Head in the Clouds: A Case of Pareidolia

Eagle's Head

We humans are social creatures who depend on our ability to recognize others. It is not hard to imagine how ancient Man stood a better chance of survival if able to diferentiate friend from foe. Over the millenia, our brains became hard-wired to search for other people’s faces, analyse their features, and to identify the person, all done on a neurological fast track that prioritizes the process of facial recognition.

We became so adept at this that our minds overlay facial features upon random patterns or textures of inanimate objects. Our minds can play tricks on us and the name of the game is pareidolia. Wikipedia defines it as…

“…a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant. Common examples include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds, the man in the moon or the Moon Rabbit, and hearing hidden messages on records played in reverse.”

Crocodile in the River

So, strictly speaking, pareidolia is not limited to visual perception, but for the purpose of this post, we’ll concentrate on this one sense because I found it devilishly difficult to capture sounds, for example, with my camera and I so wanted to include a couple of shots I’ve taken over the past week to liven up this post a bit.

As it turns out, not all of these photos were taken in the past week. While looking through my archives for photos for another project, I came across the Batman in the Orchid photo and was reminded that I have a bunch of other shots that might go well in this post. In fact I was going to just take cloud pictures and post them so all the others, except the alien reflection that I now take for granted because I see it several times a week, were just sitting on the hard drive collecting digital dust.

Before we get to more pictures, I want to assure you that these shots are all pretty much as I shot them. I’ve done some global tweaking to make seeing the hidden faces, etc., easier to see and to make the images a bit more pleasing to the eye and I’ve cropped a couple to get rid of distractions. None of these images are faked in any way.

Dog Barking

Face within a Face - I see a large Sasquatch face in this cloud formation (its eyes are in the whispy clouds at the top) and when I look for eyes in the area of the Big Foot's mouth, I see a poodle's face.

A Happy Dinosaur in the Wood Grain

Cat Sitting on a Toaster Pastry. The cat is on the left and seems to be watching a woman winding up to dive off the right side of my breakfast. The icing application was done by my wife but was purely unintentional... I had to point out the cat and diving woman to her after she handed it to me.

Batman in the Orchid

Happy Eggs - The nose makes it resemble W.C. Fields

Goofy Face on a Great Car

Alien at the Door - Sunlight reflecting off a door's lock creates and alien.

Most of us are familiar with The Man in the Moon, but did you know that in some cultures they see The Moon Rabbit using a large mortar and pestle to pound rice into rice flour?

To finish off this post, I am including this short animated video clip from South Korea about a young monkey asking his mother what the Moon Rabbit is doing. The mother doesn’t know so she asks a rabbit named Mashimaro what the Moon Rabbit is up to. Turn up the sound to get full enjoyment from this classic clip. Don’t worry, the dialogue is not in Korean!

I welcome your comments and links to some “head in the cloud” pictures of your own!


About HoaiPhai

I'm up late digging up the dirt. View all posts by HoaiPhai

18 responses to “Head in the Clouds: A Case of Pareidolia

  • Hippie Cahier

    That’s an SAT word if ever I saw one. Way cool.

    • HoaiPhai

      And the odd thing is that I’ve known it for years. I had to look up the spelling (my brain was manufactured before Spell Check was invented) and was shocked that it comes from the Greek “para”meaning “beside” with no mention of the French adjective “pareil” meaning “similar to”. It’s a lovely word to try to work into a conversation!

  • The Hook

    I don’t know what to say, except, AWESOME!

    • HoaiPhai

      I was really scared to hit the Publish Button on this one… what if I was the only one seeing the heads in the clouds, the dinosaurs, and aliens? What if a psychiatrist reads the blog entry and from my interpretations of the images (like when they analyse the comments made by someone looking at ink blots) recommends to the authorities that I should be lobotomized and put away forever in the interest of public safety?

  • PM

    the photos are so nice. i love the happy dinosaur in the wood grain. when i was young, making stuff out of clouds is something i do with my mother. it is one of my favorite things!

    • HoaiPhai

      The happy dinosaur lives on my desk at work and whenever I’m hit with something that makes my workday less than perfect, the Happy Dinosaur is always there to cheer me up. He was the one that got this entry rolling by getting me to commit to not just looking through my old pictures for examples of “pareidolographs”, but to look around for some new ones with this blog in mind. Over the week before I posted this piece, I’d look out the backdoor when I had a chance to see if there was something the clouds wanted to show me. That week was a lot of fun and brought me back to memories of laying on the grass in my hometown looking for things in the clouds.

  • elmediat

    You can get a real Rorschach looking for patterns. Intriguing and creative shots. I do not see a dog barking – I see several winged creatures. I can see the face in a face, but also see a reclining figure with hands behind his head. I can see the cat, but I also see a seal holding a bowl with one flipper as the contents plash in an arc into a glass. And you were worried you had problems ? Check out the second photo in Michael Lilly’s Speed United Methodist Church ( http://lillyphotographywv.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/speed-united-methodist-church/ ) . The cross on the siding looks like an abstract face.

    • HoaiPhai

      I see the dog in the central blob of cloud, facing right and upwards at around 30°. I get what you’re saying about the seal. To me the water splashing to the ground is the diver’s long hair and dripping water (interesting that we both got water dripping there!). Those shots of the West Virginia church are lovely and the face is as plane as….well, you get the picture!

  • Martina

    😀 Wow, love the photos, and don’t worry…. you’re not the only one to see animals and faces in clouds or eggs…I am pretty sure I have seen an alien in a crumpet one morning… But I’m not too sure whether it was the consequence of eating too much chocolate 🙂

    • HoaiPhai

      You must be really careful… I’ve heard that there is a race of aliens that look a lot like crumpets. There are also muffin men who look like blueberry muffins if they get freckled from being on the beach without sunscreen!

  • Martina

    edit :whether[…] or just me being really sleepy!

  • Mike Lilly

    Nice set of images! Thanks for commenting on my blog and leading me here. My favorites are Happy Eggs and Cat Sitting on Toaster Pastry. Now you’ve forced me to look for more hidden faces in my own photos as well as my house, thanks!

    • HoaiPhai

      Thanks for the compliment! Every once in a while I’ll see a “hidden face” in a scence and not bother to photograph it, even if I have a camera with me. Now I’m determined to get shots of them.

  • mtlawleyshire

    love the alien, the cat on the pastry 🙂 Oh – & the creepy crocodile! 🙂

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