International Journal of Human Diversity and Evolution
Coverage: 1923-1941 (Vols. I-XIX) & 1962-2023 (Vols. 1-61)
ISSN 0323-1119 (Print)
ISSN 2570-9127 (Online)
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'Bednarik R, 2017: PAREIDOLIA AND ROCK ART INTERPRETATION. Anthropologie (Brno) 55, 1-2: 101-117'.
Visual pareidolia occurs when meaningful patterns representing familiar objects are seen in what are in reality random or meaningless data. It is of significance to anthropology for two reasons: as a psychological phenomenon of the human visual system; and because of its important role in rock art interpretation. Once the brain has been conditioned to anticipate specific patterns, it tends to discover them with minimal stimulation, because most of the information processed by the human visual centre derives from within the brain. The creative pattern detection that constitutes rock art "interpretation" is effectively a projection of invented meaning onto mute marks on rock. The modern beholder's perception searches the motif for details resonating with his/her visual system, in the same way as pareidolia operates. It decides arbitrarily which aspects are naturalistic and which are not, and it adjudicates which of an image's aspects are diagnostic. Yet the brain of the modern beholder of rock art differs significantly from that of its creator, and the notion that rock art connoisseurs can somehow conjure up the emic meanings of rock art motifs from their own brains' past experiences is mistaken. This paper illustrates the involvement of pareidolia in rock art appreciation through a series of examples and attempts to explain these observations.
Pareidolia – Apophenia – Visual system – Picture rocks – Rock art – Petroglyph – Iconographic interpretation

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