Medical Microfiction: Pareidolia

Dan’s Pantheon

One morning, Dan’s shiny chrome toaster produced a slice of toast imprinted with the Virgin Mary. But it really got his attention when in quick succession it produced Buddha, Krishna, Oprah, Moses, Confucius, and Lionel Messi.

Dan was briefly confused by the one with the squiggles, but learned it was Arabic for Mohammed.

The toaster showed no signs of stopping its miraculous performance. In the meantime, Dan’s tummy growled. Eating the wrong icon, however, might anger someone… powerful.

Better choose the one with the lightest punishment.

Hell was bad, but Dan knew soccer fans. He ate them all except Messi.


Don’t believe me that soccer fans (that’s “football” to most of the world) are a force to be reckoned with? If you live in the United States, you may be a bit sheltered from the fact that the official sport of humanity is soccer. It’s not American football, and it’s sure as heck not baseball.

So do not anger the Gods of Soccer, for they are powerful and unforgiving.

Cone Nebula
Cone Nebula (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pareidolia is a psychological tendency to see patterns in random chaos. In particular, humans tend to see faces in pretty much everything: the moon, the bushes, and even our breakfast. It’s responsible for why we see the shapes of animals in clouds. Sometimes people see the Cone Nebula and make out an image of Jesus praying. Others see rat-lizards on Mars, or Elvis inside a crater.

At times it gets a little ridiculous. For example, take this woman with her Goldfish cracker. She sees a cross. I see the distinctive imprint of a Phillips head screw.

Pareidolia as a phenomenon stems from the ventral fusiform gyrus in the brain. This portion of our noggins controls the ability to recognize faces. When it gets damaged, it results in a condition called prosopagnosia, or face blindness, which we’ll talk about in more depth sometime in the future.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter image by its HiRIS...
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter image showing the “Face on Mars” optical illusion.

What if pareidolia were to run amok in a way that defied explanation? That’s the premise of today’s flash fiction. After all, it’s one thing for your toaster to produce the Virgin Mary, but it’s an entirely different matter for it to print the Arabic characters for Mohammed.

That really puts the “pan” (French for bread) in “pantheon”, eh? *rimshot*

What are some of your favorite examples of pareidolia, in the news or in real life?


3 thoughts on “Medical Microfiction: Pareidolia

  1. Such a toaster could really be problematic. You don’t want to eat somebody’s god. Better to have two, I suppose. Brilliant story. You gave me a good laugh.

    1. Hey, glad you enjoyed it! I think you’re right – better to make a sandwich so that at least you’re not singling out anyone sacred. Who knows? Maybe holy toast is extra tasty!

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