Pareidolia

What do You See?

Have you seen the pictures of the "Face on Mars" or the "Spire on the Moon"? Are these pictures evidence for extraterrestrial aliens, ancient civilisations or simply for a natural process of the complex structure called the human brain?

Pareidolia is the term used to describe the process of the brain assigning meaning to what it observes when there isn't enough information to get it right. The brain will naturally try to make sense of what it is seeing, and most of the time the interpretation is fairly accurate. But if there isn't enough information, the brain will try to fill in the blanks.

The Moon Spike

Take a look at this picture of the moons surface showing an "object". This object could be interpreted in at least two different ways.

One interpretation is that the dark streak indicated by the arrow is a spire, or spike and the long lighter shaded line is a shadow cast by this spike. The credulous person will immediately jump to this conclusion, and nothing you can say will change what they perceive.

The object does indeed appear to be a spike at first glance. So what is it if it isn't a spike standing up on the moon's surface? Take another look, and this time look at the light grey line as being the front edge of a sharply rising rocky mound and the large lighter area over to the right of it being a raised curved mound casting a shadow against the sharply rising edge. The light grey line is the shadow against the front edge of the rocky mound. Behind the high mound, there is a steep cliff (lower part of the mound on the picture) which is casting a very dark shadow behind it which curves down into the crater below. 

Seeing a spike at first glance is entirely normal, and is known as pareidolia. However seeing a spike and immediately determining that it must be an alien structure is a premature evaluation. Continuing to see an alien structure or accepting somebody else's explanation that it is a manufactured spike is credulity. A rational response is to look for what else this could be and will likely result in a more credible explanation. Once you make this connection it is all you can see, and the "spike" no longer jumps out at you.  

The Face on Mars

As another example of this phenomenon take a look at the picture on the right of the "Face on Mars" that became so well known in the 1980's. It does look like a face doesn't it?

Now take a look at a later image of "the face" taken by Mars Express from multiple angles and rendered into a 3D image. It no longer looks so much like a face does it?

Whenever you see something that looks a bit unusual the first thing you should ask is "what am I really seeing?" not "wow look at what aliens built."