Pareidolia vs apophenia

Seeing things that aren't there? It's called pareidolia | Human World

View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Helio C. Vital of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, wrote: “A friend of mine, Professor Eliane Teixeira Mársico, who is a veterinarian and a food engineer, was taking photos of her yard when she saw a hummingbird. She was struck by what she got: a remarkable example of pareidolia. The image greatly resembles a little winged male figure (a male fairy, as mystics could say) floating over her home garden.” Thank you, Eliane and Helio! Image by Eliane Teixeira Mársico.

Maybe you’ve seen the proverbial bunny in the clouds on a warm summer day, or the face of a clown in a mud splatter on the side of your car? Seeing familiar objects or patterns in otherwise random or unrelated objects or patterns is called pareidolia. It’s a form of apophenia, which is a more general term for the human tendency to seek patterns in random information. Everyone experiences it from time to time. Seeing the famous man in the moon or the canals on Mars are classic examples from astronomy. The ability to experience pareidolia is more developed in some people and less in others. Look at the photos below to learn more and test your own ability to see things that aren’t there.

EarthSky lunar calendars are back in stock! We’re guaranteed to sell out – get one while you can. Makes a great gift!

View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Peter Lowenstein in Mutare, Zimbabwe, captured these images on April 16, 2020. He wrote: “… the sunset was accompanied by the appearance of some pareidolic cumulus clouds which appeared to encroach on and devour the setting sun!” Read more about these images or see them as a video. Thank you, Peter!Dragon at dusk by Sarah Chisholm Photography.A woman’s face in the clouds, floating above the sea, as captured from Saquarema, Brazil, by Helio C. Vital.Can you see a bird in flight in this photo? It’s a photo of the aurora borealis taken near Fairbanks, Alaska, by Dave Bachrach. Used with permission.Erwan Mirabeau shot this rock formation in Ebihens, France. It’s reminiscent of a green haired man, known in the area as an Apache. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.The “face of Jesus” in this photo is actually a child with a bonnet, and the hair is vegetation in the background. Anonymous Swedish photograph from the late nineteenth century via Wikimedia Commons.

Sometimes the ability to see objects in photos, where no such objects exist, has results that are not simply beautiful or intriguing, but downright bizarre. For example, consider the old photo above from an anonymous Swedish photographer of the 19th century.

In the image above, many viewers will immediately see the image of a bearded man with wavy hair, which could be interpreted as Jesus, near the left center of the image. In fact, however, the face is just a phenomenon of light, shadow and placement. The “face of Jesus” is actually a child with a bonnet, and the hair is vegetation in the background.

You have probably have seen claims of images of Jesus in a piece of toast, or the Madonna in the misshapen form of a gourd. Although intrinsically meaningless, such images are sometimes striking. More often, though, the similarity to known persons, animals or objects is a bit more subtle.

Pareidolia of dog on closet door by Chad Johns. Photo used with permission.Ty Lawrence in Las Vegas, Nevada, contributed this photo. We posted it at EarthSky Facebook and asked people what it looked like to them. We got many answers. Puppy. Dragon. Dog. Map of the Mediterranean Sea. But most people said “bird.” Thanks, Ty!What can you see in the folds of this tissue? Many people will not see anything. It depends, in part, on the innate ability to see patterns, and in part on the natural inclinations and interests of the viewer. In some cases the image will immediately pop out, while for some folks it will come after a little close examination, and others may not be able to see it at all.Here’s a close-up. Do you see the head of a Dachshund?  Don’t worry if you can’t, but for many the ears, eyes and snout will seem obvious.

To a certain extent, the definition of pareidolia can be used to describe how the ancients connected the dots and came up with the patterns we know as constellations. It does not take a great deal of imagination to see a lion in Leo, a scorpion in Scorpius, or a mighty hunter in Orion. To be honest, many other constellations, such as Cancer the Crab or Capricornus the Sea Goat, stretch the pattern recognition idea a bit far, making the naming process more one of contrivance than of pareidolia.

Staying in the realm of astronomy for a bit, many have seen a face or a rabbit in the moon or any of a variety of other figures on the face of the moon for ages. Nowadays, technology has given us close-ups of other planets that serve as fodder for the pareidolia monster.

Here’s the so-called “face on Mars” as originally captured in a 1976 image from the Viking 1 orbiter. Click here to see how subsequent spacecraft revealed the “face” to be simply a play of light and shadows.Glass tunnels or “ice worms” on Mars? In fact, these Martian canyons contain crescent-shaped sand dunes, which are formed when the wind is predominantly from one direction.

