Measured Against Reality

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Seeing Faces

I found this site interesting. Not because I happen to find ghosts interesting, they’re a ridiculous and fairly easily refuted superstition, but rather because pictures like those demonstrate how good the human brain is at picking out faces. So good, in fact, that we tend to see them where the don’t exist.

For a good example, look at all of the “apparitions” of Jesus or the Virgin Mary on different objects, from toast to tortillas. I remember seeing one where a shadow falling across some rocks supposedly looked like JFK, but at another time it was clearly just a pile of rocks. The infamous “Mars Face” is another example. The point is that we have this built-in face recognition software, and because false positives are much better than false negatives, we tend to see faces where there aren’t any.

Most of those ghost pictures are just shadows falling in a strange way. I find it funny how some people see what is quite easily explained by shadows, grainy film, and a misfire in a our face detection software, and jump to the conclusion that it’s a ghost.

The same can be said of our ability to detect intention. Because we live among agents that have intentions, we have to be able to infer what those intentions are. We can get false positives from nature, infer design or intent where there isn’t any. There are some interesting consequences of this, but that’s for another post.

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  • There's also this face, a little closer to home (Medicine Hat, Alberta):,-110.113585&spn=0.004895,0.009978&t=h&om=1

    Very cool stuff!

    By Blogger Thursday, at 9:49 PM, November 05, 2006  

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