Monday, November 19, 2012

Pareidolias and Geography: From Seeing Something in Nothing to Actually Seeing Something

Pareidolias are "psychological phenomenon" in which a person sees something else or additional things in a object.  A good example is children looking at clouds and seeing what looks like to be a dog, house, or any other random thing.  Some argue that trying to find hidden things in standard environments is a natural survival tool which allowed early humans to be on the look out for predators hiding in the bush and jungle.  Others, like Anglican theologian C.S. Lewis believed humans were still quasi-aware of a larger cosmos full of other things therefore some pareidolia were actually either hidden messages or our everyday lives and the cosmos intersecting (this belief is similar to the Muslim belief in Djinn).

This post is not so much about whether or not some parediolias (everyone is entitled to their opinion) are real but more about the relationship between pareidolias and geography.  There are several intersections with one surprising exception.

Micro-level Geography

Every here of places like "Buffalo Ridge", "Old Man in the Mountain", or "Fist Rock",wonder why places were named that and received the reply of "Well, it looks like a Buffalo."  When a physical feature looks like something else it makes naming, whether official or not, and remembering the place easier.  This level of colloquial geography is encountered almost on a daily level and is very familiar to most people.  While now days most geographic pareidolias are thought of as just coincidences, some parediolias fit into mythologies and stories.  The salt pillars in Israel are tied to the story of God's destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah while the Sleeping Giant in Canada is part of traditional Ojibway lore.  Today, the Bosnian "pyramids" are the biggest on-going example of a geographic paredolia (excluding all the Google Maps 'Atlantis found" stories which come and go).

Satellite imagery has opined up a new front for pareidolias.  People combing through imagery have found things.  Some are believed to be real by a few people while others are thought of as just funny coincidences. Examples of these are the face on Mars, Jesus as the King of the Jews in Saudi Arabia, and the Indian head with an iPod in Canada.

Macro-level Geography

The previously discussed ley lines haunt those who work in the subfield of folk geography.  Some people claim that places are interconnected and either a god or ancient man made the region's physical geography to be somesort of giant outdoor temple.  English seem to be the biggest fans of ley lines.  English have always had an exceptionalism about themselves and some geographers believe their island separateness is the root cause of this belief.  This exceptionalism is common when discussing the English love for nature and the island of Great Britain (i.e. geography).  Examples include the affection for natural Druidism (ranging from neo-paganism including Wicca to the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury being a member of a "druid" history club), Anglicanism (a 1500s-created church that claimed/claims to be the pre-Roman (c)atholic church of Celtic Christianity allegedly native to England) and ley lines.

Continental-level Geography

There have been very few claims of hidden objects in the shape of the continents.  The exception is Abraham Ortelius (1596), Alfred Wegener (1912), and others independently noting how South America and Africa look like they could fit together.  These scientists proposed that the continents once fit together and then moved apart.  This view was long viewed as pseudo-science until continental drift became the excepted theory of geography and geology in the mid-1900s.

*Bonus Section:  Art*

The artist Olly Moss created a series of retro-style movie posters.  One of the posters was for the film American Werewolf in London which use a pareidolia in a map.  Moss was able to fit a werewolf image into the map of the British Isles by subtly changing the English western coast line between Scotland and Wales, playing with the geography of the Isle of Man, and adding an extra island in the Irish Sea.  (Try to see if you can spot all the changes)

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