You’ve heard about it, no doubt? About once or twice a year, somewhere in the world, there is a big commotion about someone seeing an image of Jesus Christ in a piece of toast or something like that. The latest today is a fabric softener stain. There are always one of two reactions to the big discovery by others: either, they think the person making the discovery is crazy or they think it’s a miracle. But one thing remains constant…we all just have to look and see for ourselves. So, with all the intense drama this past week, Common Sense Conspiracy decided to take a minute or two to analyze the psychology behind those that see figures of Jesus in random objects.
The answer is the fusiform gyrus. Huh? This is a part of the brain that scientists have isolated as responsible for the Jesus toast and fabric softener effect. It is not limited to that though. Basically, this region of the brain attempts to find familiarity in pretty much everything we see as a matter of course. Sometimes, when an object bears a certain resemblance to something in our mind, it can result in this phenomenon.
Go back to when you were a kid. Who hasn’t looked up at the sky on a majestic spring day and seen a cloud that resembled something? Dinosaur? Jesus? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? We’ve all been there, and though most of us reasonably assume that it is coincidence, and while interesting to behold, there’s not really a dinosaur in the sky or a message being beamed down to us, when the misinterpreted image takes on some forms, it can cause some people to read more into it.
So, are these people that makes these claims “looking for Jesus” in that piece of burnt toast? Not exactly. It just so happens that the pattern of the burnt toast mimics a pattern that their brain, in its attempt to match it to something, anything, matches it to Jesus Christ. For the record, your brain goes through this same process almost every waking second as you go through your day-to-day activities, instantly matching what the eye perceives to your memory’s catalog of familiar objects. It’s called visually identifying something. 99.9% of the time, the brain gets it right, or realizes that the object is completely new and files it away for future reference. But then, every once in a while, a couple of images coincide and the brain registers something as “familiar” despite the insinuation being ridiculous.
So, why does it cause some people to call the local news station and start singing praises to the Lord while others dismiss it as nothing at all? Well, the answer to that lies in the psychology of the rest of the brain. The actual fusiform gyrus does what it does for everyone. It’s simply a part of how the brain functions. It’s the rest of your brain, namely the logic and reasoning parts, that will then take this information and process it in one way or another. Then, there are all sorts of environmental effects. For example, a person that prays to Jesus every night probably has a higher inclination to see Jesus’ face in a palm tree than say, your friendly neighborhood atheist. A person that has some big problems in their personal life and has been praying about it might be more likely to take a Jesus stain in the fabric softener as a sign from God, while someone who is in relatively good spirits might take it as a curious coincidence. So, like most things when you start delving into the human mind, it is a combination of how the person’s mind works individually and the effects of the environment.
Lastly, to prove that this is a concoction of the mind and not appearances of the Savior of the World in random objects, let’s look at it from a different perspective. If Jesus Christ did want to make an appearance, why a piece of burnt toast? When He knows that people will dismiss it as frivolous because of the frequency that people make such silly claims? Is this a testing of faith to see who will believe? But why should they? We have minds to logically reason things out, and is it really faith to believe something random is a miracle and vision just because it resembles an image that most likely looks nothing like the real thing anyway?
The image of Jesus that people always see in these random objects is the modern representation we see in paintings in churches all over the world, but science and history indicates that the real Jesus Christ would have looked nothing like what we think of it as today. No one ever claims to see Jesus in a piece of burnt toast, calls the media, and then shows off an image of a Middle-Eastern strong carpenter. But then, they wouldn’t recognize him like that, would they? Because the images they see all of the time is what triggers the reaction of familiarity in their minds to begin with.
Of course, the especially faithful would say that’s all part of the game. So, like most things of this nature, there’s no real winning either way. So, the next time you see Jesus at the gas station, ask yourself, is this my mind playing a trick on me or my mind doing exactly what it is supposed to do?