Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pareidolia: Screaming at the Void

this is another old chestnut from the archives..but it seems pertinent via the discussion regarding abstraction/form..etc.

Kicking around the galleries lately I've been seeing alot of faces. Paintings have been staring back at me..following me as I walk around the room. It's spooky. Aside from an eerie humaness, what seems to be operative in all of these pieces is a visual trope in which the parts and the whole of the picture are in a Phyrric contest for dominance that finds no resolution. This reminds me of the frisson between the philosophical concepts of Nominalism and Realism. The doctrine of Nominalism holds that abstract concepts, general terms, or universals have no independent existence but exist only as names. This would be contrasted to Philosophical Realism, which holds that when we use descriptive terms such as "green" or "tree," the Forms of those concepts really exist, independently of the world in an abstract realm. The paintings in question refuse to be accepted either as parts or as wholes(named objects.."faces"), but instead vibrate between the two-which curiosly recalls the nature of light, alternately described as a wave or particle..some physicists have even referred to it as a "wavicle". Remeber that Arcimboldo famously made faces out of vegetables, and Dali made skulls out of nudes..both image systems operate on the same principle. Getting back to my point, what's exciting about nominalism and it's relationship to pareidolia (the tendency to see faces in random stimuli), is the illustration of one of the perennial problems of philosophy. For example, I often wonder how "society" can phenomenologically be experienced, if it is nothing more than a loose collection of individuals with various beliefs, attitudes, and values. "America" is just an idea, held in various terms by all those who engage in this peculiarly amorphous concept. Conversely, in crude, literal terms one could point to the geographic border of this country for an answer, but this would be ignoring all of those "Non-Americans" that reside within it's borders and contribute to the operation of the concept of "America". It's a problem in perception that's not going away any time soon, but mostly it illustrates that people see really what they wan't to see...what is convenient to them, and what doesn't contradict with the beliefs that they have curently found truth in.

So you can see the face or you can see it's parts..or hopefully you can see them all at once. By doing so you recognize that no "thing" that one can point to and name in the world can really only be that thing. Nothing can be taken at "face" value (excuse the lame pun). It's better to acknowledge the trap door behind every belief or phenomena that leads to the pre-linguistic nuomena that ultimately is closer to the source of all that is. Buddhists call this shunyata..and we could clumsily translate this as "void"..although the connotation is negative only in verbal form. Looking into random patterns we see faces staring back at us because we are human. This is why the Christian God is an old man with a white beard, and also why teleologists believe that this is all going somehwere. As an artists and thinker, my message becomes more and more clear..to point out that although nature is not a mirror..we are nature..and the universe is us. When you look into the void..the void stares back, and this reminds me of what my friend Steve Canaday usually says about Voids: it's best to confront them head on by raising a knife, screaming at the top of your lungs...and running straight at them.


  • Cauda Draconis


  • Pareidolia (pronounced /pɛɹaɪˈdoliə/ or /pæraɪˈdəʊliə/), first used in 1994 by Steven Goldstein, describes a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being mistakenly perceived as recognizable. Common examples include images of animals or faces in clouds, seeing the man in the moon, and hearing messages on records played in reverse. The word comes from the Greek para- – amiss, faulty, wrong – and eidolon – image, the diminutive of eidos – appearance, form.

    As a survival technique, Human beings are "hard-wired" from birth to identify the human face. This allows people to use only minimal details to recognize faces from a distance and in poor visibility, but can also lead them to interpret random images or patterns of light and shade as being faces. Skeptics assert that sightings of religious or iconic figures in everyday objects, such as Marian apparitions, are examples of pareidolia, as are some cases of electronic voice phenomena. The Face on Mars is a phenomenon that succeeded the Martian canals, both eventually attributed to pareidolia, when the "seen" images disappeared in better and more numerous images. Many Canadians thought they saw the face of the Devil in the Queen's hair on a dollar bill in the 1954 series, adapted from a photograph. The bills were not withdrawn from circulation, but the image was altered in its next printing.
  • Fortean Times examples of pareidolia in nature
  • 3 comments:

    RichardTScott said...

    Gauguin also placed faces throughout his paintings. It certainly does utilize the psychological phenomenon to create visual tension.

    On another note, wasn't it Michelangelo who supposedly created the shroud of Turin? A most intriguing example of the power of Pareidolia in culture.

    Jacques de Beaufort said...

    I thought it was da vinci..?

    RichardTScott said...

    I've heard both, but now that I checked it out I think the major theory is that it was da Vinci.