The Toast with a Million Faces: Why People See the Virgin Mary in Breakfast.

It's Fall 1994. Florida. A woman named Diane Duyser is about to start eating her slightly burnt but perfectly edible grilled cheese sandwich, when she notices the strangest look from a woman in front in her. Feeling anxious, she calls over her husband and absent-mindedly glances down at her sandwich. And that's when she sees it.

 

Jim Caveziel's mom?


A lot of us have probably heard about the story of the Virgin Mary on a piece of toast, or about its countless spin-offs, such as Jesus on a Pan, Jesus on a Window, or Jesus on a Pizza Hut Billboard.

Jesus on a Plane!

Even the popular show Glee featured the debut of Cheesus: in a episode where one of its characters finds the image of Jesus on his cheese sandwich(Boy, Mary must be jealous) and becomes religiously inspired.

The other side has had their crack at the plate too; some might remember photos circulating of the Devil being seen in the smoke of certain pictures taken of the 9/11 attacks.

To some of us, it's a sign of the divine; to others, a tongue-in-cheek pop culture reference. But most can agree that it's a positively strange thing to come upon; a recognizable face on something that shouldn't have one of those. And it's a classic example of how our mind doesn't always play fair with us.

Known as pareidolia, this particular psychological phenomenon describes the tendency for us to see or hear familiar patterns and objects in otherwise random places, such as a slightly burnt grilled sandwich or the smoke of a burning building. It's a commonplace illusion that happens to us every day; we look up at the clouds and can see all sorts of animals or we notice that from a certain angle, the tree to the left of us looks just like our grandpa after he's had a few drinks.

"No, gramps, I'm still not married. No, nothing is wrong with me."

People are natural pattern seekers. If we weren't, we wouldn't have made it so far in the evolutionary race that is existence. Being able to recognize a predator amongst the trees or spot your fellow hunters in the tall grass, as it turns out, is a pretty damn useful adaption. So useful that we've retained those pattern recognition skills ever since those days in the hot African sun tens of thousands of years ago. Pareidolia is simply our natural talent for pattern seeking misfiring every once in a while.

Like when we were told we had drawing talent by Mom.

It's one of those quirky glitches of the human mind that we can all identify and even poke fun at. So long as we're actually aware of it. That's where it can get tricky. For the minute people's beliefs come into play, the harder it becomes for them to look at things objectively.

That funny and strange coincidence when we see our old puppy in the clouds becomes a validation of our world view when it's the Virgin Mary on a tortilla, even though the exact same mechanism is most likely behind them. This doesn't just apply to religious figures on *insert object here*, but anything supernatural. Anyone who's seen an episode of Ghost Hunters or certain You-Tube videos has probably heard of EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon), the static-filled and occasionally eerie recordings of a room or otherwise haunted location and which are touted as recordings of ghosts.

Ghost enthusiasts throw out EVP's as solid evidence that the other side is out there and trying to communicate with us. Aside from the problem that most EVP's require a good amount of editing and filtering to actually sound like recognizable speech, is the fact that the more we are looking for a meaningful pattern in seemingly random data (aka the million of noises an audio recorder might pick up in a creaky house), the more likely we will miraculously find one. Could it be evidence that spirits are trying to communicate with us through a mini-recorder? Sure. Is it extremely more likely that the same glitch we encounter every day is equally responsible for us hearing a somewhat garbled "Hi!" from a long string of static? Yeah.

 

"I'm pretty sure it just said, 'You should go back to his place, Karen.' Well, can't argue with a ghost, can we?"

We often find things in our day to day life that seem a bit off. Things, so strange or with such perfect timing, that it can't be just happenstance. It must be a sign or proof of something beyond the aether. And however unlikely, it very well might be. But we need to first give our mind and its imagination the due credit it deserves before we jump to conclusions. Just being aware of the randomness of our mind and the reasons behind it allow us to look at those strange things with a clearer head.  It also becomes easier to separate the real and beautiful patterns of life from those created out of whole cloth.

And if we can't? Well, we just might end up paying Diane Duyser $28, 000 for a grilled cheese sandwich.

 

 

Another cross-post from my personal blog, The Demon Haunted World.

It's more general skepticism, but I like to occasionally post those more religion-oriented on my blog here. Thanks.

Views: 222

Comment by Robert Karp on November 17, 2011 at 10:50am

Least we forget jebus ala dog arse.

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