|Image courtesy of Wikipedia.|
How many of you have played "Stairway to Heaven" backward, hoping to hear the infamous Satanic message supposed to be included?
Oh, here's to my sweet Satan.
The one whose little path would make me sad, whose power is Satan.
He will give those with him 666.
There was a little tool shed where he made us suffer, sad Satan.
This is one version of what you will supposedly hear if you play the song backwards, allegedly inserted by a process called backward masking. Swan Song Records, Robert Plant, and Led Zeppelin's audio engineer have denied it, but in 1982 the Consumer Protection and Toxic Materials Committee of the California State Assembly held a hearing where the song was played backwards. William Yarroll, who claimed he was a neuroscientific researcher, declared the backward message was decipherable by the human brain.
|Very old, thick ivy wrapping around a tree looks like a person |
clinging to it. Image courtesy of Roger Griffith/Wikipedia.
This false perception is known as pareidolia, which also includes seeing patterns, especially human faces, in random inanimate objects. Seeing Jesus in a cheeto or a grilled cheese is part of this (known as the "cheesuses"). Looking for animals in clouds is pareidolia, but most commonly we hear of religious figures being found in food, wood, and other objects.
This is not really surprising, as the brain is basically a processor for facial images. It was necessary for early man to recognize friend or foe when he came upon another person. But a side effect of this ability is seeing faces (or figures) in things where there are none:
|A cardboard box looks surprised and unhappy. Image courtesy of Alexander Gee/Wikipedia.|
|An example of a "cheesus" - Jesus in a cheeto. Image courtesy this site.|
Pareidolia is a form of apophenia, the experience of seeing patterns or making meaningful connections in random data. The German psychiatrist and neurologist, Klaus Conrad, coined the term in 1958. He described it as "the unmotivated seeing of connections" which is associated with a "specific experience of an abnormal meaningness". Today it is considered the human tendency to seek patterns randomly, including religion, gambling, and paranormal phenomena.
|Even a child would say this is a face. But in reality it is two|
circles and a line within a larger circle. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
As Conrad originally described this, it was part of the distortion of reality in psychosis. The meaning has now broadened to describe a human tendency without the implication of mental illness. As human intelligence has evolved, so did seeking patterns. Randomness became confused with organization since random data can contain accidental patterns. Our intellect is not evolved enough to recognize randomness, so our instincts tell us that if we can make sense of something, it's not random.
|The Virgin Mary was seen in this pancake. Image courtesy of Batter Blaster/Wikipedia.|
Apophenia is the most commonly used rationale behind gambling, when people see patterns in the numbers of lotteries, cards, or roulette wheels. "Gambler's Fallacy", aka "Monte Carlo Fallacy" (named for a famous incident in 1913 in a Monte Carlo casino), is the belief that deviations from the expected occur repeatedly in a random process, then future deviations will be opposite. In other words, if you are flipping a coin and it keeps coming up heads, then in the future it will come up tails. If a slot machine doesn't pay out for a long time, it is overdue for a win.
"Synchronicity" is the term Carl Jung used for the likelihood of various kinds of coincidences in events. Such as unexpectedly seeing someone whom you've just thought or talked about. Or considering buying a certain make and model of car, then seeing them everywhere on the road. Attempts to find patterns within coincidences involves apophenia.
|An Apache head is seen in this outcropping of rocks. Image courtesy of Erwan Mirabeau/Wikipedia.|
Other examples are foretelling the future from tea leaves, animal entrails, tossing sticks, or picking random passages from a book. A more extreme example is the pareidolia of finding faces or figures of religious characters in objects, although any figure or face is an example.
|The Virgin Mary is seen in this melted candle. Image courtesy of KTLA.com.|
|The figure of Jesus is seen in this folded up umbrella. Image courtesy of Jeffrey Morgan.|
Some real examples of this phenomena include finding Jesus in a halved potato, Jesus and Mary in a halved orange, Jesus on the front on a car window or the lid of a jar of Marmite. But one of the most famous are the grilled cheese Jesuses:
|One of the many cheesuses found. Image courtesy of grilledcheesejesus.com.|
|This very piece of toasted cheese sandwich, apparently never disintegrating|
or going moldy since 1994, sold on eBay for $28,000 in 2004. The item got
1.7 million hits, but was awarded to an internet casino. Image courtesy Goldenpalace.com.
Rorschach tests are also considered images of pareidolia, albeit used by psychologists seeking thought disorders and to examine personality characteristics. In the 60s this was the most widely used test. It is also called the "inkblot test", and precedents go back to da Vinci, however Rorschach's were the first systematic approach to this kind of interpretation.
|#1 image in the Rorschach test. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.|
As to "Stairway to Heaven"...well, sorry but no intentional backward masking there. But what may be scary is Bill Murray's version of the song when sung by his lounge singer persona...
|Image courtesy of radioparadis.com.|