[ This is the first in a series of posts about Apophenia in its various forms, in preparation for my upcoming CD based on this phenomenon (to be released digitally on July 2) ]
I recently read of supposed images of Jesus in stains on the floor at the Phoenix airport. This post was inspired by that curious occurrence.
All sentient beings look for patterns in their environment.
When you add a high degree of intelligence to the mix, you’ve also got Rûna (Old Norse term for pursuit of the Mysterious) to contend with, which leads to a desire to make sense of the potential patterns around you in a way far beyond just that necessary for survival.
The general term for this phenomenon is apophenia. This can be applied to seeing the Divine Elvis in your burnt toast, “hearing” the phone ring while you’re in the shower, seeing a face on Mars, hearing the voices of the dead in radio static, or pick your favorite conspiracy theory.
The images you see are greatly influenced by your host culture. If you come from a place where Christianity is the default religion, then your subconscious pattern making (along with your unexplained and mystical experiences) will lo and behold contain images of Jesus, angels, etc.
I doubt the people seeing Jesus in the floor woke up that morning with that task on their todo list. But when the mind wanders (remaining sane in an airport these days takes constant effort), the subconscious necessity for interpreting the possible patterns in your environment takes hold.
Personally, I’m more concerned with the causal principles (such as isolate intelligence) behind “gods” rather than any particular subtle deity representations of them. I still enjoy seeking out hidden representations of or references to various gods (especially in Egyptian art, where such multi-level representative practices are commonplace); but, this is different from assuming a random smudge is somehow a secret message only for those who can see (or worse yet, sent by God to convert the non-believer).
Using pattern recognition to your advantage is a handy skill. By applying discernment, you can use the patterns that seem to call to you as tools for reflection, and can even create patterns for yourself and others. This is a key evolving your world as a side effect of evolving yourself mindfully.
I think some of the tendency toward “seeing” a random face and assuming it is Jesus depends on where you think the source of Mystery comes from. If you think that mysterious and hidden things are a way to know “God”, then you would tend to interpret your encounters with the mysterious in such terms. If you take the approach that the pull of Runa, tempered by the pursuit of self-knowledge and increased access to Being, is more of a tool for learning about yourSelf than about anything external, then not only are you likely to “see” different things in spots on the floor, you’re also much more likely to place such encounters in a context that leads to self-transformation.
(One of my favorite shirts, which I wore until it fell apart, was from a series of “interesting” oil slicks photographed by Tom Waits at various tour stops over the years. Some of them looked like particular things if you stared at them long enough [sort of like finding animal shapes in clouds, which I always enjoy playing with my partner’s young daughters]; but most of them just looked like oil slicks until you wanted them to look like something else. I never could find Jesus though, or for that matter, Elvis.)