Pareidolia/matrixing is really just our brains trying to be smart
Pareidolia is one of the first things that any paranormal investigator becomes familiar with. It is a concept that we really already know about, but we fail to understand how much an effect this common ‘trick of the mind’ can influence us in the paranormal and covers a lot more areas than you may think.
A typical scenario in every paranormal investigator’s adventures is that they are presented in person or by email or social media etc with a photo. There is a picture of a house with windows. In one of the windows they think they can see a figure. It does look like a figure and it is wearing a hat and everything! Upon closer inspection of the photo, you notice the windows are dirty and there are smudge marks. What you have been looking at was not a mysterious hat wearing entity in the window but merely your brain playing tricks on you. This is what you hear most investigators refer to as ‘Matrixing’ or ‘Pareidoila’. In a basic nutshell your brain is trying to make sense of what it is looking at, so it makes you think you are looking at something you can familiarize yourself with. Think about it. How many times do you look into the clouds and think you see a man riding a horse or you look in the shower and on your steamy window you see a face or even a weird smily face appearing on the brickwork of your house? This is the perfect example of Pareidoila.
Some of the more famous images are a favourite of conspiracy theorists such as seeing a face on the moon or devilish faces in the smoke of the twin towers burning.
Famous faces in the 9/11 tragedy. Is it an ominous sign or just our brains?
Is this proof of life on mars? More just proof our brains are up to tricky business
People get very protective when it comes to their photographs. If it is something they have taken, there is a personal connection and attachment to the photo. When you tell them it is a case of pareidoila, in a lot of cases they will get defensive and reject your completely rational theory. All you can do is present someone with the facts. This is one of the reasons why a lot of seasoned paranormal investigators will not review photos for others. On the other end of the spectrum, some skeptics cling to the pareidoila phenomena and think all photos can be explained simply by our mind playing tricks on us. When you incorporate this with all of the natural things that can happen with photos like lens flare and dust orbs, photos really are an unreliable form of providing evidence of the paranormal. The mere concept that pareidoila exists means that no photo will ever give a skeptic any sort of proof that what they are looking cannot be explained rationally. I am not saying that it is not possible to capture something paranormal on camera. I personally believe it is possible, but I also believe that people need to properly understand how both cameras and the human mind work and to keep all of this in mind when analysing photos. It is the photos that I cannot debunk that I take a genuine interest in and I have seen quite a few. When it comes to reviewing photos, you really need to wear your investigator cap and look at things from all angles.
So how does this apply to photos you come across when investigating? Here is a perfect example of pareidoila which is not so obvious at first and it is where the investigator part of you needs to kick in. During an investigation we did at Aradale Lunatic Asylum a few years ago, my brother did a walkthrough of the building filming on his phone while we were setting up. Upon review of the footage, it had appeared we had caught a scary looking girl (that looked like she had escaped from the ring movie) standing in the corner in a hospital gown. Perfectly understandable I mean we were investigating an old mental asylum. After a lot of review from other footage and photos we had of the area, we discovered that it was merely markings on the wall. Were we a little disappointed? Of course but this is what it is all about. Being an investigator is different to being a ghost hunter. A ghost hunter tries to find ghosts. An investigator is researching paranormal phenomena and debunking and rationalising things is a big part of that.
Was a little girl creepily standing in the corner of an old mental asylum? No it was just the markings on the wall. (may not be able to see picture properly on darker screens)
Another example I have again was caught at Aradale Lunatic Asylum. There are very dark corridors and lots of windows. We took some images using a camera which had been converted to IR. In our images we had appeared to catch a tall shadow man standing in the doorway. We lightened up the photo and though wow! Now every investigator knows that when you are shooting photos, you take at least 3 photos from the same spot. This is so that you can see if there are any differences in the other photos which are manipulating the environment or if the change is appearing from nowhere We noticed this shadow figure was in the same position in all of the photos. This was the first red flag We then went back and found footage of us walking down this hall. At the back of the room was a fire extinguisher on the wall. What we were looking at was not a tall dark shadow figure but a fire extinguisher. It took us a couple of weeks to debunk this one as we had to go through a lot of things. It was pretty disappointing to be honest with youAgain if this had not been properly debunked, people would think we have caught a shadow figure on film. While I wish we really did catch a shadow figure on film, sadly again it was a rational explanation.
What initially was believed to be a shadow figure standing in the doorway was really just a fire extinguisher attached the back wall. Damn pareidoila!
You can see how important it is when reviewing photos to be aware of your surroundings. This is the easiest way to debunk pareidoila. Even though it is your brain working against you, you need to use your brain to think your way out of it. The concept of pareidoila also exists beyond photographs. This is what a lot of investigators don’t realise or don’t stop to think about especially in an investigation. You are in a dark room. All of a sudden you see what looks like a shadow figure walk across a doorway. Wow i just saw a shadow figure in the doorway you think to yourself. Did you really see a shadow figure? Are you sure the light and your brain aren’t working together to trick you? Maybe a car drove past outside and changed the light coming through a window down the hallway and your eyes have interpreted this light changed to be a shadow figure. You see where I am going with this? Using pareidoila , anything can essentially be debunked especially by a skeptic. This is why it is important to be objective but also trust your gut instinct too. Most of us would not be investigating the paranormal and continuing to do so if we had not have encountered things that we cannot explain. Have I seen a shadow figure? Yes I have and I stand by my gut. Could someone explain and use the argument that it is more the shadows and light playing tricks with me? Absolutely they could and I always think of these things when I have an experience and this is an important part of being an investigator – looking at all possibilities rational and paranormal and making a conclusion of what is more likely.
Did you know that some people argue EVP’s are a form of auditory pareidoila? The same concept where instead of your brain trying to make sense of images it cannot process it is doing the same things with sounds. A sound that the brain cannot process all of a sudden sounds like ‘hello’. Perhaps this is why with a lot of EVP’s if you have 5 people listen to the EVP without telling them what you think it says, it is likely they will all come back with a different interpretation of what is being said. This is why unless it is a Class A EVP it usually isn’t worth worrying about (see my previous article about the basics of EVP for more information). Have you ever heard of people playing music in reverse usually heavy metal music and they think they can hear satanic phrases or devil worshipping incantations? More likely again their brain is interpreting what it cannot understand. Perhaps your religious beliefs influence how you are interpreting this information and hence why there was the famous Jesus in a grilled cheese sandwich story. Again it all goes back to our brains.
I guess these are the kinds of things as investigators we need to be very aware of, research and understand. Pariedoila, matrixing whatever you want to call it is a form of Apophenia which derives from theories from doctors who have studied schizophrenia and implies that there is a human tendency to seek patterns in random information. These same people could debunk all haunting or paranormal activity as simply our brains trying to make sense of something. At the end of the day it is a skeptics right to not believe and it is my right to believe in the paranormal. Investigators simply take it that step further by trying to understand it more and prove it. This is why the concept of pareidoila is important for an investigator to fully understand. It is not just limited to photos we are presented on facebook. It comes into a lot of what we do. It is important to admit when we are wrong. 99% of what happens can be explained rationally and we know and embrace this. At the end of it all, we are always left with that 1% that for some reason we can’t seem to explain that 1% and that is why we keep chasing.
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