For example, some self-appointed experts have stated that the image above – which is an enlargement of a small section of image M0400291 from the Mars Global Surveyor – shows large glass tunnels on Mars, or even evidence for ice worms on the red planet. What the image above really shows is a convergence of deep canyons on the planet Mars. At the bottom of these canyons are crescent-shaped sand dunes, which are formed when the wind is predominantly from one direction. Such dunes are common in desert areas of the Earth and are known as barchans.

People have found many imaginary images in this photo of the atomic cloud over Nagasaki – August 9, 1945 – from Koyagi-jima by Hiromichi Matsuda. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Although deliberately manipulated (“photoshopped”) photos are very easily made today and cannot be ruled out for many pareidolia images, hoaxes are considerably less likely in older images. Consider the old Swedish image above in which the “face” of Jesus is actually a baby with a bonnet. Or consider the image above from the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, shot by Hiromichi Matsuda, showing the mushroom cloud over the city just 20 minutes after detonation.

With just a casual glance, most people will notice nothing in the bomb cloud other than the expected shape. But for someone with an eye for pareidolic images, several things can pop out. Let’s consider just one, that the head of an apparently sleeping woman with 1940s-style hair, facing the right from just left of the top center area of the cloud.

Go ahead, try to see the lady’s face before you look farther down. Truth be told, there are a number of things to be seen in this image, but the point to make is that these are all purely coincidental. There is absolutely no reason to believe that any of the images have any meaning whatsoever except the meaning that an active and creative mind may give them. They are not symbols or signs from the spirit world. They are not warnings about the future or indications of the waywardness of our ways. They are simply the result of coincidental patterns that the human mind chooses to interpret in particular ways.

It goes without saying, I hope, that this just happens to be a photo from the tragic bombing of Nagasaki, but has nothing else to do with Nagasaki or even with the atomic bomb. Similar patterns can be found in many many other images and natural formations.

In some ways, the pareidolic images we discover tend to indicate things about which we are most interested, whether they be people, puppies or planes. Finding such “embedded” images can fun and interesting, almost a hobby for some. But for some they can also fuel obsessiveness and paranoia. Enjoy finding your own pareidolic images, but keep in mind that what you are seeing is not really there, but in your mind.

Nagasaki image annotated.

Now, if you did not successfully see the lady in the Nagasaki image, you can get some help from the annotated image above. (Can you also see the puppy in her hair?)

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Bottom line: Seeing recognizable images in otherwise random or unrelated objects or patterns is called pareidolia. Here are photos of many examples of pareidolia in nature.

Larry Sessions

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About the Author:

Larry Sessions has written many favorite posts in EarthSky's Tonight area. He's a former planetarium director in Little Rock, Fort Worth and Denver and an adjunct faculty member at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He's a longtime member of NASA's Solar System Ambassadors program. His articles have appeared in numerous publications including, Sky & Telescope, Astronomy and Rolling Stone. His small book on world star lore, Constellations, was published by Running Press.

What It Is and More I Psych Central

Apophenia, or patternicity, is characterized by seeing patterns in unrelated things. Anyone can experience this, but if you live with schizophrenia, it may be part of a delusion.

Apophenia, or seeing a pattern where one doesn’t actually exist, isn’t uncommon. You may have looked up at the sky and seen a cloud that looked like a puppy or a sailboat. Or, you may sometimes see faces in inanimate objects, like a tree or fire hydrant.

Professionals aren’t immune to apophenia, either. Scientists may draw conclusions from patterns in data that aren’t really there. Medical professionals may make an incorrect diagnosis based on apophenia.

For most people, apophenia is a common occurrence that doesn’t require treatment. But if you live with schizophrenia, apophenia can be part of a delusion.

If apophenia is disrupting your day-to-day life, there’s hope. Treatment options for schizophrenia may help manage symptoms and improve relationships.

Apophenia, also known as patternicity, means seeing patterns in random events. It also applies when people deduce meaning from numbers, images, shapes, or any other objects that are truly random.

This phenomenon is very common. We routinely look for patterns and are predisposed to finding patterns, even when there are none.

If you live with schizophrenia, patternicity can be a feature of paranoia, or delusions where you may believe you’re under threat. You may hold this belief because you see patterns in media or other aspects of the environment.

There are no known causes of apophenia. It may have its roots in human biology, where creating linkages between events has helped with survival.

In his book, “The Believing Brain,” author Michael Shermer gives the example of an early hominid who hears a rustle in the grass. They have a choice to connect that sound with a predator and to react or to assume that it’s nothing. Making the connection supports survival, as the hominid gets out of the way of the potential threat.

Apophenia can also be the result of training. Some scientists and medical professionals, like pathologists and nurses, connect facts and data to make diagnoses. But sometimes this skill can turn into a bias, where people see patterns that aren’t there.

This can be the case in historically marginalized groups — including People of Color and Indigenous people — and their communities, where bias on the part of medical professionals can then lead to misdiagnosis.

