In November 2004 52 year old Diana Duyser from Florida USA, sold on e-bay a grilled cheese sandwich she had made ten years previously for $28,000 and in the process had 1.7 million hits to this particular e-bay item.Why such interest in a frankly inedible piece of food? Well quite simply because there in the cheese toastie was the quite discernible face of the Virgin Mary and ever since the toasted treat had been in her possession, Ms.Duyser claimed to have had nothing but good luck.However this is not such an isolated incident. People have been seeing faces in all sorts of objects for a very long time. Indeed ‘Fortean Times’ the monthly magazine that explores anomalous phenomena, has a regular gallery of such occurrences and very convincing they are too, from the Rock Man of Holy Island to the celebrated image of the face on Mars. Perhaps the oldest example of seeing faces in objects is that of the Man in the Moon, which just goes to show how long humans have been perceiving faces in objects.
But why should this be so? Perhaps the answer lies in face recognition, with research evidence tending to support the notion that recognising faces is a specialised ability different to that which allows us to recognize other kinds of objects. This suggests that face recognition is important to humans and that we may indeed be ‘hard-wired’ to perceive faces. This would certainly have a survival value to young infants and it’s worth remembering that our complex social interactions are only possible due to our ability to learn and recognise multitudes of faces.So next time you’re flat on your back watching the clouds drift aimlessly by and you suddenly espy a familiar face, it might not be such weird occurrence after all and quite explicable by reference to psychology. Such a marvellous subject don’t you think?