Supernatural Visions are Perfectly Normal


The Toronto Star, Canada’s highest-circulation newspaper, has good news for those of us who see signs and wonders in our breakfast toast. Their headline is: ‘Jesus on toast’ just a sign your brain is doing its job. They say, with some bold font added by us for emphasis:

Spotting Jesus on your morning toast, the Virgin Mary on a piece of bark or the face of Elvis on a potato chip is completely normal; all you have to do is believe. “Believing is seeing,” says Kang Lee, a University of Toronto professor and the lead researcher behind a new study that finds “face pareidolia” or finding the Lord and Saviour in your toast is, in fact, not a sign your imagination has run away with itself.

Rejoice, dear reader — you’re not insane. The professor also tells us:

“We impose our expectations, our interpretations on all the stimulants we receive in the world,” says Lee, who partnered on the project with several Asian institutions. In other words, because human brains are specifically designed to recognize faces — even when they aren’t there — and because the frontal cortex interprets outside stimuli and generates our expectations — you can find Jesus.

Wouldja believe it — his research has been published! The newspaper says:

Participants were hooked up to a brain scan and their individual behavioural responses to various images were studied. The results were published in the April 2014 edition of Cortex.

Here’s a link to that paper: Seeing Jesus in toast: Neural and behavioral correlates of face pareidolia, but without a subscription, all you can read is the abstract. Let’s get back to the Toronto Star:

“You’re not going crazy,” Lee assures. “You actually see the pixels of faces in the noise because your brain is interpreting it.” And depending on what you’re expecting to see, you might see Jesus, you might see Buddha or you might see different letters.

Or, as happens to us, you might see Darwin. Here’s one more excerpt:

And if you’re lucky enough to happen upon a religious icon at the bottom of your chip bag, there could be an opportunity to cash in. Food bearing a resemblance to religious icons has been sold online, including a popular “Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese Sandwich” that sold on eBay for $28,000.

This is great research! Now the professor needs to explain how the creationist brain can read scripture and find within it all of physics, astronomy, geology, and biology.

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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13 responses to “Supernatural Visions are Perfectly Normal

  1. Brilliant! It’s toast every morning for me from now on!

  2. It’s not exactly news that the brain can interpret visual images in ways that don’t correspond completely to reality. But when you think a cloud is actually a dragon, rather than a cloud the looks like what you imagine a dragon might look like, you are a bit crazy.

  3. Off-topic (or is it): discount the sensationalist (and somewhat misleading) headline, but such is journalism: Universe evolution recreated in lab

    Full report is in Nature: Properties of galaxies reproduced by a hydrodynamic simulation


    Previous simulations of the growth of cosmic structures have broadly reproduced the ‘cosmic web’ of galaxies that we see in the Universe, but failed to create a mixed population of elliptical and spiral galaxies, because of numerical inaccuracies and incomplete physical models. Moreover, they were unable to track the small-scale evolution of gas and stars to the present epoch within a representative portion of the Universe. Here we report a simulation that starts 12 million years after the Big Bang, and traces 13 billion years of cosmic evolution with 12 billion resolution elements in a cube of 106.5 megaparsecs a side. It yields a reasonable population of ellipticals and spirals, reproduces the observed distribution of galaxies in clusters and characteristics of hydrogen on large scales, and at the same time matches the ‘metal’ and hydrogen content of galaxies on small scales.

    AiG won’t like it one little bit…

  4. Megalonyx informs us: “Universe evolution recreated in lab”

    I’ve been reading about it. Quite a computer program. But I don’t know what to say about it, so let’s wait until the creationists give me the, ah, wedge I need.

  5. This should not be construed as relating only to religion, lest we forget all the excitement regarding connecting the dots and lo and behold there were canals on Mars, etc. The mind can play tricks, consciously or unconsciously, as we project our feelings and connect the dots, and this is a problem with crime scene witnesses, what did they see, and did everyone see the same event in the same manner? In this case, however, the difference is what is actually there? And for anyone to pay $28000 for a “Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese Sandwich” is totally absurd. Probably made with stinky limburger cheese anyway.

  6. Ceteris Paribus

    However, no Jesus-on-toast counts as a true pareidolia relic, unless three witnesses bring forth sworn testimony that the Jesus-on-toast will unfailingly fall face side down on the floor, provided it is first anointed with myrrh. Or at least well slathered with marmalade.

  7. Here is my version of Darwin toast.
    When you eat it you evolve.

  8. @ Troy: That’s a wonderful piece of toast, but to be honest, I think the supernatural visage looks more like something out of Harry and the Hendersons….

  9. Megalonyx, yes I see what you are talking about. Which leads us to an unpleasant truth that Harry’s look was based on Darwin.

  10. @ Roman Olynyk It says you have been touched by His noodly appendage! Thou art indeed blessed!


  11. Mark Joseph

    Don’t miss: Spider butt reveals God.

  12. @MJ: That spider is a lot like the Japanese crab that had a face-like pattern on its carapace featured in the original Cosmos series. Sagan mentioned that it was thought to be the result of evolution — for good luck, the Japanese fishermen would throw back any crab that had a facial pattern. It didn’t take long for all the crabs of that species to very closely resemble a human face.