Why people are seeing figure of crowned woman in Mayon Volcano’s ash cloud

December 27, 2018 - 4:04 PM
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Mayon Volcano in still form
File photo of Mayon Volcano in Albay, Bicol. (The STAR/File photo)

Social media users compared an ash cloud formation seen on Mayon Volcano to that of a woman wearing a crown.

A local news outlet shared a picture that came from a social media platform and reported that people have been comparing it to a figure of a woman—specifically Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray.

According to science, this is actually a psychological phenomenon called pareidolia.

Pareidolia is when people perceive patterns in inanimate objects and think it looks familiar. These patterns are usually observed in rock formations, coffee or blood stains, and clouds, among others.

Professor Kang Lee of the University of Toronto revealed that “human brains are uniquely wired to recognize faces,” hence the phenomenon.

“It’s common for people to see non-existent features because human brains are uniquely wired to recognize faces, so that even when there’s only a slight suggestion of facial features, the brain automatically interprets it as a face,” he shared.

Experts attribute it to the consequence of how the brain’s information processing system works.

Neuroscientist Joel Voss of Northwestern University explained that the human brain is constantly sifting through random lines, shapes, surfaces and colors.

He noted that it tries to make sense of things—particularly images—when it matches them to long-term knowledge. This results in the phenomenon of pareidolia.

How Catriona is connected to Bicol 

Catriona might not be originally born in Bicol but her mother, Normita Ragas Magayon, is from Oas, Albay.

The beauty queen spent her childhood in Australia but she identifies herself as a Filipina.

She said in a pre-pageant interview before, “I am proud to be a Filipino…Well, definitely. I am the only Filipina (in the pageant).”

Gray settled in the Philippines when she turned 18 and joined the modeling industry before she eventually focused on beauty pageants.

Miss Universe pageant
Miss Philippines Catriona Gray reacts during the final round of the Miss Universe pageant in Bangkok, Thailand, December 17, 2018. (Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha)

When she joined Miss Universe 2018, she showcased her Bicolana roots through her fiery-red evening gown and her signature walk that both paid homage to Mount Mayon.

Mak Tumang, the gown’s designer, revealed that the beauty queen’s gown was inspired by the volcano’s iconic conical shape and the legend behind its creation. The color was inspired by the hue of fresh lava flowing from the volcano.

Her famous walk was also choreographed and named with Mount Mayon in mind.

Choreographer Carlos Buendia Jr. noted that “Lava Walk” is called such since the movement shows an almost synchronized combination of how a lava would flow—a mixture of a fast and slow motion.

The beauty queen also incorporated other Filipino elements in her fashion choices throughout the competition.

She displayed the diverse cultures of the country’s three main islands through her national costume, the Philippine flag through her gold ear cuff and the classic Filipino literary epic through her orange evening gown.