This week, something monumental happened in India. Our countrymen spiralled uncontrollably into a vortex of discomfiture and disbelief. Many questioned their own rationality as fault lines drew sharply, separating Indians into two camps: the ones who could see a pair of lady legs in the Myntra logo and the ones who couldn’t unsee it.
A well-meaning lady running a Mumbai-based NGO was at the centre of this controversy. Blessed with a vision to see obscenity even in the most innocuous of things, the enterprising woman single-handedly took the old Myntra logo down. She saw in the logo a pair of women’s legs splayed apart. Anticipating backlash, as one does in such cases, she even had her findings verified by a doctor, who said that the logo did look like the “delivery position.”
It took her three long years, running pillar to post across various fora, trying to foment enough outrage to bring down the logo. Her efforts bore fruits and Myntra yielded. They tweaked their logo ever so slightly to make it a lot more acceptable to the ladies. In so doing, she saved Indian women from having to grimace every time they shopped at the site.
But how did the country repay her for her services? We trolled her and accused her of the very thing she swore to destroy — obscenity.
As a reformed pervert who couldn’t get past words like “backend”, “penalise” or “dongle” without giggling, I know the plight of people who sense obscenity in everyday things. But this lady’s case is different. I am sure she isn’t a perv as many of you make her out to be.
In my opinion, she could be experiencing something known as pareidolia or seeing human forms and faces in things.
What is pareidolia?
Remember when we gazed at clouds and thought they looked like elephants, cars or spaceship? People routinely report seeing Jesus on toast or Vladimir Putin in a flock of birds.
The phenomenon is called pareidolia where we see patterns, shapes, faces and familiar objects in places where they don’t exist. Most commonly, we see human faces in things. For instance, check the froth formation on this cup of coffee.
In Kerala, children often get disastrous first lessons in astronomy from their parents, who lie about a rabbit hiding in the moon. Gullible kids fall for it hook, line and sinker, thanks to pareidolia.
Once considered a symptom of psychosis, pareidolia is now recognised as an entirely normal phenomenon. And it doesn’t have to be visual. You can also hear music, hidden messages in sounds. Have you ever tapped your foot to an oddly musical ceiling fan rattle?
It is my belief that our well-meaning friend from the NGO ostensibly experienced an episode of pareidolia when she saw a pair of legs spread out in the Myntra logo.
Why do we experience pareidolia?
Beats me. I am not a neuroscientist. But I’ve read up some articles and studies I found on the internet. From what I understand, pareidolia may have an evolutionary objective.
Pareidolia may save us from danger. Human beings are built with an innate face-recognition system to prepare us for a fight or flight response. For instance, if you see something like a face peering out of the bushes, you won’t stick around too long to find out what it is. You bolt out of there. What if it’s a cannibal lying in wait?
It could up our chances of survival. A study of pareidolia in infants found that babies who experienced the phenomenon were more likely to bond and be cared for by their parents. Thus they were also more likely to survive.
Who is more likely to experience pareidolia?
The religious were more likely to experience pareidolia, according to studies probably because they are more prone to suggestions or are more open-minded. In other words, they are more willing to “see” things.
Neurotic people may also see human faces and forms since they are more vigilant than their easy-going counterparts.
Women, who are more adept than men at decoding facial expressions, may also be more prone.