table of contents

a look at how humans think and see

Shape, Form and Pattern Biases
by David Rudd Cycleback

(c) cycleback 2003, 2005 all rights reserved


















































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































Human perceptions are greatly influenced by biases for forms, shapes and patterns. Humans have ingrained and unbconscious attractions for specific forms, shapes and patterns. Some of these biases are inborn, while others are learned. These biases greatly influence how we perceive, organize and label, and are essential to the quick identifications needed to go through life.

Humans can naturally tell the difference between a perfect and slightly lopsided circle and between a straight and slightly bent metal bar. This ability is cross cultural. Someone in Berlin and someone in Cairo have the same ability.

You instantly perceived a dog in the black shape that started this chapter, even though the shape lacked fur, eyes, whiskers and other essential dog details. You didn't have to contemplate the shape. You perceived it instantly.

The problem for humans is that their biases for certain shapes, forms and patterns is so strong and ingrained that they will see perceive things even when they don't objectively exist.


Creatures in clouds and other subjective visions

Our form and pattern biases are shown in action when we perceive horses or castles or hot rods and other familiar shapes in the clouds. These 'identifications' are subjective to the viewer, and do not objectively exist in cloud. There are thousands of possible connect-the-dot shapes in a cloud, but you perceive, or mentally pick out, that which aligns with your knowledge. The horse or castle is a projection of what exists in your mind. If there were no horses on earth or in fantasy books, you would not perceive a horse in the cloud.

The figures in stars don't exist except as we draw them. The stars could have been connected into millions of designs than our ancestors picked. The faces or figures we perceive in burnt toast and wood brain and stones are projections of our minds. What you perceive is as much a representation of you as what you are looking at.

I hope you realize that if you pick up a stone with a pattern you think looks like Elvis, the stone existed long before Elvis was born.


* * * *

The Face on Mars

In 1976 the NASA spacecraft Viking 1 took photographs of an area on the planet Mars that contained many giant mesas, craters and other geological formations. One of the mesas in the photographs somewhat resembled a human face. As should not be unexpected, many humans on earth became interested in this 'human face' (and, as should not be unexpected, were uninterested in all the surrounding formations that didn't resemble human faces). Some were and still are convinced the mesa was constructed by intelligent life form.

This perception of the 'face' is merely a pattern bias, a projection of the viewer's mind whose own face has a similar form. If someone has patterns in his mind (human face, kitty cat, square, letter 'B,' house key, baseball cap, etc) and looks at enough information (such as all the geological formations on a planet's surface), he will be able to pick out many of these patterns in the information. Seeing the 'face of Nixon' isn't proof a potato was built by intelligent life form. It just means that out of millions and millions and millions of potatoes, a few are bound to somewhat resemble a former US President who had a big nose.

As the following images show, the 'face on Mars' is just one of many mesas, hills and craters that come in a wide variety of shapes.


Just another mesa in the crowd


Years later, the above photograph of the same mesa was shot at a different angle and time of day. This shows that angle and shadow contributed to the perception of a face. If originally shot at this angle and time of day, the mesa would not have been perceived as a face and humans on earth would have considered it no more significant than any of the other blobs in the photographs.

Smiley face of Mars?


Is it a vase or is it two faces?

The standard 'Is is a vase or is it two faces looking at each other?' visual illusion shows that humans project a subjective identity onto an object. You will initially see a black vase or a pair of white faces looking at each other. As you stare longer your perception will be replaced by the other view, then your perception will flip back and forth between the two views. The picture is unchanging, while your perception of it changes.

Of course, it is neither a vase or faces, but a black and white form. The picture could be perceived as thousands of different things. However, in part by your shape biases and by the leading question ('Is it a vase or faces?'), you perceived a vase and faces. As I look at the picture, I could see how the top or bottom portion could be perceived as two boots placed back to back. The chin to nose areas could be perceived as little black faces. The black shape could be seen as a table. And so on.

There's no reason that it has to be percieved in the form of any object. It is the human's prediliction that it should be organized into to identifiable thing. main



(c) david rudd cycleback, all rights reserved