Delusions, which may include apophenia or patternicity, are one possible symptom of schizophrenia. There are several potential causes of schizophrenia, including family history, brain chemistry, environmental exposures, and substance use.

Apophenia is a general term that includes several different types of phenomena.

  • Pareidolia: This type involves seeing an image or sound from random visual or auditory stimuli. A common form is face pareidolia, where elements of an object can make them resemble a face.
  • Clustering illusion: This illusion involves seeing patterns in events and data when there is, in fact, no connection between data points.
  • Confirmation bias: This bias is the tendency to only accept information that confirms prior beliefs.
  • Gambler’s fallacy: This type involves believing that a prior series of events affects a future event, even though the two are unrelated.

Some of these types of apophenia are hard to avoid. Many people, for example, experience seeing a face in a natural feature, cloud, or collection of lines.

Apophenia exists in various realms of life, and most people experience it at one time or another. These experiences are usually harmless and natural.

Here are some examples:

  • You see emotion in a natural scene, like tree bark arranged to look like a bellowing mouth.
  • You interpret an everyday object as looking like a face, such as a fire hydrant with two round spouts above a single line.
  • A gambler sees a “winning streak” as a sign that they’ll continue to win.
  • A scientist sees a group of medical cases is a cluster, due to confirmation bias or ascribing too much meaning to unrelated points of data. Real clusters are thoroughly investigated before scientists confirm them.
  • Someone believes that an authority is out to get them because of patterns in media and everyday occurrences. They may also think media personalities are speaking directly to them. This is an example of a paranoid delusion.

Although patternicity may be connected to survival instincts, its central feature is that the connections people see aren’t really there.

Synchronicity is a term coined by the psychoanalyst Carl Jung. It refers to acausal connections, or when things become related even though there’s no obvious link between them.

This idea was part of Jung’s notion of a collective human unconscious. According to Jung, this was at the root of some behaviors, thoughts, and dreams.

Synchronicity is difficult to study objectively. It’s a one-time event that can’t be measured across an entire population. It’s also only experienced by one person.

While two people can participate in the same event, such as running into a certain person, it may only be an incidence of synchronicity for one person.

In his book, “The Improbability Principle,” renowned statistician David J. Hand argues that people underestimate the actual probability of apparently rare events — they’re actually not rare at all.

Since synchronicity can’t be scientifically studied and coincidences are more statistically probable than people realize, it may be a form of apophenia.

Since apophenia isn’t harmful, most people don’t require treatment. However, when it’s associated with delusions, treatment for schizophrenia may be recommended.

Treatment options can include:

  • antipsychotic medications
  • cognitive behavioral therapy
  • family education and support
  • assertive community treatment

If you know someone who may be experiencing delusions, there are several steps you can take to provide support. These may include:

  • establishing a trusting relationship
  • remaining calm and reassuring the person they’re safe
  • empathizing with the person
  • keeping a log of delusional symptoms

If you need additional help, consider reaching out to a healthcare or mental health professional. They may be able to offer more tips and strategies. You can also check out our page on supporting someone with schizophrenia for more ideas.

Joining a support group for family and friends of people with schizophrenia is also a great way to connect with others who share similar experiences and learn coping strategies.

You can start your search for a local support group at National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Apophenia is often a common, harmless part of everyday life. But it can also make daily life more challenging if it’s part of psychosis, such as paranoia or delusions.

Whatever you or your family is experiencing, remember that you’re not alone. There are people who can help.

If you’re wondering where to start, you can try Mental Health America. They can connect you to support groups and medical providers close to you.

What are pareidolia, apothenia and hypersemiotization and why are we looking for hidden signs where there are none - Knife

1994. American Diana Dizer could not finish her toast with cheese: it suddenly seemed to her that the face of the Virgin Mary clearly appeared on it. A piece of fried bread, which the woman carefully kept for ten years, managed to get into a TV show and eventually was sold on eBay for $28,000.

Later, for a lot of money, they bought a chicken cutlet with the "face" of George Washington on the site. And at the beginning of the 2000s, thousands of believers came to Bangalore to pray to lavash with a portrait of Jesus.

The most famous example of pareidolia is the "Face on Mars", or "Martian Sphinx" (photographed in 1976 and 2001), which turned out to be just a play of light and shadow in rock relief

Nowadays, computer systems have learned to find landscapes that look like human faces . For example, the German program Google Faces in 2013 analyzed satellite maps of the Earth using a face recognition algorithm and found their outlines in several places on the planet.

Why does our brain find faces where there are none? Cosmologist and popularizer of science Carl Sagan wrote that the habit of scanning the space around us was necessary for our ancestors to survive. It is better to confuse branches and leaves with a face than not to notice a predator or a stranger in the bushes. In addition, a person developed a mechanism that made it possible to instantly evaluate the emotions of other people (for example, aggression) in order to understand whether they were friends or enemies.

