Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant. Common examples include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds, The Man in the Moon or the Moon rabbit, and hearing hidden messages on records when played in reverse. It also makes miracles happen when people think they found the Virgin Mary or Jesus Christ in a piece of toast !
The word comes from the Ancient Greek words para (παρά, “beside, alongside, instead”) and the noun eidōlon (εἴδωλον), diminutive of eidos (εἶδος, “visible form”). It’s a ‘secondary’ form appearing instead of the ‘real’ one. But you could say the ‘real’ form is already an interpretation ! And sometimes the first interpretation of your brain is not the good one (or even not the only one !)… Basically, pareidolia is not by itself right or wrong, it’s simply the process of seeing patterns in random data. Without pareidolia, you wouldn’t be able to recognize a familiar face in a crowd. You wouldn’t even be able to see it’s a face !…
There are a lot of ways to perceive or transform your reality with pareidolia, whether you are aware of using it or not. You can also improvise a drawing from a doodle through pareidolia. But the easiest and most popular kind of pareidolia is, still, imagining creatures in the clouds. You can see good examples with photographs by Richard Carlson here :
Photo : © Dr. R. E. Carlson