The Skeptical Teacher

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

Visions of Michael Jackson?

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 1, 2009

I ran across this video from CNN.com – it shows a strange looking cloud formation over New York City.  At the 1:25 mark in the video, the reporter goes on about how many people see the face of the recently-deceased Michael Jackson in these clouds…

michael jackson pareidolia

Mmmm-kay… I’m not seeing it.  But then, I was never a big fan of MJ in the first place.  And, of course, if you had never even heard of or seen a picture of MJ, then the blob in the clouds above would likely look to you like… well, like a blob.

These clouds are called mammatus clouds, and they are more common than you might think.  It’s just that they’re not that common around New York City, which is why so many people there reacted as they did.  So, there’s nothing particularly strange there.  But what about some people claiming to see MJ’s face in these clouds?

Well, one can “see” all manner of things in the clouds, but the interesting fact is that we only happen to “see” familiar things.  In fact, we humans are very good at seeing things that aren’t actually there – it’s the result of a kind of hard-wired pattern recognition feature of our brains, and it results in a phenomenon called pareidolia. Pareidolia accounts for all manner of similar illusions – seeing the Virgin Mary on a grill-cheese sandwich, for example.

Expect to hear more stories about the King of Pop popping up in all manner of places in the future.  People will likely “see” MJ where they want (either consciously or unconsciously) to see him, even though he’s dead as a doornail.  I just hope they don’t read any greater significance into it than this – our brains & sensory organs have evolved to recognize patterns, even the patterns of things that aren’t real.

But, hope as I may, it is likely that when such “sightings” of MJ are made, the “true believers” will make a shrine to the fallen pop god, in much the same way as other true believers make shrines to the Virgin Mary. The local media will make hay out of such silliness for as long as they can milk the news cycle, and then it’ll die off – until the next “sighting”.

Human psychology sure is an interesting thing, isn’t it?

3 Responses to “Visions of Michael Jackson?”

  1. […] It is posited that changes in each topic’s viability, or “fitness”, directly affects the likelihood of that topic eventuating from the depths of the skeptic’s mind and being transformed into a written medium. Thus, any posts that do eventuate must be the most viable in that generation of skeptical thoughts, such as ones about “The Bell Curve” or seeing Michael Jackson’s face in the clouds. […]

  2. […] Tip o’ the sequined fedora to Skeptical Teacher. […]

  3. […] ghost of Jacko spotted I posted this story the other day in a thread http://skepticalteacher.wordpress.co…chael-jackson/ Well he's been spotted again… this time on a car reflection […]

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