Collective delusions: pareidolia, religion and invisible pink unicorns

This site is pretty much dedicated to the things we see, touch, record and create. But there are plenty of things people “see” that are not there. In troubled individuals, we call it delusions, hallucinations and we medicate. If enough people “see it” (and construct elaborate narratives around it) we call it religion.

Photo: Diego Delso, Wikimedia CC
Elephant rock, Iceland. If you have never seen an elephant it would not mean anything. Photo: Diego Delso, Wikimedia CC

To see the face of Virgin Mary in a tomato is hilariously amusing to us atheists. People could just as well find the face of Winnie the Poo in clouds, toast, wood-grain and crumpled textiles. It is a simple bias we humans are extremely good at: we see what we want to see, we see patterns where there are none (and I should add: we hear what we want to hear). Fact is: people see Winnie the Poo in clouds and wood grain all the time. It is just not interpreted as divine. It is merely a curious coincidence. Easily forgotten. This has a name: it is called pareidolia. I bet there are millions of patients journals that lists this as a problem. Unless the patient is religious. Hah.

That brings us to the hilarious faith of the Invisible Pink Unicorn:

Invisible Pink Unicorns are beings of great spiritual power. We know this because they are capable of being invisible and pink at the same time. Like all religions, the Faith of the Invisible Pink Unicorns is based upon both logic and faith. We have faith that they are pink; we logically know that they are invisible because we can’t see them.

A brilliant statement; internally consistent and impossible to attack. To me, religions are collective delusions. It is simply bollocks. There is too much wishful thinking, conveniences, and biases. “God” or “invisible pink unicorn” – it is all the same nonsense to me. The faith of the invisible pink unicorn suggests replacing “god” with “invisible pink unicorn” when reading the bible, and it makes just as much sense. Genesis 1:1:

In the beginning the Invisible Pink Unicorn created the heavens and the earth…and the Spirit of the Invisible Pink Unicorn was hovering over the waters. And the Invisible Pink Unicorn said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. The Invisible Pink Unicorn saw that the light was good, and she separated the light from the darkness.

At times, religion and religious individuals are flat out evil. We should have less of it, this pestilence, and more wonder, more wide-eyed curiosity more fascination of what is actually right in front of us: nature. Packed with meaning and utterly meaningless. An infinite beauty, weirdness, horror that we are part of.

All religions suppose some supreme or fantastical being of sorts and usually some notion of life after death etc. That is kinda what makes it a religion. For these variations on ghosts to have a presence and influence Brian Cox sums it up: for these to be real, it is not just a matter of believing or wanting to believe, or “seeing”, or a philosophical notion. We would have to tear up all the laws of physics we have so painstakingly assembled and tested. It would tear up cosmology, physics, mathematics. The laws of nature as we know them – all of them – would be invalid.

We notice things we have just heard of or that are important. If I enthusiastically talk about frogs you will start noticing frogs. Or, if you read the post Yisela wrote on snails. They were there all the time, but suddenly you see them all over the place; on pens, stickers, logos, sculptures, buttons, baking trays, bed linen, pillows, jewellery. In news, blogs, furniture. As for these images, I bet a lot of the shapes are identical to various – say – African tribal face masks and gods. It is just that we do not know that. So we do not see it. So it has no meaning.

“No damn cat, no damn cradle”.*

Oh, and by the way: people who call loud and obnoxious atheists for “militant atheists” needs a smack on the head and a history lecture. The day an atheist militia points a gun at you for reasons of your beliefs, you are allowed to talk about militant atheists. Not before. Until then you can call Richard Dawkins obnoxious, loud and annoying. And he is. But he is also often right.

*”No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat’s cradle is nothing but a bunch of X’s between somebody’s hands, and little kids look and look and look at all those X’s…”
“No damn cat, and no damn cradle.”

– Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s cradle

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