Register for an account


Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.


Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.



Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitJuly 31, 2009 11:30 PM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

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. :)

    3 Free Articles Left

    Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.


    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

    Want unlimited access?

    Subscribe today and save 50%


    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In