Ann and I walked through the garden producing the photographs that became the show Walking Through the Zen Garden. We had just walked along a narrow winding path when Ann pointed at this particular boulder and said, “That looks like a turtle.” I looked up from fiddling with my camera and said “That isn’t a turtle that’s just a … a… turtle.” Yeah, that does look like one.” click.
Thus, the artwork titled Turtle Rock arrived. But what happened? Why did I first look at the rock and never thought it looked like a turtle, but then it did?
The answer is form of Pareidolia. No, it’s not some tropical disease. It’s a weird scientific word that basically means that our brains attempt to make visual or auditory order out of chaos.
I saw a rock and a random texture of pebbles and crags in the rock. My brain did not enjoy it. Human brains dislike visual or auditory chaos. It perceives it as a threat. So it does something about it. It creates the illusions you see while looking at a cloud in the sky and begin to see houses, and faces, and expressions.
This stems from the days when we were hunters and gathers and depended on our five senses to survive. You need clear vision and pattern recognition to see your dinner running through the bushes so you can aim your spear. You also need clear distinct hearing and auditory recognition to recognize the sound of a charging elephant so you can get out-of-the-way.
If your senses trick you and offer nothing but random sights or sounds, your brain will rebel and attempt to see what it thinks it should. The reverse of this concept is why camouflage works. Camouflage creates chaotic patterns out of something identifiable and tricks your brain into not see what is actually there by using the opposite visual technique.
When I heard the word “turtle” my brain, not enjoying the chaos and lack of patterns in the rock, made my eyes look for the head of a turtle. I quickly identified the snout at the top, the eye in the middle, and the nearby rock as part of a turtle shell breaking the ground like water. Art created by the power of illusion through chaos.
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