Is that Jesus in my soup/ toast/ street sign/ tree?

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Pane from McClouds Understanding Comics- “Vocabulary of Comics”

The concept of seeing faces within any environmental object is called apophenia. Psychologytoday.com describes the process of on the fly facial recognition as;

“…when our pattern-recognition systems misfire, they tend to err on the side of caution and self-deception. The experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data was coined apophenia by the German neurologist, Klaus Conrad. He originally described this phenomenon as a kind of psychotic thought process, though it is now viewed as being a ubiquitous feature of human nature… Examples of apophenia, or patternicity, are everywhere. Many people perceive faces in seemingly random places—such as in clouds, in patterns of dirt left on cars, or on the moon. We take such patterns a step further by ascribing meaning to them. People have seen the images of Jesus and Mary inside a halved orange; or the face of Jesus on a piece of toast. “

This is a very interesting concept, especially seeing that this is done at such a subliminal level that it is ingrained in our basic functioning. This initially was used in determining threat level and reacting appropriately. Ascribing a face to the object allowed us to recognize it faster and respond regardless of level of threat. Now, in this era, we see it more as a means to laugh as we see a goofy smiley face in our hamper or sidewalk. A great list of examples are linked here at wtface.com.

To drive this home below is a three minute video on apophenia brought to you by Stuff to Blow Your Mind:

I See Faces Everywhere!

Now, to bring it back around. McCloud offers a very interesting point in his “Vocabulary of Comics” piece.

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This is problematic for me in that he is saying there is a separation between the two mediums. The science of seeing a face -any face- purposed in apophenia would contend that you learned the picture and word in tandem. At the time of understanding the face you have internalized the term of face. They would work in strict connection, if not overlap in meaning. That is why I would beg to differ on how separated they two mediums are.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, an Austrian-British philosopher dealing mainly in logic, brought up the concept of words and their image. He started with the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus that helped make connection to the world via human lens. Below is a list called “The Seven Basic Propositions” from the Tractatus translated by C.K. Ogden:

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He attaches these concepts to his outlook on imagery and text very thoughtfully as he gives credence that one can not be without the other. They can not be divorced of each other because one will beget the other. Below is an except from his philosophy essay provided by The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

“The move to thought, and thereafter to language, is perpetrated with the use of Wittgenstein’s famous idea that thoughts, and propositions, are pictures—“the picture is a model of reality” (TLP 2.12). Pictures are made up of elements that together constitute the picture. Each element represents an object, and the combination of elements in the picture represents the combination of objects in a state of affairs. The logical structure of the picture, whether in thought or in language, is isomorphic with the logical structure of the state of affairs which it pictures. More subtle is Wittgenstein’s insight that the possibility of this structure being shared by the picture (the thought, the proposition) and the state of affairs is the pictorial form. “That is how a picture is attached to reality; it reaches right out to it” (TLP 2.1511). This leads to an understanding of what the picture can picture; but also what it cannot—its own pictorial form.

While “the logical picture of the facts is the thought” (3), in the move to language Wittgenstein continues to investigate the possibilities of significance for propositions (4). Logical analysis, in the spirit of Frege and Russell, guides the work, with Wittgenstein using logical calculus to carry out the construction of his system. Explaining that “Only the proposition has sense; only in the context of a proposition has a name meaning” (TLP 3.3), he provides the reader with the two conditions for sensical language. First, the structure of the proposition must conform to the constraints of logical form, and second, the elements of the proposition must have reference (bedeutung). These conditions have far-reaching implications. The analysis must culminate with a name being a primitive symbol for a (simple) object. Moreover, logic itself gives us the structure and limits of what can be said at all.”

Although McCloud gives very compelling analysis on the spectrum of image and text I  would have to say that it is not as separate as he would lead on. I look forward to learning the readers takes on this. Are words and text as distinctive as McCloud says. Or are they more blended into a synthsized hybrid of image and word.

-Mike Sullivan

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15 thoughts on “Is that Jesus in my soup/ toast/ street sign/ tree?

  1. I think that when McCloud talks about the difficulties in words and text as compared to images, he makes a valid point. When we read more complex words, it takes us more time to peel away the layers and decipher the meaning. With detail heavy images, it takes us more time to get through the layers and see every piece. To look at the detailed face you’d know it’s a face, but it would take you longer to get through the details. Similar to lengthy or complex passages of text, which would take a decent amount of time to gain a full understanding. However, the smiley face is as easy to determine as the word “face.” Therefore, I think McCloud brings an important point up for discussion.

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    • a learning curve is in understanding the image and the words that make up an image. So when you establish both would it not be reasonable to say one is the other without extra effort?

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  2. I think you took a very interesting take on McCloud’s piece. While I am clearly familiar with the concept of seeing faces in objects, I never knew the coined term for it “apophenia.” The wtface.com website was also an entertaining yet appropriate link to include. As far as McCloud’s perception of perceiving and receiving I do understand both his point and yours. I tend to agree with McCloud that receiving images and words depending on certain factors such as detail, boldness, and directness could take quite longer to perceive then it would for others. While we are still ultimately understanding the text or image the process might take longer depending.

