A friend of the JREF recently sent me two pictures, one of which is displayed to the right. At first I thought this must be a photo from a Japanese garden, where tastes in sculpture have been known to be a little bit different from what I see in Vermont, USA.
Sculpture is a representation, ranging from extremely lifelike to extremely abstract. Like all art, abstract art conveys meaning, sometimes more meaning, because we are pattern seeking creatures. The patterns we see come from our brains, and this tells us something of our experiences and our upbringing. In the abstract example above, I see a mother hawk feeding her chicks. It might be fun to post what you see in the comments below.
Now move your mouse over the photo in this article, and click Read More. Now that you've seen the front (linked again in case the mouse over didn't work for some of you) of the very same sculpture, what have you learned about yourself? Maybe you didn't see a shape in the first picture... or maybe you saw something quite familiar. Maybe you were shocked, amused, confused or disgusted. I'll bet the second photograph changed your opinion somewhat.
As pattern seeking creatures, we often see patterns where there actually are none. The most common example of this is looking for shapes in clouds. We're particularly good at seeing faces, as faces are so important to our social existence. Many people see a "man in the moon," though I confess to seeing a lunar rabbit more often (I read Watership Down at a young age.) And because of this, we literally can't trust what we see. As skeptics, we know to look beyond our immediate perception before settling on a definitive conclusion (if we ever reach one).
The sculpture in the photo is actually in a churchyard in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. And while the original photo is not what it seems, neither is the churchyard. There is a tower with bells, and the inscription thereupon reads:
St. Joseph's Bells
The large bell is named
its inscription reads
I WILL TEACH YOU OF LIFE
AND OF LIFE ETERNAL
The smaller bell is named
its inscription reads
THANKS BE TO GOD
While many of us may not agree completely with the sentiment, it's good to see the names of scientists gracing a churchyard. I would like to make a suggestion though – a plaque could be attached to the statue that read:
This Virgin Mary
for sometimes a cigar
the back of a statue
I don't think he'd mind at all.