pareidolia
(payr.eye.DOH.lee.uh) n. The erroneous or fanciful perception of a pattern or meaning in something that is actually ambiguous or random.
pareidolic adj.

Example Citations:
Pareidolia is common enough, and predates the space program by a millennium or two. We've all seen the Man in the Moon, or faces and images of ships and elephants in cloud formations. ...

In 1978, some 8,000 people made pilgrimages to the home of a New Mexico woman who discovered a picture of Jesus in a burned tortilla. And in 2001, thousands saw the face of Satan captured in a CNN video and Associated Press photos of smoke billowing from the World Trade Center. (For a great collection these and more example of pareidolia, visit http://thefolklorist.com).
—Mike Himowitz, "Space photo contents often are all in eye of the beholder," The Baltimore Sun, February 12, 2004

He attributed the belief that the image is the Virgin Mary to a phenomenon called pareidolia, a psychological term for the mind's obsession with finding patterns in essentially random objects, from clouds to wood grain.
—Dennis Tatz, "Hospital finds crack in window bearing image of Virgin Mary," The Patriot Ledger (Quincy, MA), September 20, 2003

Earliest Citation:
Like astrology, graphology seems to rest on the notion of "pareidolia": the human infusion of patterns or meaning on random audio or visual events. In the case of handwriting analysis, this might be the idea that writers of large capital I's are egotistical, or those having varying slants are unpredictable.
—Steven Goldstein, "Watch what you're thinking!," Skeptical Inquirer, June 22, 1994

Notes:
This word is a blend of the prefix para-, meaning, in this context, something faulty or wrong (for example, paraphasia, disordered speech) and eidolon (1828), a ghostly image or phantom.

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