Wednesday Word of the Week: pareidolia

pareidolia (pair-i-DOH-lee-uh)
noun. optical illusion involving the perception of a familiar pattern or meaning where it does not actually exist.

Pareidolia can be seeing a bunny in the clouds, Hitler in a teapot, Jesus in a chapatti, or whatever you want in an inkblot.

Landscape, however, provides some beautiful examples of pareidolia. And now, thanks to the geniuses at Google, NASA, and the makers of some facial-recognition software, they’re fun to find.

There's the Face on Mars, of course, although it doesn't look as familiar in higher resolution. Photographs by NASA/JPL

There’s the Face on Mars, of course, although it doesn’t look as familiar in higher resolution.
Photographs by NASA/JPL

This smiley face was the first image to greet the stellar cartographers of the Mars Orbiter Camera in 1999. Photograph by NASA/JPL/MSSS

This smiley face was the first image to greet the stellar cartographers of the Mars Orbiter Camera in 1999.
Photograph by NASA/JPL/MSSS

New Hampshire's Old Man of the Mountain was so familiar it appeared on their state quarter, but the rock formation collapsed in 2003. Photograph by Jeffrey Joseph, courtesy Wikimedia. This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Jeffrey Joseph at the wikipedia project. This applies worldwide.

New Hampshire’s Old Man of the Mountain was so familiar it appeared on the state’s official quarter, but the rock formation collapsed in 2003.
Photograph by Jeffrey Joseph, courtesy Wikimedia. This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Jeffrey Joseph at the wikipedia project. This applies worldwide.

This frowning river valley is in the Birobidzhan, the Jewish Autonomous Oblast in Russia's far east near its border with China. Screenshot from Google Maps, 47°47'17.2"N 132°22'58.8"E

This frowning river valley is in the Birobidzhan, the Jewish Autonomous Oblast in Russia’s far east near its border with China.
Screenshot from Google Maps, 47°47’17.2″N 132°22’58.8″E

The Guardian of the Badlands—with his earbud-oil well—keeps watch over the badlands of Alberta, Canada. Screenshot from Google Maps, 50°00'37.76" N 110 07'00.86"W

The Guardian of the Badlands—with his earbud-oil well—keeps watch over the badlands of Alberta, Canada.
Screenshot from Google Maps, 50°00’37.76″ N 110 07’00.86″W

This grumpy-looking rock face is Petra da Gavea, a mountain near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photograph by Parigot, courtesy Wikimedia. I, the copyright holder of this work, release this work into the public domain. This applies worldwide.

Looking like one of Tolkien’s dwarves, this grumpy-looking rock face is Petra da Gavea, a mountain near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Photograph by Parigot, courtesy Wikimedia. I, the copyright holder of this work, release this work into the public domain. This applies worldwide.

Baba Yaga, the wicked witch of Russian folklore, appears in profile in this rock formation in Bayanaul National Park, Kazakhstan. Photograph by Ekamaloff, courtesy Wikimedia. This work has been released into the public domain by its author, I, Ekamaloff. This applies worldwide.

Baba Yaga, the wicked witch of Russian folklore, appears in profile in this rock formation in Bayanaul National Park, Kazakhstan.
Photograph by Ekamaloff, courtesy Wikimedia. This work has been released into the public domain by its author, I, Ekamaloff. This applies worldwide.

These kissing cousins are in the Magdan Oblast, in Russia’s far east.
Screenshot from Google Maps, 62°50’57.1″N 156°23’27.6″E

Take a look at some everyday pareidolia here. (That Norwegian snowman is unbelievable—but apparently real!)

3 responses to “Wednesday Word of the Week: pareidolia

    • Ah! Those are terrific examples of pareidolia, Elena! I love the Sleeping Giant just snoozing in the sunshine. Or rain.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s