Pareidolia is the psychological phenomenon whereby a random image or sound is perceived as significant. It is the basis for seeing Jesus on a tortilla and for the EVP electronic voice phenomenon where people interpret random noise on an audio recording as voices from the spirit world.
There is a YouTube video with a hilarious example of audio pareidolia. They have listened to the Latin text of Carmina Burana (by Carl Orff) as if it were English. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sywy2NTN-1A “O fortuna” becomes “Oh, Four Tuna.” Other phrases are interpreted as “Saucy codpiece,” “Suck juice for moose” and “They’ll give you gonorrhea.
The video cleverly provides pictures to illustrate each phrase. After watching and listening, you will probably never be able to hear the real Carmina Burana again. Once the spurious interpretation is in your head, it’s practically impossible to overcome. This is a great illustration of how illusions like EVP can mislead people.
If you want to know what they are really singing, the lyrics can be found at http://www.classical.net/music/comp.lst/works/orff-cb/carmlyr.php
This article was originally published in Swift, the online newsletter of the James Randi Educational Foundation.