Does that smear of jam on your toast look a bit like Uncle Al ... or Jesus? It's pretty normal to try to recognize features in the flotsam and jetsam of our lives. Humans strive so mightily to make sense of their surroundings that they constantly search for familiarity—or danger, according to a Northwestern researcher who has studied the brain when confronted with random squiggles. No one in his latest study found Jesus, but assistant professor Joel Voss did watch subjects' scanned brains light up as they categorized some of the squiggles into "meaningful" categories.
The drive to categorize a random squiggle into something recognizable is part of our cave-man survival instincts, Voss believes. When we were evolving on the savannah, it was critically important to quickly categorize anything that might be a man-eating animal. “If you failed to identify the shadow that looked vaguely like an animal, you might get eaten,” Voss tells MSNBC. Jesus in our toast isn't going to eat us ... but, wait a minute, what is that? (Read more seeing Jesus stories.)