“(Concord, NH) The Old Man of the Mountain, the enduring symbol of New Hampshire is no more. Sometime between Friday evening and Saturday morning the stone profile that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, collapsed. On Saturday, May 3 at approximately 7:30am, two Franconia Notch State Park employees noticed that the Old Man of the Mountain had collapsed. At this time it appears as though the forehead and the nose are missing.” NH Parks & Recreation
Grieving for the passing of the Old Man is widespread. Concord (NH) Monitor. Some point out, rightly, that we should take it as an object lesson in the mutability of the natural grandeur we too easily take for granted. The rock had been rotten and shored up with cables and netting to hold its familiar profile intact for a long time; while some are surprised it crumbled, it was an accident waiting to happen. There is talk about rebuilding it, which I think would be a profanity. Instead, go deep into the mountains and, if you must, find other ‘rock faces’ with whose visages you can commune as intently. They are out there…
In a related vein, does anyone else know and delight in the “Simulacra Corner” feature of Fortean Times? Readers regularly send in photos of natural features that resemble faces, beings, etc. Spirits surely move across the face of the wild…
And: The Folklorist’s Pareidolia Collection: “I have recently uploaded my collection of hundreds of pareidolic images (pareidolia / simulacra) for everyone to view. The data includes images, articles, bibliographic information and other articles and links that I have found relevant to the study of this phenomena. [ Pareidolia: Misperception of an ambiguous stimulus as something specific (e.g.- seeing Jesus in the burn marks of a tortilla, or the face of Satan in the World Trade Center smoke)].”
Related to pareidolia is the concept of apophenia:
Apophenia is the spontaneous perception of connections and meaningfulness of unrelated phenomena. The term was coined by K. Conrad in 1958 (Brugger).
Peter Brugger of the Department of Neurology, University Hospital, Zurich, gives examples of apophenia from August Strindberg’s Occult Diary, the playwright’s own account of his psychotic break:
He saw “two insignia of witches, the goat’s horn and the besom” in a rock and wondered “what demon it was who had put [them] … just there and in my way on this particular morning.” A building then looked like an oven and he thought of Dante’s Inferno.
He sees sticks on the ground and sees them as forming Greek letters which he interprets to be the abbreviation of a man’s name and feels he now knows that this man is the one who is persecuting him. He sees sticks on the bottom of a chest and is sure they form a pentagram.
He sees tiny hands in prayer when he looks at a walnut under a microscope and it “filled me with horror.”
His crumpled pillow looks “like a marble head in the style of Michaelangelo.” Strindberg comments that “these occurrences could not be regarded as accidental, for on some days the pillow presented the appearance of horrible monsters, of gothic gargoyles, of dragons, and one night … I was greeted by the Evil One himself….”
According to Brugger, “The propensity to see connections between seemingly unrelated objects or ideas most closely links psychosis to creativity … apophenia and creativity may even be seen as two sides of the same coin.” Some of the most creative people in the world, then, must be psychoanalysts and therapists who use projective tests like the Rorschach test or who see patterns of child abuse behind every emotional problem. Brugger notes that one analyst thought he had support for the penis envy theory because more females than males failed to return their pencils after a test. Another spent nine pages in a prestigious journal describing how sidewalk cracks are vaginas and feet are penises, and the old saw about not stepping on cracks is actually a warning to stay away from the female sex organ.
Brugger’s research indicates that high levels of dopamine affect the propensity to find meaning, patterns, and significance where there is none, and that this propensity is related to a tendency to believe in the paranormal. New Scientist
In statistics, apophenia is called a Type I error, seeing patterns where none, in fact, exist. It is highly probable that the apparent significance of many unusual experiences and phenomena are due to apophenia, e.g., EVP, numerology, the Bible code, anomalous cognition, ganzfeld “hits”, most forms of divination, the prophecies of Nostradamus, remote viewing, and a host of other paranormal and supernatural experiences and phenomena. SkepDic
And so to William Gibson:
“…(He) had treated paranoia as though it were something to be domesticated and trained. Like someone who’d learned how best to cope with chronic illness, he never allowed himself to think of his paranoia as an aspect of self. It was there, constantly and intimately, and he relied on it professionally, but he wouldn’t allow it to spread, become jungle. He cultivated it on its own special plot, and checked it daily for news it might bring: hunches, lateralisms, frank anomalies.
Is (this) a frank anomaly?
Only, she decides, if she thinks of herself as the center, the focal point of something she doesn’t, can’t understand. That had always been (his) first line of defense, within himself: to recognize that he was only a part of something larger. Paranoia, he said, was fundamentally egocentric, and every conspiracy theory served in some way to aggrandize the believer.
But he was also fond of saying, at other times, that even paranoid schizophrenics have enemies.
The danger, she supposes, is a species of apophenia…”
— William Gibson, Pattern Recognition
Gibson is fond of the concept, as a Google search reveals.
Counselling and Help for People with Unusual Experiences, Dr. Martina Belz-Merk, Outpatient Clinic (Ambulanz) of the Psychological Institute at the University of Freiburg
A review: Hauntings and Poltergeists: Multidisciplinary Perspectives, James Houran & Rense Lange, (eds.), Macfarlane & Co, 2001, ISBN 0 7864 0984 3.
In this meaty tome, 19 writers – some accepting the existence of the paranormal, others denying it – approach the subject of hauntings and poltergeists from the points of view of physics, physiology, psychology, sociology, history and cultural studies. John Beloff in his Forword quotes from Gauld and Cornell’s 1979 work, Poltergeists, and the quotation deserves to be repeated here more fully:
“One cannot deny that, logically speaking, undetected trickery, undetected natural causes, undetected malobservation and undetected lying may lie behind all reports of poltergeist phenomena. But to assume without supporting evidence, and despite numerous considerations [..] to the contrary, that they do lie behind them, is to insulate one’s beliefs in this sphere from all possibility of modification from the cold contact of chastening facts. It is to adopt the paranoid stance of the flat-earther or the religious fanatic, who can ‘explain away’ all the awkward facts which threaten his system of delusions.”