Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pareidolia of the day: Cliff's note

This time on a cliff in Ireland, by a pilot called (appropriately) Sandra Clifford:
Clifford, a pilot fron San Francisco, spotted the figure recently while visiting the famous Cliffs of Moher in County Clare with her friend, Fiona Fay.  
The two saw what Clifford thought looked like the image of Jesus on the side of one of the cliffs and she immediately snapped a photo on her digital camera.  
"I definitely felt a divine presence," Clifford told HuffPost Weird News. "To me, it was definitely a face, but I realize some people may interpret it differently."  
Clifford feels her training as a pilot has honed her vision and also taught her to be skeptical about what she sees, which is why she asked the folks around her their opinions of the cliffside Christ.  
Clifford proceeded to ask a group of German men if they could see the outline, according to, and after looking at it closely, she says they too nodded their heads in agreement, and began taking photos.  
"I am glad I asked strangers about what they saw," she told HuffPost Weird News. "I hope they come forward with their pictures as well."
This is interesting to me because how Clifford apparently defines skepticism: confirming that you are not the only person who interprets a thing you saw in a certain way. "I think I saw a face....did you see a face? Then it must have been a face!" Which, being an interpretation dependent on perception, is exactly like saying "I think the cannelloni at this restaurant is you think it's good? Then it must be good!"

The fact that some Germans agreed with her and might "come forward" with their pictures (doesn't it sound like a criminal investigation?) provides corroborating evidence for the assertion "There are some rocks on a cliff in Ireland that look like a face." It could not, however, provide any evidence at all for the assertion "This image indicates a divine presence," Clifford's feelings notwithstanding. I do wish she had asked the Germans if they also felt themselves to be in the presence of the divine, but their answer would not have affected the truth of her statement either way. The face in the rocks might actually have been that of Odin. Or Mohammad. Or Santa Claus. Or no one at all. It might be-- and very likely is-- simply an image that formed in the rocks naturally through erosion, with no intent by anyone to convey an impression of anything face-like. Cool, certainly, but not necessarily divine.

Most of us probably recall staring up at the sky as children, trying to identify shapes in the clouds. For some reason when we become adults, we tend to forget (if we ever realized in the first place) that the perception of the shapes comes from us, and not something inherent about the clouds themselves. Or the wood grain in a door, the gravel on a road, or the rocks in a cliff. Making patterns out of randomness is what humans do, and we're very very good at it.


  1. Like the Rorschach. There are frequency tables that indicate percentages of examinees who have certain perceptions of certain blots or parts of the blots.

    Some perceptions are very commonplace and some are quite rare and idiosyncratic. Regardless, the examinees are looking at inkblots, not intentional renderings of any particular thing.

    That the pilot wouldn't understand how this phenomenon works would be surprising, except when it's Jesus or Mary in a piece of toast or in a water stain in the drywall, it seems that people lose their critical judging capacity.

  2. How come you never read a report of people seeing John The Baptist on a muffin, or the side of a cliff or whatever? Its always Jesus, or the Virgin Mary.


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