Matrixing. If you've done any reading/research into the paranormal in the past 10-15 years, you've almost certainly heard this term being thrown around, especially when it comes to analyzing potentially paranormal faces/apparitions appearing on still photos and video. But what exactly IS matrixing? Matrixing is a term popularized by Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson of The Atlantic Paranormal Society, known more commonly as the stars of SyFy's Ghost Hunters. However, I prefer to call the phenomenon by its slightly more scientific name: 'pareidolia.'
Pareidolia comes from the Greek words para (meaning faulty, wrong, instead of) and eidolon (meaning image, form, or shape). Merriam-Webster defines pareidolia as "the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern." In laymen's terms, it means the tendency to see faces, animals, and other familiar images in random patterns. Have you ever gazed up at the clouds and thought they looked like bunny rabbits? You've experienced pareidolia. Have you ever sworn your bathtub has 'seen things, man?' You've experienced pareidolia. Have you ever taken a Rorschach inkblot test? Well, you get the picture.
Many photographs that claim to contain evidence of ghostly or supernatural figures can be explained by pareidolia. If you're unsure whether or not a spooky face could be attributed to pareidolia, try to change up your perception. Turn the photograph upside down. Examine each half of the figure by itself and compare; are there any signs of symmetry (or lack thereof)? Does the image still make sense as a figure when looked at a piece at a time? What happens if you enlarge (or shrink) the photo? Does the image distort to the point where it is no longer recognizable as something familiar?
By definition and popular usage, the term pareidolia is used most often to describe visual phenomenon. However, any of the human senses can be perceptible to pareidolia. We might interpret two unrelated scents as being another scent altogether. As we listen to potential EVPs, we might take missing sounds and even whole syllables not heard by our ears and have our brain fill in to make recognizable words. As a result, a good tip when analyzing EVPs is to NOT tell others what YOU hear, at least at first, and let them listen without bias.
Pareidolia falls under the larger umbrella of the phenomenon of apophenia. Apophenia is defined as "the spontaneous perception of connections and meaningfulness of unrelated phenomena." It was coined by German neurologist and psychiatrist Klaus Conrad, whose research focused on the finding of abnormal meaning or significance in random experiences by psychotic people. The human brain is hard-wired to make sense out of stimuli. We want to find patterns and correlations in an otherwise chaotic world, and there's not too many things more confusing and chaotic than trying to make sense out of the paranormal! It may also be an evolutionary issue. If we can spot facial features of hidden predators, we have a greater chance of survival. Similarly, could we be applying that same principle to our interactions with the unknown?
Whatever the reasons behind the phenomena may be, apophenia and pareidolia are two issues that every paranormal investigator and researcher needs to be familiar with. Luckily, there is no shortage of articles and examples available out there to illustrate just how fascinating these concepts can be.
A great local example of matrixing, or pareidolia, is Fayette County's "Old Rock Head." This unique cliff face (pardon the pun) can be found on Route 21 at Honey Creek, right near the Chimney Corners area, where the Route 60 intersection is located. It doesn't take too much of a stretch of the imagination to see the outline of a man's face in profile, coming out of the rock. Oddly enough, this isn't West Virginia's only rock face! While its much harder to access and, in my opinion, MUCH harder to see, there's a nearby cliff where, in 1901, railroad workers in the area claimed to see the image of President McKinley appear. Their superstitions of this death omen were realized when news that the President had been shot arrived shortly after. Please see President McKinley's Death Omen blog entry for more info!
|Photo from WV History on View|
|Photo by Robert W. McKinnon, courtesy of WV History on View|
*Bonus Vocabulary Lesson!*
Simulacrum: "An image or representation of something." Simulacrum is sometimes confused with pareidolia, but unlike pareidolia, which happens naturally, simulacrum is when someone intentionally designs something to look like something else. While the rock formation above occurred accidentally, this example in Jackson County, WV, was carved to look that way by Otis Shinn. More information available in this Gazette article.