious figures like Jesus and Mary are no longer alive, yet people claim to see them and sometimes even hear them. Many objects that have no connection with either figure have been reported to depict the figure. On one side of this phenomenon, people believe that these images are signs from God. These signs make believers feel at ease knowing their religious figures make it known that they are there. People from all over the world will flock to these objects in search of hope and truth.
People have traveled from all over to see Our Lady of Watsonville, which is an image of Mary that appeared in the bark of a tree. Another Mary image seen on a piece of toast sold for big money on ebay. Not all these sightings inspire; some have drawn fear. In 2001, when the Twin Towers were attacked, a photo of the smoke revealed a face of a demon. This became a concrete sign for some that hell and the devil exist. For religious people, all of these sightings help keep their belief going that God is real. For scientist or logical people it is just a sign that our brain is programmed to recognize things we need and things we fear.
Some other beliefs have their signs as well. Wiccans will use tea leaves in a cup to see the person’s destiny. Some ritual practices like voodoo will use objects like chicken bones to be dropped on a surface to find a pattern. If you have ever seen Pirates of the Caribbean, Calypso, the voodoo woman drops objects on the table that tells her they need to go to a group of islands because the pattern she seen resembled these islands.

Pareidolia (the reason we see the things we see)
There is a universal tendency among mankind to conceive all beings like themselves, and to transfer to every object, those qualities, with which they are familiarly acquainted, and of which they are intimately conscious. We find human faces in the moon, armies in the clouds; and by a natural propensity, if not corrected by experience and reflection, ascribe malice or good- will to everything, that hurts or pleases us. --David Hume
Pareidolia is a type of illusion or misperception involving a vague or obscure stimulus being perceived as something clear and distinct (Wikipedia Pareidolia). Everyone has this occurring in their brain (if you have ever seen something in the clouds like a dragon, if you have ever texted on a phone : and ) together equal :) which is recognized as a smiling face, and if you have ever seen a face or person in an object that was not man made). The brain can find patterns in many things, recognizing sounds, words, people, and faces. If I were to write $0 ! B3l!3V3 !n @l!3n$, many people would be able to read what was said (so I believe in aliens) from just a few letters and symbols. This ability is called,Apophenia, which is finding connection in random data (Dictionary.com). None of the symbols have any connection to actual letters and words but we can perceive that the $ looks like an S and that the number 3 looks like E even though backwards.
These connections do not seem weird to us because it happens to us every day even if we don’t recognize it. If we are hungry and see an M we usually don’t have to read the rest of the sign to know that the M means McDonalds which equals food. Road signs can be considered another connection we make, these signs are meant to have meaning but some of the characters used are or weren’t originally meant for the meaning we give them. The only weird phenomenon of pareidolia, is seeing religious figures or famous people even in objects. When this occurs, mostly with religious figures, we try to put an illogical meaning to it.
If someone had never heard of or seen Johnny Depp this would hinder their ability to see him if he appeared on a tortilla. What a person sees or hears is a product of what we know and have seen or heard. There is a term associated with this idea, Priming is the idea that someone’s brain has been primed or taught. An example would be if someone said “listen to this.” At first you only hear static or gibberish, but then the person says “did you hear, it said hold me!” When it is replayed for you “hold me!” becomes a little clearer.

Evolutionary Advantages of Pareidola
Pareidolia can be considered an evolutionary advantage for humans and other animals. The easiest way to think of this being an advantage is to think about insects. There are some insects like moths that have designs or patterns on their wings that resemble big eyes. This protects the insect because a predator recognizes big eyes as something that they maybe shouldn’t mess with. This pariedolia helps both creatures, so one doesn’t become a meal and the other avoids possible danger. Animals also sometimes mistake what they see to be food because it resembles their food source, such as when a surfer on a surf board looks like a seal to a hungry shark.
Our brains like animal brains see what we want to see or expect. This ability seems to have helped us overtime. We can recognize something that might be dangerous; this helps us because even if it isn’t harmful it’s still better to be safe than sorry. Carl Sagan makes a claim that the human ability to see faces in objects is an evolutionary trait, stating;
“As soon as the infant can see, it recognizes faces, and we now know that this skill is hardwired in our brains. Those infants who a million years ago were unable to recognize a face smiled back less, were less likely to win the hearts of their parents, and less likely to prosper. These days, nearly every infant is quick to identify a human face, and to respond with a goony grin.” (Sagan 1995: 45; Skeptic’s, 2008)

Seeing Johnny Depp is not an evolutionary advantage per say but it is a product of it. Our brains no longer really have the need to recognize what our ancestors had to, but our culture today has instilled things in our brain that we now find meaningful and therefore sometimes see. What people see nowadays may be a way to tell what they think is important or what our cultures do. Psychologists use this idea with inkblot tests, “what do you see?” The answer can help psychologists understand a person better.
This inkblot, if used on our ancestors may have been seen as a victory, while today someone may say it is the cast of Jersey Shore pumping their fists to a song. If one has never seen Jersey Shore, they still may say it looks like a party.

