Fancy yourself chomping down your mum's baked sandwich: Before you take the next mouthful of crumps, something on the sandwich strikes you, and you are stumped: Right on the sandwich, a blurry depiction of Jesus on that crusty sandwich - not very clear, but nonetheless, its Jesus!
So you rush off to inform your friends and relatives, and your mum too. She's ecstatic: After all, she'd been in the business of baking sandwiches for decades, and none of them turned out with a Jesus imprint (maybe the customers didn't care for Jesus: After all, sandwiches are meant to be palatable, not admired visually). Your friends turn up to view that crusty Jesus pastry, and one of them thinks it looks like Santa Claus (Blasphemy Alert!).
Yes, folks, Jesus, it seems, loves to manifest himself in the most incredible way (God works in mysterious ways, even if it is some edible sandwich). Welcome to the world of pareidolia: Where everything, and anything, can be viewed as a sign from the heavens.
Pareidolia: The Art of Seeing What You Want To See
First described by Steven Goldstein, pareidolia refers to a psychological reflex to view vague and random stimulants, such as unfamiliar sounds and oddly-shaped objects, with a more coherant, cognitive and logical perception. Random features and landscapes can be perceived to harbor some form of known imprint, such as the face of Jesus, even when such an imprint is non-existent.
In layman's terms, our brains has the tendency to impart some form of rationale with the information we receive, particularly with regards to our visual perception. There is a belief factor in all these: We see what we want to see because our beliefs and cultural upbringing dictates our way of perceiving the world around us.
That would explain why Christians who experience this phenomenon would always associate supposed facial images to be Jesus, Mary or some other deity instead of Zeus, Hercules or other Greek deities. Clearly, beliefs play a huge part in this case.
The Case of "Mary On A Sandwich"
Diana Duyser, from Hollywood, Florida, went about her business of grilling cheese sandwiches, and was about to finish off that one particular sandwich when, lo and behold, she stumbled onto an image of Mary on here bite-imprinted sandwich! In her own words,"I made this sandwich 10 years ago. When I took a bite out of it, I saw a face looking up at me - it was Virgin Mary starring (sic) back at me. I was in total shock."
Of course, one wouldn't treat such images with contempt! With tender loving care, she kept the toast surrounded by cotton wool, in a plastic container on a stand. Duyser claimed that although a decade old, the toast has not shown any sign of mold or crumbling, which she considered as "a miracle". It would seem to me that anyone who would want to keep sandwiches for that long a period would be considered senile. Where is the miracle coming from? Oh yes. The non-molding and uncrumbling piece of pastry.
Well, if there was to be any hope of a miracle, she did find a sucker who purchased the pasta for......US$28,000.00 on Nov 23 2004! (Gasp!)
And who was the sucker who invested that ridiculous sum of money on an old cheese sandwich? Well, believe it or not, an online casino, GoldenPalace.com purchased it. Even the pan that was used to bake that miraculous sandwich was sold on Ebay. Hell, maybe its just me, but some business-minded lady has just managed to hoodwink her way to riches.
I wouldn't doubt Ms Duyser's business acumen (I think she's damn shrewd in a way), but seriously, why do people buy into such purported nonsense?
Ms Duyser's Mary sandwich is, unfortunately, not the first case of deities supposedly manifesting themselves on mundane objects. The "Nun bun", which supposedly shown Mother Theresa on a bun (Jeez, who wants to eat that???), the Mary-holding-baby-Jesus pretzel (Holy Mother of Christ), and other Christian pastry have all served to wet the appetites of religious people, for........well I really don't have a clue as to the purpose of it all. Maybe someone with a hotline to Jesus can seek clarification.
In any case, we know that humans have the tendency to rationalize random-looking objects, but the question is, is there another reason to explain for this tendency?
According to Carl Sagan, the tendency to recognize human faces may have been encoded in our early genes, as a means to foster parent-child bond:
"As soon as the infant can see, it recognizes faces, and we now know that this skill is hardwired in our brains. Those infants who a million years ago were unable to recognize a face smiled back less, were less likely to win the hearts of their parents, and less likely to prosper. These days, nearly every infant is quick to identify a human face, and to respond with a goony grin".
While there is some kind of rationale behind this explanation, one would think that the ability to conjure false images may be akin to biological suicide: A diving eagle who perceives a rock to be a rabbit worthy of a gourmet will definitely not last very long, unless it has a very thick skull to match. Neither would it be an advantage for cheetahs to run after every moving Savannah grass in search of imaginary prey: its stamina would run out long before it catches its first gazelle.
In other words, this evolutionary trait doesn't seem to impose any sort of advantage on animal species, although humans seem to retain it as some sort of a "feel-good" factor to prevent child abandonment (which really is subjective).
The next time you find a Jesus on your pizza, remember to frame it up and keep it in good shape: It might just fetch you a tidy sum on Ebay.
"There is an universal tendency among mankind to conceive all beings like themselves, and to transfer to every object, those qualities, with which they are familiarly acquainted, and of which they are intimately conscious. We find human faces in the moon, armies in the clouds; and by a natural propensity, if not corrected by experience and reflection, ascribe malice or good- will to every thing, that hurts or pleases us." -David Hume