Even if we have before us not a real face, but a chaotic set of dots, we still want to streamline this chaos. The brain compares the seen object with the data that is stored in its long-term memory. Based on recent experience and supplementing it with expectations, the brain connects dots, lines, spots, determines the volume and completes the form to the image we know.

We "see" the sign because we are looking for it. And we are looking for, because we know what to look for.

Finnish scientists have found that religious people are more likely to see illusory faces in images than atheists: such miracles serve as proof for them that the supernatural exists. Chinese and Canadian neuroscientists formulated the same question as follows: why people with the same brain activity see different things on fried toast - and also found out that this depends on religion and personal preferences. They received the Ig Nobel Prize for their article.

Now the Internet is full of pictures in which vegetables, household appliances and other items make faces at us: just search for the hashtags #iseefaces, #Iseefaces or look at But long before memes and pictures - 400 years ago - artists were already experimenting with "faces" in paintings. After the Renaissance, a separate genre appeared in art - anthropomorphic landscapes. The creators often inscribed the profile of a bearded man into the curves of the relief.


But it's one thing to see a face, laugh and forget (or get a wad of money for a bitten toast, as Diana Dizer did). And it is quite another to find suspicious coincidences, encrypted messages, hidden meanings and intrigues of enemies everywhere.

German psychiatrist Klaus Konrad studied the behavior of Wehrmacht soldiers with schizophrenia. He described the first stage of the disease as severe anxiety, comparable to jitters before public speaking. And on the second, panic developed.

A sign of psychosis was that for the patient every object or sound in the surrounding space began to mean something. Leaves are rustling - they are watching him. Colleagues snore - they won't give him a promotion.

Moreover, when the patient found an explanation for the signs and his condition, he calmed down for a while. For this phenomenon, Conrad introduced a special term - apothenia.

As the experiments of social psychologists have shown, apothenia can also be caused in a healthy person. If you “wind up” the subject (for example, discuss with him a negative experience from his childhood), and then bring him to a room where abstract pictures, photographs of the surface of Mars, random numbers hang, then it is very likely that he will find relationships in them. If, after an unpleasant conversation, a person has time to switch to another activity, say, cleaning, then at the second stage he will not see signs.

There is also a chemical way to increase the illusion of coincidences - to inject a drug with dopamine, a neurotransmitter that gives a feeling of joy, for example, when achieving a goal and receiving a reward. Interestingly, the propensity to find connections in random events increases even more among skeptics than among believers.

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So, in a state of stress, with a sense of threat, a person is more likely to look for signs where there are none. And the stronger the feeling of losing control, the more control he will transfer to an imaginary enemy.

Now imagine the daily life of a person during the Great Terror. No one knows what will happen tomorrow: whether they will find something to cling to in your biography, whether they will invent new “crimes”, whether they will come to your house or arrest you right at your workplace. When the opposition was destroyed, the "exploiters" were liquidated, and the kulaks were dispossessed, the authorities again needed enemies, to the machinations of which all the problems of the Soviet state could be attributed. And people began to see signs of their presence in the most unexpected places.

Small matchboxes with the image of fire, which were produced by the Demyan Bedny factory in the Leningrad region, have gone down in history forever.

In 1937, the label was ordered to be changed: as soon as the picture was turned over, the ominous outlines of the profile with a beard - Trotsky, the main "enemy of the people" were seen in the flames. There were rumors that the director of the factory was arrested as a Trotskyist. Source

By that time, Trotsky had lived in exile for several years, but for a Soviet person he became the embodiment of evil. Propaganda inspired the population that the Trotskyists had penetrated into all spheres of life and were carrying out subversive work, masquerading as ordinary people. If the enemy left a trace, it means that he himself is somewhere nearby. Therefore, the inhabitants of the whole country turned into detectives and began to look for "evidence" referring to the concept of Leon Trotsky about the fire of the world revolution.

To describe such a collective apothenia, folklorists and anthropologists Alexandra Arkhipova and Anna Kirzyuk, who wrote the book Dangerous Soviet Things. Urban legends and fears in the USSR", offer the term "hypersemiotization" .

Unlike mental illness, social paranoia turned out to be contagious: people spread rumors about dangerous things and themselves became the causative agents of moral panic. The authorities inflated the image of the enemy in order to strengthen control over public consciousness, but in the end they lost this control. The search for hidden signs turned into an epidemic of hypersemiotization that began in 1935th after the assassination of Kirov and stretched out for half a century.

