A few months ago I looked down at the kitchen table and saw a face. A friendly face, with mismatched eyes and a lopsided smile. I took a photo and shared it with friends. One friend was especially excited. They had been seeing and photographing faces in random inanimate objects for years. I've had this table for years and never noticed the face until that day. Now that I've seen it, though, I can't unsee it. Now I see it every day and it makes me smile.
Apparently this phenomenon is called pareidolia, which is a particular kind of seeing things that aren’t actually there. It’s a type of apophenia, the broader category of making connections between unrelated things. This happens to be a skill that comes naturally to humans. Sometimes it manifests as jumping to conclusions before all the facts are in. Sometimes as a creative story, weaving together disparate strands of character and setting. Sometimes as seeing shapes in clusters of stars and calling them constellations.
On the whole, it’s playful and amusing. I enjoy imagining the personalities and opinions of the lifeless objects that comprise modern life. I think I always have. As far back as I can remember I have personified kitchen appliances and furniture. Stuffed animals and office supplies. Tools and vehicles. I think it fosters a certain additional level of respect for these things, and inspires me to take care of them.
The fun thing about seeing faces in random places is: the more I look for them, the more I see. Since I saw the first one a couple months ago, I now see them everywhere. It’s kind of like seeing a little humanity all over the place, which feels reassuring. There are many examples of inhumanity around the world these days and in the news lately. It’s nice to see little snippets of not-all-hope-being-lost, especially when I’m least expecting it.
It also reminds me that I have been able to see the humanity of more and more people the more I practice looking for it. Reading books by and about people with much different experiences than I have expands my consideration into a broader application of “humanness”. Things like eating insects and living in caves might be labeled barbaric by parts of western culture, but are ordinary facets of life for someone else just as fully human as I am. Some of those things might even be the future for all of humanity.
Identifying patterns and connections is also a useful skill to cultivate for navigating life in general. As long as I’m pairing it with a healthy habit of honest inquiry - remembering my guesswork is only ever guesswork. Seeing connections between what I know about a person and their actions could lead to more complete understanding of their motivations and intentions. Then I can follow-up with questions to confirm or disconfirm my assumptions.
Finding connections (or potential connections) between seemingly unrelated events could lead to more nuanced forecasting and make for more thorough planning. It might even be what we need to save the world. We’re facing unprecedented everything nowadays, so relying only on the methods and techniques we already know is probably not enough. The recent reaction by many folks in the UK to something as simple as weather reports is a clear example of something we've been doing for a long time plainly failing to work in the way we are used to. We need some genuine out-of-the-box thinking, and pareidolia is one example.
If it ultimately resolves into nothing of practical use, it will at least be an enjoyable exercise of my creativity muscle. And I will have put just a little more playfulness and joy out into the world. That alone seems worth continuing to look for faces in places. And well worth sharing what I discover. You never know, one person’s toast might be inspiration the next person has been waiting their whole life to see.
Information and Inspiration
Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.