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  3. I agree with your take on McCloud’s piece. Instead of trying to separate the two, I believe that it is important to realize that words and pictures are directly related to each other. He says that pictures are just pictures until you apply a word to them to give them a meaning. What I found hard to understand was how he could expect us to be able to perceive the meaning of a picture without first understanding the words we need to explain the meaning. Aside from this, however, I do understand that the overall ability to perceive and receive the meaning of pictures and words are often directly related to the amount of detail, boldness, and directness.

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  4. I would like to comment on the part of your blog where you mention McCloud’s “Vocabulary of Comics” piece. It made me look at this piece from a whole other perspective. At first, it made sense to me that words and pictures can be taken as two different mediums. My thinking was based on “a picture can speak 1,000 words”, but after reading this blog, I now see it in another way. I agree that it’s definitely important to recognize the relationship between words and pictures, but I now recognize they work hand in hand, rather than one having more meaning than the other. Yes, a picture can speak 1,000 words, but that doesn’t necessarily mean those words are right. Imagery and text have equal importance.

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  5. I also tend to see faces everywhere. On the front of cars, in food, and in almost everything I can figure out some type of way to make a face out of it. As humans, we are very good with face recognition. This is why when you meet someone once you may tend to notice them more now even if they were walking past you all the time. I also really like McCloud’s point in “vocabulary of comics”. This is because when I am trying to read a sentence with very complicated words I tend to tune them out, but if the words are bolded are will pay special attention to them just as if they were pictures.

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  6. I agree with your take on McCloud’s piece. Like you said we have to understand what a face is in order to recognize that that is what we’re seeing. I also thought the video link was not appropriate, but insightful and added a new branch of discussion. We put words with images in order to detect threats; it is ingrained in our system. This further proves McCloud’s point wrong if what the video shows is true. I also thought the diagram you showed was insightful and relevant to the topic, expanding it further outside of McCloud’s main principle. Overall, Mike, I think you did a very good job of backing up your opinion with the reading and gathering sources outside of it that actually flowed nicely within the topic.

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  7. what i found most interesting about your post is that there is a word for making faces out of random objects, like the front of a car or in the clouds. I always see faces on random things and I never knew it had to do with facial recognition so i thought that was really cool. But I really like how McCloud says that when reading a really dense text it may be harder to understand what you are reading because when something is difficult we tend to just blow right over this. But if a word is bolded, its importance is pointed out making the reader more likely to look up the word and figure out its meaning.

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  8. This blog post is really mind opening and interesting! I had no idea there could be a ‘condition’ or specific name for seeing faces on objects! I just thought of these people to be special. I can remember the lady that came across Jesus’ face in her food and it became incredibly famous. Although, this could easily be very false and made up, I still found it intriguing. Are these people that see faces crazy to a certain extent? I don’t think so entirely. I also found it interesting that apophenia helps us to determine the text more clearly regardless of the threat behind the image. This goes hand in hand that images are indeed portrayed through text and can get quit in depth based upon the meaning behind the image.

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  9. Pingback: We See Differently | Blogging is the New Black

  10. I really connected to the video you added in the post. The video, and McCloud, explain how humans can see a face in anything. Two dots, then another below it, and line below that is face anywhere it is put. We do this not just with faces, but with everything; everything is always something. Humans are always trying to make connections to things, which is not a bad thing. We want to make sense of our world. But it is things that we don’t understand or have a representation for that stump us. I was reading some of the other comments and a few people mentioned that when they read a passage and they don’t understand a word or two they get lost; they have no connection to what they are reading. But if they noticed a word that was bolded or italicized they may pay more attention to that. This is making the connection that words and images are the same.

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  11. I think we all can relate to seeing faces in random objects. I found the clip you included from McCloud’s “Vocabulary of Comics” to be spot on. I mean if you think back to when you were little and learning to draw a persons face, everyone would most likely think about what they look then attempt to put that onto paper, Nearly everyone would end up with a face, two eyes, a nose, and a mouth. Nothing fancy but how they perceive a person to look like. Even at young ages people make connections such as these.
    I would have to agree with you that text and images are not as separate as McCloud may have thought them to be.

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  12. I thought this was really interesting. Most people have done this or at least have heard of this. We believe just about anything, but maybe sometimes we do see things, and maybe we don’t. But when we think we do I think it’s funny how much people will create meaning as to what that is. I see Jesus on my toast, maybe he is going to finally answer my prayers. Or maybe you spot your lucky number somewhere and it gives you hope that you will have a good day or your bad day will get better. We connect meanings to things and sometimes they make people feel better. Interesting topic.

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  13. I had never heard of the term “apophenia,” until this. I agree when you say that there is a separation between the two mediums, and I also understand why McCloud says that “when pictures are abstracted from reality, they require greater levels of perception, more like words.” I think that the specific way pictures are taken have tremendous effects on them.

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  14. The idea of apophenia is a new concept for me, but I have had the personal experience of noticing a face in another object. I immediately began to think about how people claim to see objects in clouds. Your take on McCloud’s piece is quite interesting; I never would have been able to come up with this kind of connection. I actually agree with the idea of perception when it comes to abstract pictures. If an image is distorted from reality, we are enhancing our thought process by trying to analyze and perceive it in terms of reality, if that makes sense. The way pictures represent our reality and our world really does have a huge effect on how we look at them.

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