[ToC]

 

MECHANISMS OF PAREIDOLIA
HOUSTON, TEXAS
2006-2008

Sarah Viren

Goals:

1. DESCRIBE THE OCCURANCES OF APHOPHENIC BEHAVIOR EXHIBITED IN ADULTS IN RELATION TO SPECIFIC INANIMATE OBJECTS.

2. CORRELATE INSTANCES OF PAREIDOLIA IN OTHERS WITH YOUR OWN PARANOIA AND LONELINESS.

Objectives:

  1. IDENTIFY IF AND HOW GOD RELATES
  2. IDENTIFY THE LINE BETWEEN RATIONAL AND IRREATIONAL RESPONSES IN THE TENDENCY TO SEEK PATTERNS IN THE SEEMINGLY MEANINGLESS
  3. IDENTIFY YOUR BIAS


CASE 1

It's Ash Wednesday in the suburbs of Houston and, though February, the air cannot breath. Guadalupe Rodriguez watches the heat through a window before two massive metal sinks filled with water: hot suds in one, cool rinse in the other. Into these she baths sheet pans, dozens of sheet pans that once held frozen chicken nuggets and perfectly round cookies served at lunchtime to the children of Pugh Elementary, where Guadalupe has worked as a lunch lady for more than 20 years. She is 59, her babies now grown, her body more round, her back beginning to curve. She talks to God while she washes, muttering: "God help me, God help me. God thank you, God thank you."
      Guadalupe pulls the last tray from the water, turns it around and sees a stained image curving along the metal, slightly iridescent, gleaming back at her: the mother of Jesus.
      Her hands still wet, she lifts the sheet pan in the air and out to the cafeteria. She holds it before the other lunch ladies and asks: "What do you see?"
      "The Virgin Mary," they say. "Undeniably."
      They call the cafeteria manager, also short, also round, a woman named Coralia Pacay and, seeing it, she says the same: "Undeniably, the Virgin Mary—on a sheet pan."
      Then Coralia and Guadalupe and these workers march through the cafeteria, a train of women in hairnets with wet hands, through the skid-marked hallway to the front of the school and the offices of the principal, Lydia Guerrero, a formal woman with sleek hair and heels that pinch her ankle. She looks at the women and then their pan.
      "It is a silhouette," she says. "A silhouette of the Virgin Mary."

CASE 2

Cathy Zinante lives in an apartment by herself alongside a brook just an hour south of Guadalupe. She was born-again only days after September 11, when the television got stuck on a televangelist's sermon. She has a Bible worn from years spent flipping back and forth between whisper-thin paper and, in the kitchen, a walnut-sized rock enshrined in silver clay.
      In that rock, found among muddy cow prints near a lake, she sees an image of Jesus Christ. Cathy is 52 and watches her grandchildren during the day. She hopes to go on the road with her Jesus rock; she wants to take him on Jay Leno and show him to Mel Gibson.
      Only no one sees what she sees, so no one is interested.

 

Analysis:

1. WHAT IS THE PRIMARY CLINICAL PROBLEM?

God appeared to both women in the form of a pattern.

2. OFFER AN ANTERNATE DIAGNOSIS

Some mornings, when the light is right, you may see a cormorant or a duck swimming in the grains of wood framing your bedroom window. And at night when you close your eyes (or even during the day if you are tired enough) the white and red lights behind your lids are a circus backlit and a tall and stately Russian toeing the tightrope.

3. CORRELATE THE FINDINGS WITH THE PATHOLOGY

The day after Guadalupe discovers the Virgin, her sheet pan is carried to a shrine in the front yard of the president of the elementary school's PTA, a chatty woman who says she took the pan to keep it safe. Believers drive cross-country to place roses in front of the pan, they wheel sick children in its shadow, touch it to foreheads, fingertips, lips. Guadalupe watches, protective. She goes to take her Virgin back, and a fight ensues. The Catholic Church intervenes, takes the pan from the women and the neighbors and the parents and the school district and, now, won't say where it is.
      Guadalupe no longer answers her phone.
      Cathy, on the other hand, gets to keep her Jesus.

 

 

 


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[Guadalupe] and [Cathy]