The human mind has a wonderful capability for recognizing visual patterns containing faces. It's a talent that obvious evolutionary forces select for with ferocious power. (Likewise natural selection has bred into the male mind a wonderful capacity for recognizing ... uh, we'll discuss that another time.)

At home at night, looking out from the window at the top of the stairs, intermittently during the past year or two I've noticed something face-like glowing in the distance, as shown in the above photograph. Its angular size is small, about the size of my little fingernail at arm's length. Tree branches in neighboring yards partially obscure it, so it must be some distance away, seemingly tens of meters or farther. (For this picture to be the right size it should be viewed from across a room; to maximize the effect, look at it in a darkened room against a black background.)

My brain instantly parses the pattern as a huge black-and-white image of a woman's head, features framed with long straight hair, projected on the wall of a building a block or two away. As I stare at it the face seems to move slightly, like a silent movie of someone speaking to the camera. But why would anyone run such a strange film outdoors, late at night or early in the morning? What kind of show would always have almost the same picture? Is this some supernatural vision?

The Mystery Face didn't appear to me every night, only occasionally. I couldn't figure out how far away it was, or how to observe it from any vantage point other than that single upstairs window. Often it came to my attention shortly before dawn, just as I was preparing to rush off to work, so I didn't have time to investigate it in any detail. During daylight hours nothing corresponding to the face was apparent to me as I looked in that direction.

A few days ago I solved the puzzle. Like the "Face on Mars", and like countless sightings of the faces of religious figures on walls, trees, pancakes, etc., my Mystery Face was the product of a visual cortex striving to find meaning in pattern. It was simply a semi-transparent basketball backboard, located at the top of a neighbor's driveway, perhaps taken down or covered at certain seasons. Even when it was in place, unless a streetlight much farther away was shining through it the effect wasn't noticeable. In seasons when there were more leaves on the trees it was completely obscured. Below is a daytime photo. Case closed.

(cf. DailyPresents (26 Feb 2004), ...)

TopicMind - TopicHumor - TopicPersonalHistory - 2006-04-06

(correlates: ToastyOvaries, InverseAphorisms, PoeticCredo, ...)