A woman who was reading about the Notre Dame Cathedral fire on Monday couldn't believe her eyes when she spotted a religious figure in a photo of the historic church's flaming roof.
Lesley Rowan, a 38-year-old mother from Alexandria in West Dunbartonshire, Scotland, took to social media to share the photo, which she believes depicted Jesus Christ.
"I may be letting my mind play tricks on me here, folks take a close look at this picture and what do you see," she wrote on Facebook, the Daily Mail reports...
Observing message or human faces in the world around us is actually a known phenomenon called pareidolia.
Pareidolia is the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image — particularly those of religious icons — in a random or ambiguous visual pattern (i.e. spotting the Virgin Mary on a piece of toast).
A 2012 study from Finland showed that those with strong religious or paranormal beliefs were more likely to identify figures in random patterns than skeptics or atheists.
The question is: how does the brain interpret input. Our brains are pattern seekers. When we see something, the brain looks for a stored pattern to identify it. So when we see a dog, the brain checks its files, finds stored memories that are called "dog", then sends a message to the conscious level that we are seeing a dog. But the brain isn't perfect. "Close" is good enough for most cases, so our brains will often mistake one thing for another, at least for a couple of seconds until we get better input. People who have a strong emotional attachment to an image will often see that image in all sorts of places, when no one else sees it. Clouds, smoke, fire, etc. are great producers of false images because they are vague and shifting.
So, yes, the woman's interpretation of sensory input does exist in her brain. But the image did not exist outside her brain. Which is why personal experience is mostly useless when dealing with paranormal experiences, etc., and we ask for external, verifiable evidence of an event before accepting it as real. Our brains make mistakes every day, it's just that most of them aren't important and so we ignore them.