Seeing patterns in randomness. That’s what pareidolia means. Our brains naturally search for patterns. That’s what makes us smart. Intelligence tests typically ask you to find patterns in things like shapes and numbers. 2, 43, 29, 6…what comes next? I don’t know because I just made those up by tapping the number pad, but many people could find some connection between those numbers. Are those people right or wrong? I didn’t intend any connection, but does that mean there isn’t one? Scientists frequently fall victim to pareidolia. It’s considered a cognitive bias. When looking at a huge table of data, it’s natural to see patterns. Superimpose it over another table and you’ll find even more. Are cell phone towers responsible for colony collapse in bee hives? Studies have shown there is a correlation, or is it that cell towers are usually located in congested areas, often near traffic and human activity, which we know bees dislike. Science based on studies and sampling annoy me because of their reliance on patterns that may be random. Sometimes this seems like ancient Roman augury—the last time twenty nightingales were seen flying west at sunset, we were invaded by Carthage, so everyone get ready for a fight. One of the funniest ways pareidolia affects scientists is in paranormal investigation. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying ghosts exist or not. I like to think they do, but some of these idiots with their EVPs and photos of fog and dust are ridiculous. I can create orbs with any camera. I can create electronic voice phenomena with any sound editing software. When a speck of dust is caught by the flash, out of focus, it looks like an orb, and when you overlap noise of different frequencies, you get the sound of mumbled voices. I find it funny when English-speaking investigators go to medieval French castles and record lots of EVPs, all of them speaking modern English without even a French accent. So, how is pareidolia relevant to us or to our blog? Whenever people see what isn’t really there, it is a window to our subconscious. This is the basis of the famous Rorschach tests, where smeared inkblots suggest images to people. This is the challenge of creativity. It isn’t hard to be creative, but it requires you to open up that window to the unconscious and release whatever’s inside. We all have times, probably every day, when we have to wait somewhere, staring at a wall, or a floor, or the clouds in the sky. Wherever I look, whether in tile, rocks, burnt toast, anywhere, I see things. I usually see faces. Sometimes they are very lifelike, but usually they are cartoony or grotesque. Occasionally, I see animals. I only see an eye and the crease of the lips or part of the jawline. My brain supplies the rest. The secret to finding such things is not to look for them. They have to find you. If I sit down with my sketchpad intending to design a cartoon character, I always come back to the same basic shape and style. So I often carry a sketchpad wherever I go and keep track of random shapes I find, because those shapes are never what I expect, and they are usually very expressive. Noses are not always where they should be, eyes are often strange shapes, and faces often have unexpected, but delightful proportions. This same technique, of letting ideas find me and spotting them anywhere I look, is the basis of almost everything I do. Whether it’s web design or narrative storytelling, ideas pop up, nearly fully-formed, out of almost anything. When I need to design a logo, I turn to my design books, or I go to a supermarket or bookstore and sketch anything that looks good. I’ll fill pages with tiny notes and sketches of things from labels, napkins, and other people’s t-shirts. From that, I can usually design ten or twelve distinct logos. After combining them and refining them, they emerge as unique and fresh designs, with no resemblence to anything I originally drew from. I do this with storytelling as well. Can’t think of something to write about? Stop trying and let the stories come to you. Listen to other people talking. Let your own mind wander. Daydream, but be receptive to whatever you find, and combine those seemingly random ideas into something wonderful, that springs straight from your subconscious. Find a pattern in the randomness. Go stare at a wall. You might find the solution to all your problems—or a cute little kitty. You never know.