From The Digital Reader:
Pareidolia is the scientific term for our tendency to see faces in objects.
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Actually, pareidolia is more than that — it encompasses several phenomena, from seeing animals in cloud shapes to hearing ‘hidden messages’ on records played backwards. When presented with random or incomplete stimulus, our brains labor to find patterns or significance. So, we see faces in things that have no face.
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Similarly, I think our brains are addicted to stories, and strain mightily to find a narrative even when presented with random (or contradicting) events. We want to identify a hero and a villain, we will find some side to root for, and we imagine that every course will have a beginning, a middle, and an end. There will be a conflict, a decisive outcome, and a happy ending (or a cathartic release after tragedy). We want to tell stories, and we’ll make them out of the flimsiest of figments, connecting dots and assigning roles as required — facts be damned.
We see this in journalism — and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Finding the story or through-line can help us make sense of new and unfamiliar information, and a well crafted narrative makes the end result more readable (or watchable, in the case of documentary film). Indeed, this is why one term used for journalistic output is story, and also why History is History. (actually the etymology there is reversed – we derived ‘story’ from Greek/Latin ‘historia’)
The problem comes with the constant, always-on, 24 hour news cycle of Cable TV, newswires, and internet feeds. We are presented with so much random stimulus, our brains are begging to see the story behind it all, even when there isn’t a ‘story’ per se.
Link to the rest at The Digital Reader