The tendency for incorrect perception of a stimulus as an object, pattern or meaning known to the observer, such as seeing shapes in clouds, faces in inanimate objects or abstract patterns or hearing hidden messages in music. – Wikipedia
If you’ve looked up at the clouds in the sky and thought you could see a face or an old lady, then you are looking at pareidolia.
The science behind it is that the human brain is uniquely wired to recognise faces, so that even if there is a slight suggestion of facial features, the brain will automatically interpret it as a face.
Not everyone can see faces in everyday things, but if you can, it’s said to be the sign of a well-wired brain.
Perhaps the most common form of pareidolia is seeing faces in the front of cars.
Buildings are another popular choice, with lots of examples available:
Another phenomenon is people seeing faces burnt into slices of toast, the most popular being the face of Jesus, followed by Elvis. But don’t worry, if you would like to have toast with the face of Jesus every time, you can order a toaster that does this from Amazon:
The subject of pareidolia was even mentioned in Williams Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet with this exchange between Hamlet and Polonius:
HAMLET: Do you see yonder cloud that’s almost in the shape of a camel:
POLONIUS: By th’Mass and ’tis, like a camel indeed.
HAMLET: Methinks it is a weasel.
POLONIUS: It is backed like a weasel.
HAMLET: Or a whale.
POLONIUS: Very like a whale.
So the next time you’re washing your hands or walking down a street, keep a look out for those faces or better still take a picture!