The Devil in the Detail

Okamura's miniature people, Homo sapiens miniorientalis

In 1980, Japanese paleontologist Chonosuke Okamura published his ground-breaking treatise, Period of the Far-Eastern Minicreatures. While examining rocks under a microscope, he found the fossilised remains of a huge variety of animals and plants including gorillas, dogs and humans. The find suggested that these animals existed during the Silurian period, over 400 million years ago, much earlier than previously thought.

Yet this was not the most intriguing aspect of Okamura’s discovery. The fossils he found were only a few millimeters in size. Okamura concluded that the predecessors of many of today’s plants and animals were tiny, insect-sized organisms that were otherwise anatomically identical to their modern forms. They had evolved into ever greater sizes over millions of years and, presumably would continue to do so.

The unseen character in China Miéville’s short story, Details, is a woman who confines herself to a single room with as many details removed as possible. She eats only smooth, gelatinous food which she has brought to her since she is effectively imprisoned in the room. Mrs  Miller has inadvertently gained the ability to see the images hidden within the random details of everyday objects – the leaves on a tree, the cracks in a wall or the patterns in a carpet. The image she sees is terrifying and drawing ever closer. Hoping to avoid her fate, she removes all detail from her surroundings.

Chonosuke Okamura (and, arguably, Mrs Miller) suffered from a heightened form of the psychological phenomenon pareidolia. Most people experience pareidolia when they see faces and animals in cloud formations, others when they see the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich.

Some examples of pareidolia are so insistent that it’s difficult to not see them. The images below are from the blog, forgetomori. In the photograph on the left, the man is cradling on his knee either a young child or the disembodied head of Jesus. The image on the right is more of an illusion but it’s a good one.

The Mull of Kintyre test was supposedly a guideline used by the British Board of Film Classification to determine the maximum allowable degree of erection of a penis that could be shown. As you can see below, there was little wiggle room, so to speak.

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One Response to The Devil in the Detail

  1. Pingback: Whales’ Legs, Flies’ Eyes and Human Tails | Quadrivia

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