The photo taken by Crystal Fuller at the vigil for the 12 shot dead by James Holmes — of what appears to be a huge angel in the cloud formation in the sky over Aurora, Colorado — reminded me of another interesting pareidolia (the human disposition to see patterns in random data) phenomenon.
Do you remember that horrible devil face in the billowing smoke of the stricken Twin Towers on 9-11?
I’ve never seen that picture again in any accounts of that terrible day since. I was beginning to think it was my imagination….
So I went looking for it on the net.
Here’s Urban Legends’ account of the devil face:
Images of Tuesday’s terrorist attacks have been captured in thousands of photographs. Some of the pictures are horrific, some poignant, and some gut-wrenching, but viewers have written in to newspapers and television stations, saying that that they see an even more haunting image in the smoke billowing from the World Trade Center.
Viewers said that in two specific instances, in a photo taken by an Associated Press photographer, and in a video by CNN, they can clearly identify the eyes, nose, mouth and horns of a devil in the black and gray smoke. They questioned whether the photographers manipulated the photo to include a satanic face.
Vin Alabiso, an AP vice president and executive photo editor, said that the AP photo [see below] was untouched…. “AP has a very strict written policy which prohibits the alteration of the content of a photo in any way,” Albiso said. “The smoke in this photo combined with light and shadow has created an image which readers have seen in different ways.” […]
FOTM received an email stating that ©Mark D Phillips has the copyright on the above image and that the image cannot be reprinted without written consent from Mr. Phillips. FOTM is grateful for his permission.
CNN has not made any comments about its picture. But the image has been removed from their Web site. The video from which the image came has been disabled by YouTube. See here.
Here’s another version of the devil face:
What is less known is that there was another image in the Twin Towers’ billowing smoke that terrible day.
A viewer wrote in to TheDenverChannel.com that she saw an image of an angel, which gave her hope despite seeing the devil face, and left her with a feeling of peace. The angel image, captured by WABC, has also been untouched. Here’s the angel pic, from WDIV Local 4‘s archives:
There is a psychological phenomenon called pareidoliais, which refers to the human inclination to perceive a pattern or meaning where it does not actually exist, as in the “man in the moon” — seeing human features on the moon.
But given how little we humans actually know about the world — what with multiple dimensions, black holes, the mysterious dark matter that cosmologists say constitute the bulk of our Universe, not to mention the notion of multiple universes — who’s to say the devil and angel on 9-11 and the angel over Aurora are mere pareidoliais?
After all, St. Paul did warn us in his letter to the Ephesians:
“For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.“
Update (Sept. 11, 2014):
There was not just one Devil face in the WTC smoke, but many. See “Devil’s Face in Smoke of 911 at WTC.”