Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The belief of the beholder

Since people have believed in God, people have been seeing the image of God in many things: clouds, shadows on a wall, even jars of peanut butter. This week, a Lodi woman says that an image of Jesus has appeared in her backyard fence (as shown, with the help of my Photoshop skills, below).

I think it goes without saying that in this case, as with other Godly sightings, the image of Christ is in the belief of the beholder. To some people, it's a discolored patch on a fence. To Ana Garcia, a devout Catholic, and other believers it appears to be her Savior.

Put it another way: When a friend of mine first saw this picture, she said: "It looks like the Geico caveman!"

It goes to show that rather than being "out there," God might really be in us. (Interpret that how you will).


Erdos56 said...

For me it does show how effective we are as pattern recognition machines. Moreover, we exaggerate the significance of certain patterns like those that look like faces because they are potential threats. It is better to err on the side of caution (a false positive) than to get attacked (a false negative).

Interestingly, with regard to your final comment, there is an entire theory about the origin of religion that is based around our exaggerated learning responses. In this model, the same asymmetric error profile happens if we do not attribute intentionality to inanimate objects. We think the wolf wants to eat us. We think the storm wants to destroy our home. By assuming malevolent intent, we respond better and we plot against our enemies. Thus, the origins of animism and the first step towards more advanced religious ideas.

In that, God is really in us and we believe he/she/it is out there, too.

Erdos56 said...

one correction: not "inanimate objects", but instead we attribute intentionality to non-human objects.