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Bad Astronomy
By Phil Plait
Jul 31, 2009 11:30 PMNov 5, 2019 7:19 AM


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Thanks to my friend Chebutykin, I was pointed at the Faces in Places blog, a paean to pareidolia. It's a collection of inanimate objects making faces at you. There's also a Flickr group with zillions more pix. As I was walking the exhibit hall of Comic Con, I was struck again by our ability to see faces and recognize them in patterns. I was moving along the Artists' Alley, where artists of all stripes hang their wares for sale. When you see a face painted on canvas, it's not really a face, of course, yet we recognize it as one. Sometimes they are very realistic, and sometimes they are extremely minimalist. In fact, the canonical smiley is as minimal as it can be: just two dots and an upward-curved arc underneath. How much less could it be? Yet it is impossible not to see that as a smile; that's how maniacally hardwired our brains are to see faces. So the next time someone sees Jesus or Mary or Michael Jackson or Elvis in a wood grain pattern, think on the simple smiley, and remember that our brains are funny, funny things. And also? Have a nice day. :)

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