Tuesday, 19 April 2011

...for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them,....

... and that Rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:4)

There's a house in Wales with a striking resemblance to everyone's favourite dictator (right down to the dorky 'tache).

God knows how much feng shui it would require to counteract such a negative influence

Behind the quiet exterior, number 18 was secretly planning an invasion of Poland  
Pareidolia, or the tendency to see "faces" in things is an outgrowth of the highly developed faculty in humans to discriminate facial features (for recognition of group members), or to read facial expressions  (for successful within-group social interaction, Darwin wrote a book on the subject). The most famous example is probably the face-on-Mars. Babies respond to faces after a few weeks and this ability seems to be hard-wired in us. Neuroscientists have identified a region of the brain, the fusiform face area, that is hyper-activated when a test subject views and attempts to identify a face. That this ability is innate is supported by individuals with prosopagnosia (or face blindness) which can be present from birth or brought on by head injury, and who are unable to recognise the faces even of close relatives.

I find it intriguing that so much of what we treasure as uniquely human may be just unanticipated excrescences of features having genuine survival value. Music may be a by-product of the evolutionarily vital language instinct, and mathematics an out-growth of the aptitude for spatial visualisation which is of obvious utility to teams of hunters (hence the male advantage). An argument against this line of reasoning is that evolution doesn't over-endow, i.e. natural selection is so finely tuned that it  doesn't confer abilities far in excess of what is immediately useful.

I call bullshit on that. Take tardigrades. These tiny aquatic invertebrates can form cysts (called tuns) where they enter a state of suspended animation with their water content dropping to 1% and metabolism to less than 0.01% of normal levels. This stage, which evolved as a mechanism to survive intermittent periods of dessication, is incredibly resistant to adverse conditions. It can survive for a decade without water, heating for a few minutes to 150°C, freezing for several days at -200°C and a few minutes at -272°C (1° above absolute zero). They can survive in a vacuum and high pressures (up to 6,000 atmospheres) and irradiation up to 5,000-6,000 Grays (fatal exposure in humans is 5-10 Gy). Unless tardigrades are in the habit of regularly venturing out into space I'd say this is a clear case of over-endowment.

Conservation status "Least concern" LOL. We're in greater danger of extinction.
Anyway, what does all this have to to with the Biblical verse in the title? Back to pareidolia. I had my own little brush with this phenomenon several years ago. I had taken J. to a playground where some of the play equipment had been freshly painted. The painters had left a bit of a mess and some of the boulders dotted around the playground (for the kids to clamber on) had dabs of yellow paint, probably from an attempt to smear excess paint off the brushes. Checking to see if the paint was dry I was stunned to see what appeared from a distance to be a random grouping of daubs, rearrange into a passable image of Christ.

Rock of Ages?
Even more striking is that the texture of the rock appears to follow the contours of a human face (there's a bit of a bump where the nose is and indentations for the eyes).

Ave Christus Rex!
Unfortunately it's a bit too heavy for me to take home and hawk on Ebay. I was there just this weekend and aside from some slight weathering, it's still as distinct. A miracle! 

Could it have been done deliberately? I think not, it would require a great deal of talent to depict something hovering on the edge between meaninglessness and intentional representation. At least anyone able to do so is wasting himself painting municipal equipment. Furthermore the nose and parts of the cheeks were formed by dripping paint so it clearly seems quite unintended. Praise the Lord!

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