A Difference in View
These phenomenon cause quite a stir, they are debated, cherished, laughed at, and even worshiped. A religious view of pareidolia is that it is nothing more than scientific people attacking miraculous events. They believe these events were done by the divine, and that is the only explanation they need. Logical people realize that these phenomena are very interesting but that they are nothing more than pareidolia. This is still a big deal; the brain is very complex and these phenomena could also lead to a better understanding of a person or culture. Debates over the face on Mars still occur even after the newer photos were taken. Debates will always occur as long as there are believers out there and people who want logical explanations rather than faith based answers.
No matter what view you have, recognition of faces, patterns, noise, etc. is something the brain does. How you take a phenomenon is a different story. This is due to how are brains are hardwired. Mary appearing in toast may be a miracle to you or just a coincidence. What should be the agreement no matter what is that our brains are very complex.
The fact is that there is so much evidence to prove that faces on Mars and on toast are not the works of intelligent beings but the work of intelligent evolved brains or a play on light and shadow. It started as a tool to keep humans and other animals alive. It still keeps organisms alive by allowing them to recognize danger, protection, food, and anything else that helps them survive. It is an amazing and cool process of finding connections between things that have no real connection. Our brains love to overthink and over-process.

Picture Examples: Google Images (Pareidolia)

Sources Cited:
• Dictionary.com-Apophenia
• Google Images- Pareidolia
• The Skeptic’s Dictionary robert T carroll 1994-2008 http://www.skepdic.com/news/newsletter96.html

• Wikipedia- Pareidolia

• Wikipedia- EVP

• Araguz, Martin
2002 Pareidolia in Beato de Liébana's illuminated Visigothic codes.
Neruologia10: 633-42.
Explains how pareidolia constitutes a source of inspiration for different artistic manifestations, is the basis of some common psychological explorations (such as Rorcharch test) and it even can be the explication to some situations considered as paranormal, for example the vision of faces in the Moon or in Mars or the apparition of sacred figures either in spots or shades.
This website describes the “Face on Mars” and even “Galle” or the “happy face crater.” It tells both side of the story behind why these features are on mars and how they were formed. It explains Hogland’s idea that the face was made by Martians some 500,000 years ago. Then also provides a scientific reasoning of why the face is just a mesa with highs and lows that from certain angles may resemble a face but is nothing more than the human brain making it be a face.
• Nov. 2000 The Face Behind the 'Face' on Mars: A Skeptical Look at Richard C. Hoagland
Skeptical Inquirer
This article takes a look at Hoagland’s belief that the “Face on Mars” was designed by ancient intelligent life that lived on Mars. It describes how the picture, taken in 1976, didn’t mean anything to NASA but when it was released to the public it hit the spotlight because of its resemblance to a hominoid face. Speculation began and questions like, was it constructed by a once-thriving Martian civilization? Was it erected by beings from elsewhere in the galaxy, perhaps as a "calling card" for when we became a space-faring species? Or might earthlings from our own future be responsible?
• O'Leary, B.
May 1990 Analysis of images of the 'face' on Mars and possible intelligent origin.
British Interplanetary Society, Journal 43: 203-208.
(ISSN 0007-084X) Research supported by the Mars Anomalies Research Society.
This article describes an empirical cross-check that confirms Carlotto's three-dimensional maps of the “Face on Mars”, photographed at two sun angles, are valid representations. They believe that the simulated views from the ground suggest that if intelligence created or modified the features of Cydonia(northern hemisphere of mars) , they were more likely meant to be viewed from above. The face exhibits a striking degree of face-like qualities as viewed from above in all three dimensions, in contrast to natural features on the earth.
• Wikipedia. Com “Pareidolia”
This website was used for the definition of Pareidolia; 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 played in reverse. The word comes from the Greek para- ("beside", "with", or "alongside", in this context meaning something faulty or wrong, as in paraphasia, disordered speech) and eidōlon ("image"; the diminutive of eidos – "image", "form", "shape"). Pareidolia is a type of apophenia.
• Wikipedia.com “Face on Mars/ Cydonia”
Cydonia is a region on the planet Mars, and has attracted both scientific[1] and popular interest. Cydonia lies in the planet's northern hemisphere in a transitional zone between the heavily cratered regions to the South, and relatively smooth plains to the North. One of the features in the Cydonia region, the "face on Mars" (about 1.5 kilometers (one mile) across), has had special notoriety in Western culture since it was imaged in 1976, because it looks like a face.[11] This naturally occurring pareidolia has also inspired science fiction literature which typically assume it is a non-natural structure
• The Skeptic’s Dictionary Robert T carroll 1994-2008 http://www.skepdic.com/news/newsletter96.html

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