The artist Mikhailov captured a picture of farewell to Kirov, who was killed on December 1, 1934 (responsibility was laid on the Zinovievite oppositionists): Stalin, Voroshilov and Kaganovich stood at the coffin. When the sketch was photographed for the magazine Art, in the folds of the banner, which turned gray in a black and white photograph, they immediately saw the “dance of death”: as if one hand of a ghostly skeleton reaches out to Stalin, and the other grabs Voroshilov’s neck. The painting was destroyed, and Mikhailov was exiled to Vorkuta, then to Ukhta, and died at 19 for "counter-revolutionary sortie".40th.

The need to look closely at every thing also influenced the behavior of ordinary people. In the autumn of 1937, a rumor swept through Leningrad, Moscow and Crimean schools that a swastika was woven on pioneer ties.

A metal tie clip was engraved with a bonfire with three flames reminiscent of Trotsky's ubiquitous beard. And schoolchildren saw the letters ТЗШ there and deciphered it as “Trotskyist-Zinoviev gang”.

Such an organization never existed, but its name has moved from government rhetoric to urban legend. The villainous "signature" forced the pioneers to take off their ties en masse. The authorities immediately found and punished the spreaders of rumors. And so that people would not refuse to put on Soviet attributes, the authorities backed down and organized a whole campaign: they say that the enemy came up with the idea that children should not wear ties. But everything was in vain. No one else wanted to use clamps.

The authors of the book "Dangerous Things" draw a parallel with similar situations - for example, with the story of "hell icons". In the 19th century, in several Russian provinces, peasants suddenly began to smash them and scratch the top layer of paint. According to rumors, icons were found somewhere, to which the devil himself had a hand. "Bow to me for seven years - you will be mine forever" - such an inscription was looked for by the peasants under the salary, fearing that they were praying to the icon of the enemy, imperceptibly subordinating them to their power.

It is the same with a "dangerous" box of matches or a clip: if you carry an object with an enemy's hidden mark, then you become his agent. Therefore, they were afraid to even touch such things.

In the same 1937, the World Exhibition was held in Paris, for which the composition "Worker and Collective Farm Woman" by Vera Mukhina and Boris Iofan was being prepared. The sculptural group was mounted on the territory of the plant. When the work was finished, colleagues gathered to celebrate the event. In the middle of the night, Iofan calls and relays the words of a frightened guard: Stalin arrived at the plant, asked to turn on the spotlights and examined the collective farmer for twenty minutes. Someone reported to him that the profile of Trotsky was read in the folds of the skirt. To everyone's relief, Stalin did not find anything in the skirt and left.

1937 also marked the 100th anniversary of Pushkin's death, which was celebrated with special solemnity and served as a symbolic rebirth: the "bourgeois" poet was to enter the Soviet pantheon along with pilots and leaders. By the anniversary date, the poet's poems with illustrations by famous artists were printed on the covers of school notebooks. Suddenly, in December, schools and retail outlets were ordered to confiscate and destroy some of the series produced by the Penza and Saratov factories. Why?

In the reproduction of Vasnetsov's painting, the stripes on the hero's sword and boots allegedly folded into the counter-revolutionary slogan "Down with the CPSU!". On the portraits of Pushkin, the authorities saw a swastika: either on the ring finger, or right on the face.

They conducted an investigation and decided that the artist Smorodkin deliberately drew a swastika when he was shading on Repin and Aivazovsky’s painting “Pushkin’s Farewell to the Sea”, and Pyotr Malevich, on a reproduction of the painting “At the Lukorye, a Green Oak”, added Red Army helmets to the corpses on the ground.

Schoolchildren and teachers rushed to tear out the covers of all notebooks indiscriminately, including those not related to the anniversary. For a whole year, children wrapped notebooks in a newspaper. On charges of sabotage, Malevich was exiled to Vorkuta, and Smorodkin to Kolyma, where he lost his toes. For two decades, the "defiled" covers turned into dangerous things, the possession of which increased the term upon arrest.

Pavel Postyshev, the man who reported to Stalin about the signs hidden on the notebooks, received from the authorities not just praise - an award! And this is the second difference between hypersemiotization and apothenia: exposing the enemy was encouraged from above . Officials found signs not to cope with anxiety - with the discovery of new symbols, it only increased. The worst thing was not to fall into the nets set by the enemies, but to be accused of ideological blindness and connivance. Therefore, people sought to recognize and destroy enemy signs in time, demonstrating loyalty to their homeland and party.

The swastika was found everywhere: in the patterns of fabrics, in the design of the blades of the butter churn, on the cut of the sausage, in the buttons sewn crosswise - including on Stalin's raincoat. And the circulation of an issue of the Pravda newspaper was once completely destroyed because of one picture: in it, Stalin stood next to the Bulgarian communist Dimitrov, whose bangs hung down on his forehead in the shape of a swastika. The guards in the camps also had to remain vigilant: one woman was nearly given a second term for supposedly weaving a swastika on homemade children's clothes. After the end of the Great Patriotic War, people said that German prisoners of war built factories and hospitals in the form of a swastika in the USSR out of revenge.

