Pareidolia is a phenomenon in which people perceive meaning in abstract stimuli. One of the most classic examples of pareidolia is probably cloud-watching; many people have spent some time gazing at clouds and picking out fanciful shapes. In addition to being visible, pareidolia can also be auditory in nature. This phenomenon is a form of apophenia, a tendency to create patterns where none exist.
A number of theories to explain pareidolia have been posited by psychologists and people who study human development. Often, pareidolia takes the form of recognizing a human face in an abstract object, like a cinnamon bun or a rock, and some people have suggested that humans may be hardwired to recognize other humans, so they are especially attuned to face-like features. More likely, humans have learned to be very careful about potential predators, and the brain may overreact to something which looks like a potential threat in order to stay safe.
Whatever the cause, this psychological phenomenon manifests in all sorts of interesting ways. The Man in the Moon, for example, is another well-known instance of pareidolia, with many cultures around the world having some sort of myth which references a person living in the moon. Mysterious messages in static and the appearance of religious figures on fruit are also examples of pareidolia. Sometimes artists take advantage of this to embed hidden images in their work; Georgia O'Keeffe's flower paintings, for example, are often perceived as paintings of something else.
Mundane explanations for pareidolia are not always appreciated, especially in cases where people believe that they are seeing a figure of religious significance. Attacks on the validity of the sighting can be perceived as attacks on religion itself, with skeptics implying that there is in fact no hidden message in an unusually-shaped fruit or the peeling paint on a wall. People who experience religious pareidolia are often struggling with life difficulties which lead them to fervently desire a closer connection with God, and this can lead them to reject skeptical inquiry.
Many people experience pareidolia at some point in their lives, whether wandering around a forest at night, listening to music, climbing a mountain, or vacationing on the beach. Sometimes it seems to manifest in response to an emotional state, such as fear or worry, and at other times, it appears to be entirely random. Differences in how people perceive things can also explain why some people see shapes in abstract images when others don't, and why some people hear things which are inaudible to others.