Posted by: Jack Henry | September 11, 2017

Editor’s Corner: Faces in Inanimate Objects? There’s a Word for That

Have you ever looked at a cloud and seen an animal? Looked at the moon and seen a face? Looked at a semicolon and a parenthesis and seen someone winking at you? 😉

The human brain has a tendency to find familiar shapes (especially faces) in random patterns, and there’s a word for that: pareidolia.

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Merriam-Webster defines pareidolia (pronounced "pair-eye-dole-ia") as "the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern."

Psychiatrist Karl Ludwig Kahlbaum coined the German word Pareidolie in 1866. It made its way into English two years later.

Pareidolia comes from Greek para- ("beside") + eídōlon ("image, reflection"). Eídōlon is also the root of the word idol (meaning "a likeness of something").

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Why do humans see faces where they don’t exist? One theory is that making fast (but sometimes inaccurate) visual judgments helps us survive.

Imagine that you’re hiking and you see a snake lying across the trail. You stop dead in your tracks.

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But as you carefully inch closer, you realize it’s not a snake at all; it’s just a stick.

Being startled by a harmless stick might make you feel silly, but ignoring a real snake could be much worse.

Differentiating a happy friend from an angry foe is useful in the same way—even if it means occasionally mistaking a wooden crate for a smiling person.

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Ben Ritter | Technical Editor | Symitar®
8985 Balboa Avenue | San Diego, CA 92123
619-682-3391 | or ext. 763391 |

Symitar Documentation Services

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