Friday, January 05, 2007

I've Just Seen a Face

On January 1, I spotted the head of a triceratops in a cloud. Immediately, of course, I called my local news media to alert them to the fact that dinosaurs had not really gone extinct.

Unfortunately, the press had no time for my story because they were all drooling over another fantastic sighting. It seems that Jesus’s face was seen on the bark of a tree—the specific kind was apparently not important enough to be mentioned—in the Arlington section of Jacksonville, Florida.

While my dinosaur attracted absolutely no attention, TV camera crews and reporters flocked into Daryl Brown’s yard to catch a glimpse of the Christ. Pictures of the holy plant presence were posted on the “News4Jax” and “Local6” web sites, so viewers could decide for themselves if they agreed with Brown: "Jesus don't just pop up like that. If you know the word of Jesus and you believe in Jesus, then there you go. He does exist." An unnamed neighbor was a bit more circumspect: “I can’t say what I feel, I just feel it.”

According to the story (which was earth-shaking enough to be repeated in a number of non-Jacksonville markets, like mine), a dog-walker was the first to spot the sacred timber. She said she’s comforted knowing that the Messiah is watching over her as she strolls with her pet through the neighborhood. The news report did not mention what, if any, images she sees in her pooch’s poop.

People who spy the paraclete’s puss in a tree – or a tortilla (1978 in Lake Arthur, New Mexico), rock (2005 in Hallettsville, Texas and 2006 in Long Island, New York), paint splotch on a wall (2005 in Detroit, Michigan), dental x-ray (2004 in Phoenix, Arizona), or Pizza Hut billboard (1991 in Atlanta, Georgia) – are experiencing pareidolia. Pareidolia is the illusory perception of a recognizable pattern in a random, vague stimulus. In other words, it’s the vision of god peeking out from the trunk of a tree.

A medical name for this phenomenon, coined in 1958 by Klaus Conrad, an internationally renowned neuropsychologist and psychopatholigist, is apophenia. According to Wikipedia, Conrad called apophenia "unmotivated seeing of connections" accompanied by a "specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness." Interestingly, Conrad’s original description of apophenia applied to the kinds of distortions of reality experienced by psychotics. The word is now used more often to describe the mirages of so-called normal persons, like those of us who see prehistoric animals in clouds or genitalia in seashells.

Usually, we enjoy our sessions of apophenia alone, or perhaps share them with a loved one: “Honey, this is amazing. My wine spill looks like Mickey Mouse.” It’s only when some religious kook sees Jesus or Mary in the spaghetti sauce that the vision becomes newsworthy. Whereas no one but a nut would believe for a second that the world’s most famous rodent had appeared magically in the merlot to deliver a message of hope, allegedly sane people do become stubbornly convinced that god has embossed his picture on their belongings to show how much he loves them.

It’s nice to begin the new year with a story about religious silliness that didn’t hurt anybody, except perhaps for the birds and squirrels who will be shooed away from the savior’s woody mug. But the truly delusional Jesus-tree-huggers are not going to evanesce the way my sky-dwelling dinosaur did. We must remember that the nation’s deranged god-worshipers are constantly experiencing apophenia, seeing and hearing imaginary dangers to their nonexistent deity. They deal with their hallucinations by trying to influence our kids’ education, our neighbors’ sexual behavior, the progress of science, and the direction of our government.

Johnny Jesusseed is coming soon to a yard near you.

2 comments:

C. L. Hanson said...

Jesus might not have appeared in that lady's dog's poop, but that doesn't mean He's above using poop as a medium: here is His Divine Holiness in bird-doo form.

Paul Klein said...

Jesus in all his glory(hole)...

http://yoism.reality-movement.org/images/Penn&Teller/DogButtJesus.gif