The eyes have it

Eerie! Watch the NASA animation of the space probe Dawn approaching the dwarf planet Ceres.

Ceres Bright Spots

Eyes, right!

When I saw this it reminded me of a moment hiking down a red rock canyon in Utah. I looked up and suddenly saw this:

Anaszai Art

Pictograph in the Grand Gulch Primitive Area, Utah.  Photo: Joe Alcock about 1998.

When I saw the pictograph, and when I saw the Ceres image, I had the same sensation. Amazement, along with shivers down the back of my neck. I am sure that in the Anasazi case, this effect was intentional. As for Ceres, who knows!

We are not the only species that responds strongly to eye-like structures. It even happens in animals that have more than one set:

Peacock spider

Maratus speciosus Photo: Jurgen Otto

Coastal Peacock spider, Western Australia. See more photos of this amazing arachnid here, or click the image above to see it in action.

Take home message: Selection has shaped the human brain to see patterns of interest to humans (Pictograph), and patterns that evolved for reasons that have nothing to do with mammalian sensory perception (Peacock Spider). As for the Ceres white spots, I will be extremely interested in finding out what they are and why they formed. This interest that I share with many others may be an example of sensory hijacking. We have an evolved preference for eye-like objects because recognizing eyes has had strong fitness consequences during human and pre-human evolution. Excitement about the Ceres bright spots  – an example of an evolved and easily fooled terrestrial sensory apparatus? Or maybe not!

 

 

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