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

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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  • Michelle says:

    I see and smell and hear this constantly people call me a retarded I’m starting to feel that Maby there right I now keep all inside and never tell people nothing now I always feel so alone..

  • Andi Renee says:

    I see faces and full bodied people doing different things in clouds and most nature subjects….what I would like to ask is if others experience the picture changing the longer when looked at. More defined, added faces and objects appear??

    • Laura says:

      It’s always my deceased father’s face I see in everything clouds nature glass etc

    • Guest says:

      Hi Andy, your sentence triggered in my memory lane today how as a child I used to see family scenes being projected in sky. This is different than actually seeing faces in cloud. Did that ever happen to you?

  • frank mcnutt says:

    there is another word for seeing images in clouds. Though, I have NOT been able to find / locate it anywhere. THIS site is the first that may help me.
    The word also has Greek origins and contains – as I recall – stems for the word cat(s) and something else, which I can not recall. I do remember that it ends with -ia! So there, can you assist me?

  • Paul says:

    me and my mrs sit out in the garden a lot, recently i told her that i see faces in clouds…….that was all i saw, just faces, she burst out laughing when i said that i wondered if there was an name for it.
    its a small crumb but a crumb of comfort anyway to know that i was right !

    • Susan Higgins says:

      Yes, Paul! Our brains are always trying to assimilate to something familiar. It happens to all of us all the time.

  • Leshi Buchanan says:

    Oh my this was so amazing to me I hear and see the images always thought it was a little strange only have discussed it with a few but to know there is name for it that I just discovered today is awsome

  • Pamela Harless says:

    When my husband passed away I came home from the hospital there over the house was a beautiful cloud, an angel with wings. I took a picture and showed it to everyone , we all cried we knew he was watching over us may God bless him James Michael Harless.

  • Jolene Tewalt says:

    I have my own theory as to why I see faces and images in so many things.. I am an artist. I notice both light and shadows. Shading is just as important as light to form your image perception. I have artist friends that agree with me..

  • Patricia Gray says:

    I saw two images of 2 human clouds and a shape of a horse it was amazing.

  • Tycene wilson says:

    I have been doing this for a long time. Beautiful daytime puffy clouds, sunsets-omg u should see my latest sunset pics taken aprox 2 wks ago, there’s so many different things in this one that its almost like I’m being given a sign, kinda scares me, crazy i know. .one of my long tome friends is amazed at what i come up with and now she’s trying it to. If anyone would like to see some of my stuff let me know, i love sharing , and maybe u could offer me some helpful advise on why i have always been able to do this. Something else that’s always happened to me is that Sometimes i get woke up out of a deep sleep, almost like someone woke me up to advise me that something bad was going to happen. Then in a couple days to a wk Sometimes something bad does happen, every time. Am i nuts?

  • nathan dunning says:

    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.

  • Cynthia says:

    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.

  • june rockhold says:

    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.

  • Joan Wanner says:

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

  • Amy Rose Gill says:

    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?

  • I see images all the time in the clouds especially when asking for a sign. says:

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

  • Mari Lou says:

    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..

  • becky hazlett says:

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

  • miqui says:

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

  • Joann says:

    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.

    • Yvonne says:

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

  • Ali says:

    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.

  • Davina says:

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

  • Dr Stanley III says:

    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

  • Filomena says:

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

  • victor says:

    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.

  • Kenneth says:

    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

  • Marcia Darsey says:

    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.

  • Dan says:

    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

  • smoors2007 says:

    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!

  • Colorado Slim says:

    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!

  • Gary says:

    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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