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Find a Face

Monday, September 24, 2012 - 01:30 PM

This week, a scavenger hunt of sorts. A call for faces. In cinnamon buns. Coffee stains. Clouds. Wherever you may see them.

In our Falling show, I interviewed Simon -- a man who can't recognize faces. He's got a condition known as face blindness. "What do you see when you look at your beloved?" I asked him, "Do the eyes nose and ears swirl around? Are they not there at all?" After indulging nearly an hour of this, Simon finally cut me off and said, “You know it’s YOU… you guys who are the ‘mutants!’”

And he’s right. The computational feat of discerning the miniscule differences that set apart individual faces -- how an eyebrow hits the ridge of a nose, say -- is something most of us could never pull off using the lines and shadows on a leaf or a rock. But point us at a human face, and suddenly... we're honed robots. (The New York Times did a fabulous piece on how the brain is able to do this.)

But there's a weird side effect of being so freakishly attuned to facial features: occasionally we see very vivid faces on totally inanimate objects. A Jesus in a frying pan. A Mary in a grilled cheese. A strange little man in a cloud. Fully expressive faces lying in wait in the world around us. So this summer, armed with my new smart phone, I decided to try to capture some. 

And I got a few!

Sad Rock:

Ditzy Happy Dumb Leaf:

Unconfident Tree:

Witnessing the End of the World Metal Thingee:

It brought me no small amount of joy to stumble across these faces. Each time I'd skip a little, as though I'd discovered a new friend. What became a little troubling though is just how much expression I realized I was reading into their "faces." I could tell you the life story of Sad Rock. Oh, the times he has weathered. The quiet resignation with which he has decided to take leave of society. But how his lip betrays an ambivalence. A yearning for someone to convince him he is misguided. WHAT? It is a ROCK. Chipped perhaps. Good for skipping.

This kind of certainty, of actual felt empathy, makes me question moments when I’m so sure of the emotions I’m picking up in others.* But that, gulp, is an entry for another day.

For now, I thought it would be fun to build an album of "found faces." This is where you come in. If you see a good one, send it our way (you can upload a photo through the widget at the top of this post, or if you have our mobile app, you can send us your photo right from your phone). Give the face a name if you want. Tell us its life story here in the comments.

*For more on reading microexpressions -- or how the face “leaks” the truth -- check out our Deception episode.


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Comments [10]

lazyjack from detroit, mi

I Messsed up because I tried to send picture with the app, but read the directions wrong and I sent a picture of my face. oh well, geuss ther'll be other radiolab projects. : (

Jan. 20 2013 12:18 PM
John from Indiana

The "Witnessing the End of the World Metal Thingee" bears a striking (and appropriate) resemblance to "Marvin the paranoid android" from the TV version of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy".

Oct. 08 2012 07:26 AM

If you look on Flickr there is an entire group dedicated to this. It's call Faces in Places I first heard it on CNN and had to join. I always see faces other things in just about everything.

Sep. 29 2012 01:58 PM
Bernadette from Vancouver

There was an 80's Twilight Zone episode about this that terrified me as a kid, here's the wiki - I've always been kind of nervous about faces in things as a result. It's funny how things like that stick with you!

Sep. 27 2012 02:54 PM
Andrew Cremata from Bathroom, Skagway, Alaska

Toilet Face - You would feel the same way if you were in his shoes.

Sep. 26 2012 06:00 PM

There are whole websites dedicated to this. Just Google "Happy Chair is Happy" for example:

Sep. 26 2012 01:41 PM
Gininmt from Montana

I find faces throughout my house. Built of recycled timbers from old barns . So fascinating !

Sep. 26 2012 10:41 AM
John W Berger from Nanaimo, BC, Canada

I think this is called "simulacra", seeing faces in inanimate objects.
In 2005 I read a book with that title and thought the author was a bit mad. Then I started seeing faces in rocks, wood grain, dead trees, and pebbles.
In the summer of 2005, I was at the mouth of the Chemainus River on Vancouver Island taking photographs of the tangle of roots at the bottom of an overturned tree in the water. When I got home and looked at the images on my computer screen, I was astonished to see the roots twisted into strange figures resembling demons at work.
The next summer, at Fuller Lake, also on Vancouver Island, I saw a large pebble in the water that looked like a skull. having my camera in a water proof case in my hand, I took a couple of photos then scooped a few pebbles out of the water to pick out the one I saw. However, out of the water and its light-bending property, I was unable to discern the skull I had seen only seconds before.
I have several photos of these faces in nature on a CD somewhere .... If I find the images I will forward some to you.

Sep. 25 2012 12:40 AM

Check out the Museum of Food Anomalies. Tons of faces in food. :)

Sep. 24 2012 10:23 PM
denis from toronto

it is true that we recognize familiar pattern.
replace a face with the letter A and we will get similar suprisibg surprise
love your insight

Sep. 24 2012 08:57 PM

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