Tuesday, February 13, 2007

"Faces, Faces Everywhere"

Up late last night, I checked email around 2:00 a.m. and found a note from my friend Robert Anasi, a man that knows about boxing and the real Indiana Jones. He was the first of many people to direct me to an article in today’s New York Times called “Faces, Faces Everywhere.” Printed in the Science Times section, the writer opens the piece by evoking Diana Duyser and her Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese Sandwich, which eventually sold on eBay for $28,000. After mentioning a few other high-profile examples of recognizable faces showing up in unexpected places (most of which are included in Madonna of the Toast) the article takes a very cursory look at the scientific process that hopes to identify how and why humans tend to recognize human form in burns, rock outcroppings and anywhere else you can imagine.

While my examination of these phenomena leans towards the cultural ramifications of such discoveries, the piece in the Times bowled me over for a few reasons. First off, I’m psyched that the powers-that-be at the Times deemed this subject worthy of inclusion in the paper. While science has yet to provide any concrete neurological reasons for why we see iconic faces in all sorts of surprising places, the more tangible indicators of human action (like media exposure and money spending) prove what I try to bring out with all the examples in the book, namely that it’s not so much about why we see the faces, but how what we see drives people to action: the media converges, large sums of money are spent, people make pilgrimages.

It amazed me that the “paper of record” was unable to locate Duyser for comment. I speak with her frequently. I would have happily arranged for Duyser to comment on the piece, as this half-a-sandwich has made an indelible impact on her life.

Lastly, nowhere in the article is the psychological phenomenon of pareidolia mentioned. It seems like a gross omission, considering that the piece uses science as its point of entry. I’ve already mentioned pareidolia in very unscientific terms on here over the last couple of days, so I’ll spare you more on that subject.

Overall, this strikes me as a very positive development for the book. Maybe one of these days the Times will come to me and ask me what I think about all of this. If they don’t, at least you can come here and get a sense, and if you’re really keen to read what I think, you can always buy the book!

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