Friday 24 February 2012


POLONIUS: My lord, the queen would speak with you, and presently.
HAMLET: Do you see yonder cloud that's almost in shape of a camel?
POL: By the mass, and 'tis like a camel, indeed.
HAM: Methinks it is like a weasel.
POL: It is backed like a weasel.
HAM: Or like a whale?
POL: Very like a whale.
HAM: Then I will come to my mother by and by.

There is a word for everything, and the word for seeing shapes in clouds is pareidolia. In fact, pareidolia is the word for seeing patterns in any random system. So if you see pictures in a Rorschach Test, or a man in the moon, or have deduced the date of the Second Coming from a code hidden in the bus timetables, that is pareidolia.

The term was invented by Victor Kandinsky, who was the uncle of the painter and rather strange to boot. He had what he called a delirium of judgement, which is to say he didn't quite hallucinate but he was capable of so misinterpreting the world around him that it amounted to the same thing.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think my cup of coffee is trying to tell me something.

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