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Face on Mars

General Weirdness F

The Face on Mars myth is based on a photo of Cydonia taken by NASA's Viking probes in 1976. NASA's Viking 1 spacecraft was circling the planet, snapping photos of possible landing sites for its sister ship Viking 2, when it spotted the shadowy likeness of a human face. A NASA press release said the rock formation was "formed by shadows giving the illusion of eyes, nose and mouth".

Despite the disclaimer The "Face on Mars" has since become a pop icon. It has starred in a Hollywood film and has appeared in books, magazines and radio talk shows! Some people think the Face is bona fide evidence of life on Mars -- evidence that NASA would rather hide, say conspiracy theorists.

Far clearer photos of the region taken in 1998 and 2001 by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor craft killed the Face explanation for many.


The photos show that the kilometre-wide Face and other supposedly artificial structures in Mars' Cydonia region are just quirks of geology. What the picture actually shows is the Martian equivalent of a butte or mesa -- landforms common around the American West.

What this picture actively demonstrates is the innate pattern making ability of the human brain.  As described elsewhere it is hardwired into the brain to make patterns from sensory impressions even when those patterns don't really exist (see pattern making).

The pattern most strongly hardwired into the brain is the human face.  It has been shown that a baby can identify a face as different from other patterns at just a few weeks of age, and can identify particular faces by a few months old. We tend to see faces everywhere.  Just de-focus while staring at any random pattern, clouds, leaves, a bowl of porridge and you will be able to identify faces even though you know they're not really there.

Charles Fort

Charles Hoy Fort (1877-1932) set out to do to science what Voltaire had done to religion—undermine it with so much sarcastic wit that its dogmas would seem more uncertain and less absolute than its proponents wish us to believe. In four very funny, very well-documented, and (to the orthodox) very annoying books—The Book of the Damned (1919), New Lands (1923), Lo! (1931), and Wild Talents (1932)—he chronicled anomalies (now frequently called "Fortean events" in his honour), such as fish, frogs, bricks, hollow metal globes, and other oddities falling from the sky; evidence of giants and fairies; seeming violations of natural law; strange lights in outer space (he recorded the earliest UFO reports); people who allegedly possess superhuman powers; a dog that talked and then vanished in green smoke, etc.

Fort collected hundreds and hundreds of such reports, some admittedly from tabloids but the majority from scientific journals. He also developed his own philosophy of super-agnosticism (much like modern Deconstructionism), holding that nothing we think is absolutely true and every idea and perception exists in a probabilistic flux. Even if we could find an absolutely true statement at a date, Fort says, it would not remain true for very long.

Fort also conjectured, humorously, about things others would later take seriously, e.g., the possibility of alien invasions in the past, or of humans who currently have contact with aliens and aid them in some cosmic scheme unknown to the rest of us. "I think we're property," he wrote once. (See Kenneth Grant.) The notion of hostile aliens working in cahoots with some evil humans has now become entrenched in many conspiracy theories; see UFO Conspiracies.

Fort, as a consistent skeptic, always insisted he didn't believe his own theories any more than he believed anybody else's.

Reference: http://www.forteantimes.com

Fortean Times

The Fortean Times, published monthly, carries on the work of "thinking about the unthinkable" pioneered by Charles Fort. Issues run 66 pages and are crammed with current stories about falls of fish, spooks, unknown animals, spontaneous human combustion, etc., sent in by correspondents all over the world, together with thoughtful articles on subjects such as crop circles, UFOs, conspiracy theories, and just about anything regarded by the conservative as heretical or disreputable.



Fortean Times, John Brown Publishing, The Boathouse, Crabtree Lane, Fulham, London SW6 6LU UK