The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Martian Madness

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 4, 2009

Recently, while I was hanging around on the JREF Forum – an awesome place to go chat about science, skepticism, and critical thinking – someone posted the following image, taken by the NASA Spirit rover, from the surface of Mars…

PD*28522608

What, if anything, do you see?  If you’re like me, you see a rocky surface with a particularly big rock (relatively speaking) right in the middle of the photograph.

Well, it seems that some in the UFO-alien woo crowd has decided that this image constitutes “evidence” of past or present alien intelligence on Mars, because – here it comes – the “rock” in the middle of the picture is actually an alien skull.

Never mind the fact that no one has ever actually seen an alien skull, which begs the obvious question of how you even know what to look for, but a much more plausible explanation – in keeping with Occam’s Razor – is likely.  This is another classic case of pareidolia, defined at the Skeptic’s Dictionary as…

Pareidolia is a type of illusion or misperception involving a vague or obscure stimulus being perceived as something clear and distinct. For example, in the discolorations of a burnt tortilla one sees the face of Jesus Christ. Or one sees the image of Mother Teresa or Ronald Reagan in a cinnamon bun or a man in the moon.

Under ordinary circumstances, pareidolia provides a psychological explanation for many delusions based upon sense perception. For example, it explains many UFO sightings, as well as the hearing of sinister messages on records played backwards. Pareidolia explains Elvis, Bigfoot, and Loch Ness Monster sightings. It explains numerous  religious apparitions and visions. And it explains why some people see a face or a building in a photograph of the Cydonia region of Mars.

So, there you have it – another amusing example of UFO-alien proponents bleating on and on about something which really only seems to exist within their heads.  It won’t be long before someone – my guess is uber-woo Richard Hoagland – claims that NASA is part of a conspiracy to cover up the “truth” of intelligent alien life on Mars.

While I would very much like there to be intelligent alien life on Mars, wishing does not make it so. But what is clear to me is that, at least among some of my fellow homo sapiens, there seems to be a lack of intelligence.

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4 Responses to “Martian Madness”

  1. Laurie T. said

    This is funny! Hey, I’ve tried to email you a couple times, with an idea. Will you email me so we can chat? Thanks Matt!!

  2. DEAR MATTUSMAXIMUS,
    YOU DON`T CONVINCE ME AT ALL.
    YOUR SKEPTICISM IS SO ABSOLUTE AND RADICAL THAT YOUR ARTICLE SEEMS (IN MANY WAYS) LIKE
    THOSE RADICAL ARTICLES OF THESE RELIGION PEOPLE (EX:TALIBANS) THAT ULTIMATELY YOU TRY TO DISCREDIT.
    YOU,LIKE TALIBANS, ALREADY KNOWS ALL THE TRUTHS OF THIS WORLD!!!PLEASE,….
    IN THIS SENSE, YOU ARE ONE OF THOSE FANATIC BELIEVERS OF
    THE RELIGION CALLED “SCEPTICISM” (SCEPTICISM IS FOR YOU LIKE A DOGMATIC TRUTH-AND THIS IS VERY,VERY,VERY IRRATIONAL).
    YOU DON`T BELIEVE IN UFOs,ALIENS,ETC…? OK…NO PROBLEMS…BUT
    (IN MY OPINION)YOU CANNOT CONSIDER ALL THE PEOPLE THAT AFFIRMS TO HAVE SEEN UFOs (INCLUDING THE MOON ASTRONAUT EDGAR MITCHELL)LIKE POOR
    CRAZY MEN AND WOMEN AFFLICTED WITH “PAREIDOLIA”.
    THIS IT IS AN UNSCIENTIFIC ATTITUDE FROM YOUR SIDE BECAUSE NODODY KNOWS FOR SURE WHAT IS THE REAL TRUTH BRHIND THESE THINGS.
    UNFORTUNATELY (FOR YOU) THE WORLD AND THE UNIVERSE IT`S A PLACE MOR COMPLICATED THAT YOU (AND I) CAN EVER IMAGINE …AND YOUR
    “PARAIDOLIA” IS CERTAINLY NOT THE RIGHT ANSWER TO ALL THE MISTERIES OF
    OUR BEATIFUL WORLD.
    KEEP YOUR MIND OPEN AND YOU WILL SURELY BE HAPPIER.
    YOURS SINCERELY,
    DR. KATHRINE MARTINEZ-MARTIGNONI (ZÜRICH-SWITZERLAND-EUROPE).

    • mattusmaximus said

      You misunderstand what it means to be skeptical. Skepticism doesn’t mean cynicism or dogmatism. I am willing to be convinced of the existence of intelligent aliens – quite an extraordinary claim – IF that claim is backed up by reliable & extraordinary evidence. Unfortunately, I have never seen any evidence which reaches the deservedly high standard to confidently conclude the existence of such aliens (especially those who have supposedly visited Earth).

      DR. KATHRINE MARTINEZ said:

      KEEP YOUR MIND OPEN AND YOU WILL SURELY BE HAPPIER.

      Keeping an open mind is fine, just so long as your brains don’t fall out ;)

  3. [...] Martian Madness [...]

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