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Pareidolia in Subjective Experience

Faces in cloud


‘Pareidolia’  refers to the tendency to see faces in a cloud — to  perceive specific, often meaningful, images in random or ambiguous visual patterns. 

We see faces in clouds because the human brain is organized to perceive faces.   But pareidolia also relates to one of the most basic functions of the brain/mind:  it organizes information into patterns and then applies those templates to the unfolding field of experience.  New experience is always and necessarily filtered through the template of our past experience.  This is what Daniel J. Siegel calls the “top-down” construction of experience.

In this broad sense, pareidolia reflects a basic feature of human subjectivity:   What we perceive as real is inherently biased by the organizing principles, ideas, and views in the mind.   The implication of this idea is profound: No experience can ever be completely objective or “just as it is”.  As the philosopher Heisenberg posited in his famous ‘uncertainty principle’, the process of observation itself intrinsically affects the nature of what is observed.

In the domain of human relationships, there is a similar phenomenon.  Our past experience is encoded and then becomes automatically superimposed on every new situation.   This becomes transference and projection in the domain of human relationships.  




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