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Do You See Faces In The Clouds? The Science of Pareidolia

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Do You See Faces In The Clouds? The Science of Pareidolia

Have you ever seen an angel, a castle, a dog, or a face in the clouds? Or maybe a grilled cheese sandwich that looked suspiciously similar to a celebrity? We’ve all seen everyday things that look like something or someone else. The good news is that it doesn’t mean we’re a little crazy or overly imaginative. Instead, the ability to look at random objects and see familiar things is a perfectly normal phenomenon called pareidolia, a word from the Greek meaning, “resembling an image.”

The Science of Pareidolia

For many years, scientists had a variety of explanations for this phenomenon. Some thought that seeing faces in the clouds was a symptom of psychosis while others, including famous scientist Carl Sagan, thought that pareidolia came from an evolutionary need to recognize people or potential threats quickly.

In actuality, pareidolia comes from our need to organize random information into patterns. That’s why, when glancing at something simple like an electrical outlet, most people would agree that it looks like a face.

This search for patterns isn’t limited to sight, either. While it’s much more common to see a face or object in a random place, people can hear pareidolia, too. If you’ve ever listened to static or the roar of your vacuum cleaner and thought you heard someone speaking, you’ve experienced auditory pareidolia.

Where to See Pareidolia

Pareidolia pops up everywhere – in clouds, tree bark, among clustered leaves, on a piece of toast, in a bowl of cereal, or anywhere else. The best places to look include spots with random patterns, like the grain of plywood or the shapes made by a rock formation.

It’s such a common phenomenon that there are many well-documented instances of pareidolia. When you look at the Moon, you can see several famous pareidolic images, including the Man in the Moon. The Moon’s smiling face is actually patches of light and dark terrain. Among those spots of light and dark, people have seen a variety of different things, including a man with a rifle and dog, a rabbit and a woman. There are even some fascinating images of faces on Mars.

Photo by ClassicalAstronomy.com

Pluto on Pluto?

In fact, the images of Pluto from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is another example of pareidolia. Some say they see a heart, others say they see the cartoon character, Pluto! What do you see? Tell us in the comments below!

Examples of pareidolia are all around us. In fact, wherever you are, you can probably look up and seen an object in the clouds right now!

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24 comments

1 nathan dunning { 09.27.17 at 12:39 am }

Yes I see them in every cloud,It’s happening now that I have stopped my evil life.I see Evil and peaceful faces,Angelic and demonic especially now the End Times Have Began.

2 Cynthia { 06.16.17 at 6:47 pm }

What is it called when three people see the same image? I do not believe that seeing images in the clouds means that there is something wrong with the brain. If you can explain to me how everything that lives was created… and when, and I don’t belive no man alive today can… it’s mere speculation. But to see an image and take a picture of it… for everyone to see… well you can’t say it’s all in the person’s head. I see images a lot. I believe it has to do with what our Creator wants us to see and know.. plain and simple. It’s a gift from above. Jesus said to look for him coming in the clouds. I feel the images people see, are just previews of better things to come.

3 june rockhold { 10.04.16 at 3:09 pm }

I took a pitcure of the clouds walking out of HyVee food store on a cloudy day. I am still in loss over the pitcure. There is an actual pitcure of a human face in it. It is even flesh colored.

4 Joan Wanner { 09.09.16 at 10:26 pm }

Thank you, the article was fun. Its always nice, when we can apply a word, to a thing Basic Human relationship

5 Susan Higgins { 08.23.16 at 2:10 pm }

Amy Rose Gill, sure, that sounds about right!

6 Amy Rose Gill { 08.20.16 at 2:08 pm }

I absolutely love finding shapes in clouds and spend a lot of time doing so! How would you state when asked the question what are your hobbies or interests?

Would you say Cloud Pareidolia?

7 I see images all the time in the clouds especially when asking for a sign. { 08.19.16 at 3:17 am }

I love to look for images, I see them in clouds a lot and also many everyday objects.

8 Mari Lou { 08.08.16 at 10:25 am }

I find that I am more tuned into seeing the cloud pareidolia at the oddest times. Never knew it had a name till today. I have a series of photos of a face moving high across the ocean, I watch it travel then fade into the other clouds, a dear friend passed later that day. When mother passed in April it was a rabbit lying on its back, feet up, laughing at a butterfly above it. Her nickname in childhood was Bunny. Life in the clouds..

9 becky hazlett { 07.21.16 at 8:33 pm }

I just enjoy their beauty.see nothing but serenity/peace.

10 miqui { 07.21.16 at 4:02 pm }

I see images in all sorts of things. I thought it just meant I have a wonderful imagination!

11 Yvonne { 07.20.16 at 2:32 pm }

Thanks for your response. Could you please give me some scripture references? Blessing to you –

12 Joann { 07.20.16 at 1:19 pm }

Looks like knowledge of the scriptures would be helpful in understanding that many images in the skies are actually real images. Yes angels are real, yes, they can be seen.

13 Ali { 07.20.16 at 10:43 am }

I think our brains are programmed to see faces. Wish I could post a picture of this. I was burning of a piece of cedar in firepit and there was an image of a dog. Very interesting.

14 Susan Higgins { 02.02.16 at 9:53 pm }

Hi Davina, I do too! It’s such an interesting thing.

15 Davina { 01.31.16 at 6:24 pm }

Thank you for this article. I have the auditory version. I’m so glad I’m not crazy..

16 Dr Stanley III { 10.21.15 at 9:56 pm }

Farmers and all humans are always to plant TREES. Fruits nuts berry all lifelong. Eat a peach bend over plant the seed eat another peach one day…basics…ha

17 Filomena { 09.15.15 at 5:13 pm }

Thank goodness for this article,I thought I was crazy! See things on the clouds all the time,so funny.

18 victor { 09.05.15 at 6:11 pm }

you say pareidolia is an imagined image in a cloud.
i can understand it if I just look at it and pareidolia makes me believe I am seeing a face.
Where it gets odd is the fact that I took a photo on my phone and it is a proper face and everyone I show it to can see it.
Explain please.
Victor.

19 Kenneth { 07.26.15 at 10:46 am }

This is one fantastic articale.I personally see many different shapes in all types of places and things like rocks. I can see an owl wearing glasses and landing with wings fully expanded in the middle top pic of Pluto.Thank you so much for the cool info on pareidolia

20 Marcia Darsey { 07.23.15 at 2:44 pm }

Thank you for this article. I have seen images in all kinds of things all of my life. I have often wondered if anyone else did this. I hung a curtain over the window of my front door. When I look at it I see a mouse wearing a bonnet. But on certain days, I see my mother’s face. Neither picture is printed on it, just a swirl of shades of blues and tans.

21 Dan { 07.23.15 at 8:21 am }

Would you be interested in my art I’m able to display. Since visiting Dali’s art museum I now see detailed faces in all of life’s creations. I’m able to forward an example this in my Mount Everest book.
I look forward to hearing from you.

Many Thanks

Dan

Sent from my iPhone

22 smoors2007 { 07.23.15 at 5:34 am }

Very cool article. Lots of great info! Can’t wait to go out and see what I can see in the clouds today! Pluto does look like it has a heart! Have a great day!

23 Colorado Slim { 07.22.15 at 7:23 pm }

You cracked me up with the smiley electrical sockets, Amber. Strangely, my pareidolia is: when I see your photo I’m seeing Christina Ricci in profile!

24 Gary { 07.22.15 at 10:02 am }

i have seen clouds resembling different objects but the markings on the planet Pluto, yes it is a planet, doesn’t resemble a heart or a dog to me, just light and dark areas.

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