I sent some recent photographs of Avebury stone circle to a friend, commenting that some of the stones resembled the shape of people’s expressions or the outline of animals. I saw a shark, a rabbit, a smiling face, a hunched figure, all legitimate interpretations of random shapes of and markings on the collection of immense stones. Her good natured laughing reply was to refer me to pareidolia.
Pareidolia is the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern. It has been described as the science behind seeing faces in everyday objects, for example clouds, and often leads people to assign human characteristics to objects. The more I think about this, the more I realise I do this a lot, and the process of imagining and interpretion of random stimuli to arrive at a hypothosis or understanding, has informed much of both my personal and professional life.
Assessing stimuli we encounter is surely essential in navigating through choices we have in our lives. Sometimes that assessment is correct, other times it is incorrect and errors are made. It is unclear to me how intellectual this process is, or whether it it is instinctive, or on a varying spectrum between the two absolutes, depending on changing circumstances.