In April 1937, the Ukrainian newspaper Komunist published a photo of the boiler house of a new industrial complex. Two weeks after the issue was published, the NKVD was informed that a portrait of Trotsky was deliberately hidden in the branches of the trees around the boiler room. The photographer and retoucher, who applied whitewash and allegedly “sticked out” the face of the enemy in this way, were arrested. Several lives were broken because of this one photo.

Entire manuals were published in the USSR on the insidious methods of semiotic "wrecking", which the censors had to look for with particular care. They looked at the manufactured products through a magnifying glass and wrote slander about everything that looked at least a little suspicious: about the play of light and shadow, the combination of colors, the finished contours.

According to the memoirs of journalist Aleksey Adzhubey, Khrushchev's son-in-law, the duty officer with the magnifying glass disappeared from the Komsomolskaya Pravda office only in the 1950s.

All this could be considered absurd if there were no cases of real use of signs in history. In Nazi-occupied Norway, German censors let a huge number of Christmas cards go into print without noticing the symbols of the Norwegian Resistance encrypted in them. Dwarves, dressed in the colors of the national flag, opened chests, the pattern on which formed the monogram HVII (the king of Norway was called Haakon VII).

The author of the drawing was put on the wanted list, but it was too late: the postcards became a “password” for members of the Resistance for another couple of years. They really placed signs everywhere to rally the protest community, and the German police tried to confuse and figure them out by adding false signals.

Fictional swastika buildings also had real prototypes.

Constructivist architects in the 1920s liked to build houses in the form of huge signs that would be read from a bird's eye view. So in Rostov-on-Don a "tractor theater" appeared, and in Samara - schools in the form of a hammer and sickle. In the middle of the 20th century, in Siberia and the Urals, stories were told about houses in the form of a hammer and sickle or the letters "USSR", in Kharkov - in the form of the first notes of the "International". For cities, this was a way to acquire a unique identity during a period of mass building of the same type.

In the era of Khrushchev and Brezhnev, they switched from looking for an internal enemy to the sphere of foreign policy. If in the 1930s a political anecdote or rumor was imprisoned under the article “Anti-Soviet Agitation and Propaganda”, then in the 1960s and 1970s, lovers of criticizing their homeland were viewed as the result of the influence of the West or as accomplices of the CIA, especially when they listened to foreign radio.

In the 1960s, relations between the Soviet Union and Israel deteriorated. The Zionists became new enemies, and another "symbol of evil" was found - the Star of David.

Alarmed citizens saw a hidden sabotage even in the snowflakes printed in the Ogonyok magazine. It took official confirmation from the Institute of Crystallography that snowflakes in nature are six-pointed.

Relations with China also did not work out - by the end of the 1960s, the fear of an imminent attack intensified. At the same time, active trade was carried out, and urban legends appeared about dangerous Chinese carpets, on which the figure of Mao Zedong allegedly appears at night and can suffocate.

What can we say about the permanent fear of the Third World War. They saw signs of an impending catastrophe in every little thing: either the column in the newspaper was not written that way, or Brezhnev looked the wrong way. It was discussed in schools that the American president carries a suitcase with a red button: press it and everyone will die. Instructions were passed from mouth to mouth on how to save yourself from radiation in the event of a nuclear war: you need to soak your clothes with grated laundry soap.

The most terrible car in Soviet times was the "black car" of the punitive authorities. At 19In the 1930s, it was an “emka” or “marusya”, on which prisoners were taken away, in the 1950s there were rumors that Beria was kidnapping and raping young girls on a black Volga, and in the 1980s, a children’s horror story was born from adult horror stories. : in the numbers of black cars they looked for the ominous letters SSD, which meant "death to Soviet children. "

Several stories are connected with the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.

The authorities really didn’t want people to communicate with foreigners and, moreover, buy something from them, so before the Olympics, the special services began to throw “warning” rumors into the masses. Allegedly, foreigners on the street offer chewing gum with crushed glass to children, place needles infected with a deadly disease in vehicles and cinemas, and sell jeans full of lice. Any action was seen as a sign that the foreigners wanted to harm Soviet citizens.

The German group "Genghis Khan" especially for Eurovision 1979 wrote a groovy song Moskau, which sings that Moscow is mysterious and full of fire, and love tastes like caviar.

The song was banned from playing in discos because of rumors that the text contained a message: “Moskau, Moskau, we'll throw bombs! You will have the Olympics, we will build camps on the ruins of the Kremlin.”

And people believed, although many learned German at school.

