Papal pareidolia?

One of my favorite phenomena that represents better than perhaps any other how humans are wired to look for patterns, whether there is a pattern there or not, is the phenomenon known as pareidolia. As a Catholic-turned-sort-of-heathen, in particular I like Virgin Mary pareidolia, and have blogged about multiple such incidents. Of course, the Virgin Mary is not the only sort of image seen in pareidolia. Jesus shows up quite frequently as well.

Now, would you believe that the late Pope John Paul II is showing up in flames? No, really:

This fiery figure is being hailed as Pope John Paul II making an appearance beyond the grave.

The image, said by believers to show the Holy Father with his right hand raised in blessing, was spotted during a ceremony in Poland to mark the second anniversary of his death.

Details appeared on the Vatican News Service, a TV station in Rome which specialises in religious news broadcasts.

Service director Jarek Cielecki, a Polish priest and close friend of John Paul II, travelled to Poland after hearing an onlooker had photographed the image.

Father Cielecki said he was convinced the picture showed the former pontiff.

“You can see the image of a person in the flames and I think it is the servant of God, Pope John Paul II,” he said.

The pictures were being broadcast continuously on Italian TV and also posted on religious websites, some of which crashed as thousands logged on to see for themselves the eerie figure formed by the flames.

Here’s the image:


Uncanny, yes?

Maybe not.

Dan Finkelstein, who caused such a furor over his comments about Richard Dawkins and the Jews not too long ago, perhaps in a bid to kiss and make up, sees this fire in a different way. Naturally, as he does so often in cases of pareidolia, the King makes an appearance:

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Finkelstein has a few other ideas about whom this miraculous flame resembles, as well. Personally, although Finkelstein’s suggestions aren’t bad, I think this magical fire looks more like Pete Townsend (that is, if you tilt the picture a little so that they match up more closely):


Rock on!