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October 28 2012

What makes us see Jesus in a taco, or a human face on Mars?

Photographer Todd Terwilliger calls this picture "Skull Flower," for reasons that should be obvious. Its resemblance to a human cranium is, of course, purely coincidental yet the urge for our minds to register this plant as a piece of human anatomy is all but impossible to resist. But why?

The one-word answer, as some of you may know, is "pareidolia." But here's what you don't know: scientists this week presented some of the most compelling evidence to date that this pscyhological phenomenon is mediated by a region of the brain known as the fusiform gyrus. How did they find this culprit? Simple: by jolting that part of the brain with electricity, and watching their test subject's perception of reality liquefy into mind-bending absurdity.

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