However, these were already the last echoes of hypersemiotization. At 19On the 82nd, Ukrainian operatives saw a swastika on the buttons of corduroy suits from Japan and reported to their superiors. The officials did not even investigate, writing on the margins of the denunciation: "Insanity of 1937."

However, the search for a hidden “semiotic danger” survived the USSR and, of course, is not a purely Soviet phenomenon.

After the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, some believers saw the face of Satan in pictures of the twin tower that flared up. At the height of the Ukrainian crisis of 2014, the Russians found the symbols of "Ukrofascists" in the colors of the fence on the playground. In Turkey in 2016, hundreds of thousands of books were destroyed with the mention of Fethullah Gülen, convicted of preparing a military coup, including an innocent textbook on mathematics, where there was a problem about the distance from point F to point D.

But military conflicts are not the only reason for such incidents.

A year ago, Muslims publicly burned Nike sneakers, the soles of which allegedly leave a mark in the form of the word "Allah", forcing buyers to insult the Almighty.

Singer Katy Perry, who produced shoes under her own brand, had to withdraw black shoes with eyes from sale due to accusations of racism. And in the summer of 2020, the head of the Russian Union of Women saw LGBT propaganda in the Rainbow ice cream.

Like thousands of years ago, man is driven by fear. When people do not know how to respond to a threat (whether it comes from fascists, racists, foreigners or enemies of the people), they begin to be “vigilant”, find connections and invent legends.

And yet, there are positive aspects to pareidolia, apothenia and hypersemiotization. With the ability to draw analogies, think abstractly, and operate with images, people have created many different cultures and languages. Leonardo da Vinci wrote that the symbols and faces he saw in the cracks on the stone walls inspired him to create new works. And how many films and books are built on the consistent unraveling of hidden signs! Insanity is insanity, but how boring it would be to live if we didn’t know how to do all this.

See also

"Hello, my favorite bed!" How we revive everything inanimate and why we should not fight it

Complete apophenia: why we see meaning in meaningless things

Apophenia: what is it and can we get rid of it

The ability to see faces and non-existent animals in passing clouds is the merit of our imagination. Understanding why we see random relationships and whether we need to get rid of them

What is apophenia

Apophenia (from Greek ἀποφαίνω — “make clear”) is the tendency to see patterns and meaning in random information. Our brains can discover connections between completely disparate data, events, objects, and situations. For example, a person may see a face in a burnt toast in a frying pan or consider rain outside the window as a prerequisite for failure at work.

The term "apophenia" appeared in 1958: it was first used by the German psychiatrist Klaus Conrad, who studied "unmotivated vision of connections" in patients with schizophrenia. Conrad believed that a person suffering from apophenia perceives his own thoughts as something that came from outside, so he is seized by persecution mania.

According to experts interviewed by RBC Trends, apothenia is a common phenomenon and occurs in almost everyone. It is actively used by creative people, it can be a source for creative solutions. As noted by the psychologist of the YouTalk service, the author of the book "The Tyranny of Anxiety" Anna Pogrebnyak, in most cases, apothenia is considered a normal phenomenon, since it is natural for a person to look for connections and patterns in the world around him, formulate assumptions, and speculate. However, according to her, apothenia can be a pathology. It occurs in paranoid schizophrenia, when a person sees relationships and ominous signs where there are none. The problem with apothenia is that the search for non-existent relationships breeds conspiracy theories and interferes with critical thinking. We understand how apophenia appears, when and how to deal with this phenomenon.

Examples of apothenia

"The Dark Side of the Rainbow"

There is a myth that if you play the album The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd and the movie The Wizard of Oz at the same time, then the music will seem to coincide with the events on the screen and become semantic addition for them. This effect was first described in 1995 and called the "Dark Side of the Rainbow". This phrase connects the title of the album and the most famous musical composition from the Wizard of Oz - Over The Rainbow (from English - "Beyond the Rainbow"). The members of Pink Floyd denied that the album was specifically synchronized with the film, but this did not convince all the supporters of the myth.

Noises on the radio

Various examples of apophenia are given by Alexander Panchin, a biologist and author of the book Apophenia, in an interview with Dmitry Puchkov. For example, some people tune their radio so that they hear "white noise" between radio stations, and supposedly distinguish the voices of spirits in it. Perceiving a meaningless set of sounds as the voices of spirits is an example of sound apothenia.


Building false cause-and-effect relationships is also apothenia. For example, says Panchin, it manifests itself when a person feels bad, he goes to a healer, he gets better and the person decides that the healer helped him. “The person doesn’t even consider the possibility that the recovery happened on its own, and they come to the wrong conclusions,” says Panchin.

Types of apophenia

Apophenia is a general term that refers to different ways of seeing patterns and accidents. Consider several types of apothenia and examples of their manifestation.


