Would You Like Jesus Toast with That?

Seeing faces in objects "perfectly normal"

Well, it's not completely in your imagination.     Photo: Marshall Astor/Flickr

When Christians suggest that Jesus is always with us, they're not speaking literally—but plenty of people still find the prophet in their food. Ten years ago, a woman sold her grilled cheese sandwich bearing an image of the Virgin Mary for $28,000 on eBay. And although we might laugh at our friends who see famous faces in everything from Cheetos to clouds, University of Toronto researchers now say this phenomenon is "perfectly normal."

The study, published in the new issue of Cortex, classifies these apparitions as "face pareidolia" and determined they can be explained by normal physical causes.

"Most people think you have to be mentally abnormal to see these types of images, so individuals reporting this phenomenon are often ridiculed," said University of Toronto professor and study author Kang Lee. "But our findings suggest that it's common for people to see nonexistent features because human brains are uniquely wired to recognize faces, so even when there's only a slight suggestion of facial features, the brain automatically interprets it as a face."

Through analyzing brain scans and behavioral patterns, the study's authors found that our frontal cortexes generate expectations as we look at things and send signals to the posterior visual cortex to interpret stimuli in our environment. We see different images based on what our brains expect to see, and finding Jesus in toast is just a natural extension of a normally functioning frontal cortex. In other words, the phrase "seeing is believing" might be backwards.

So, go forth and bid on these food artifacts to your heart's content. We just can't promise we won't judge you.

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