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There is no spoon

The word pareidolia has been bandied about quite a bit as a result of the strange pictures coming from Mars that seem to depict everything from a jedi woman to machinery. Now we have a strange picture that appears to be a spoon floating on Mars.

NASA’s response is predictable:

There is no spoon. This weird Mars feature is likely a ventifact—a rock shaped by wind. Info: — Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) September 2, 2015

It seems that we are to believe that Mars is filled with nothing but rocks and dirt! Perhaps it’s true, but where is the fun in that? I didn’t spend all my time reading H. G. Wells and watching Devil Girl from Mars to have my hopes dashed. It’s…it’s just disappointing!

Actually, it’s fascinating how our minds are so geared to find meaningful patterns. It’s what allows us to appreciate art. It’s what makes emoticons work. 🙂

It seems that that our brains are wired to seek patterns, especially faces. In his book Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark Carl Sagan wrote

“As soon as the infant can see, it recognizes faces, and we now know that this skill is hardwired in our brains. Those infants who a million years ago were unable to recognize a face smiled back less, were less likely to win the hearts of their parents, and less likely to prosper. These days, nearly every infant is quick to identify a human face, and to respond with a goony grin.”

Recognizing your parents is good, but it’s probably also helpful to see the potential for anything that might eat you. While we are less concerned about sabre tooth tigers today, haven’t we all had a moment where we saw something that looked like an intruder? The heart pounds, the body prepares to fight or fly. It ends up being a pile of clothes. From a defensive position, though, wouldn’t you rather that your body geared up for action and discovered it was a false alarm than to only activate as something was reaching out for you?

So, this fascinating ability of our brains causes us to recognize all sorts of thing, and keep the NASA public relations team up nights trying to fend it all off. Or…they really are out there and it’s all a big cover-up. Fortunately we still have pictures like this, which appears to show the silhouette of a man doing maintenance on the rover.

Now, tell me what kind of rock that is! To help you keep the dreams alive, here is a trailer for Devil Girl from Mars. You might even be able to find a full version to watch!

Keep watching the skies!

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