A common type of apothenia in everyday life is pareidolia. This is the tendency of people to see faces, figures of animals and magical creatures in some objects. Pareidolia can occur in both mentally healthy and unhealthy people. Pareidolic illusions arose in almost every one of us. Almost all of us in childhood (and not only) noticed faces in the clouds floating in the sky, and lying in bed we distinguished monsters on patterned wallpaper or carpets.

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A common example of the pareidolic illusion is the ability to see a face in photographs of the surface of Mars. This is a picture of a hill in the northern hemisphere of Mars, taken by the Viking 1 station in 1976. In pseudoscientific currents, the “face on Mars” is considered a possible message from extraterrestrial civilizations.

Photo taken by the Viking-1 station at 1976 (Photo: wikipedia. org)

Confirmation bias

As Anna Pogrebnyak explains, this is a cognitive distortion in which a person tends to seek arguments in favor of their own judgments. A person with this cognitive distortion believes that his hypothesis is initially correct, so he is biased and selective looking for information, interpreting events to confirm his assumptions.

Illusion of clustering

This is also a cognitive bias in which it is common to see patterns or trends in large amounts of data, even if they are random. “If we see that the four people who committed the robbery were tall blondes with blue eyes, the cognitive distortion can play a trick on us. One can make an erroneous conclusion that there is a connection between the craving for robbery and light hair color, ”says Anna Pogrebnyak.

Player error

This is a distortion characterized by the assumption that future events are influenced by past results. For example, we toss a coin ten times, and each time it comes up tails. “A person with a gambler’s error may decide that the next time it will come up “heads”, because “tails” has come up so many times already. Although we know that the probability of a coin landing on both sides is 50/50, and the tosses themselves are not related in any way. Loss of "heads" or "tails" is random, there is no pattern in this, "explains Pogrebnyak.

How apophenia appears

Apophenia is a variant of cognitive process distortion when a person interprets the facts or details of reality based on familiar images or information from experience. At the same time, a person connects them into a single concept without a critical assessment (“did I understand correctly?”).

As the head of the Center for Psychotherapy of Dr. Chitlova, psychotherapist, Ph.D. Victoria Chitlova, with apothenia in a person, different areas of the brain are excited, where information is stored and reproduced. Visual, auditory, semantic images, for which different parts of the brain are responsible, are interconnected. It's like a creative process - the brain "lights up" in the process of constructing an opinion in order to interpret what is happening.

“First of all, activation occurs in the subcortical structures of the limbic system, in particular in the hippocampus and amygdala. When we walk down the street and see something, these brain structures are triggered first. They interpret the information they receive as dangerous or safe, offering us information already in memory (“Oh, that face!”). Then the process of criticism begins - correction and clarification, the cortical structures of the brain are connected - the frontal region, which corrects the information received from the point of view of reality. That is, I see a face in the cloud and do not just believe that it really exists there, but I understand that my imagination painted it, ”the expert explains the processes that occur in the human brain during apothenia.

Is it necessary to get rid of apophenia

Apophenia is considered the norm if a person with such thinking is still oriented in reality, adapted to life, and the vision of interconnections does not contradict his ideas about the structure of the world. If a person relies solely on apothenia within the framework of thinking, then he has problems with understanding reality. Such a person is prone to delusions and relies only on already known data.

A few tips on how a person can get rid of frequent cases of apothenia on his own:

1. Develop critical thinking

As Viktoria Chitlova points out, apothenia can be a well-managed tool for creative people — artists, poets, marketers, designers, and so on. But often apothenia occurs in anxious patients. People can uncontrollably weave things that are not relevant to the situation into disturbing concepts. For example, a person may think that if the weather is bad today, then you need to be on the alert, as something bad can happen to his loved ones. In this case, the psychotherapist notes, it is necessary to develop critical thinking.

“A person should be returned to the critical variant of understanding reality. This is called metaposition - when a person observes his thinking and becomes an active participant in it. It is worth asking yourself: “How likely is it that something will happen to my loved ones due to the weather? If I'm worried about loved ones, let's figure out why I'm worried about them. Answering such questions, a person is likely to understand that in fact he has completely different fears that have nothing to do with the weather,” says Chitlova.

2. Learning to recognize bias

You need to be able to recognize when you are a victim of bias and tend to believe that something is true despite evidence to the contrary. Let's remember the example with a coin — if it falls heads up five times during the toss, the probability that it will fall tails on the sixth toss is still 50/50.

3. Being a skeptic bloggers, advises Anna Pogrebnyak. You should always seek confirmation of your point of view on your own. A real scientist is ready to change his mind if he has collected enough facts.

When to Seek Help

Experts interviewed say that in most cases cognitive-behavioral therapy or self-help books will help with cognitive distortions.

Learn more