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British Airways approaches SFO with a dramatic cloud backdrop

The plane in the sky.

Have you ever had this kind of experience?

Sometimes, when you look up at the sky, you'll see a patch of clouds that look suspiciously like a face; or maybe, as you stare at the marble tiles in your bathroom, you may find some of the patterns similar to an animal, or one of these mystical creatures you've read about in storybooks; and of course, there are those somehow-out-of-place shadows which you saw on your evening walks to think about.

Should you share these experiences with others, they will dismiss them as the results of your overactive imagination, even though most of them have experienced exactly the same thing.  However, imagination is not the key here--it's your own brain that has deceived you.

The human brain is an extremely fragile organ, vulnerable not only to physical trauma but to psychological impact as well. A strong surge of emotion could potentially fry our logical circuit, leaving us mad, or even dead.

And the strongest emotion is fear.

Fear is the most ancient and potent emotion in the hearts of all living organisms. Even worms will seek food for fear of starvation. Today, despite having locked itself in buildings made of steel and concrete to escape the threats of nature, mankind is by no means free from its own fears, for one particular kind of fear have followed us all the way into the supposed safety of our homes--and that is the fear of the unknown.

Have you heard of this story? When the giant ships from the east first reached the African shores, some local inhabitants literally died of fright right on the spot. The ships never fired their cannons at them, nor did the seamen do anything unfriendly. What killed the poor locals were the sheer psychological impact of seeing dozens of mountain-sized "sea monsters" made of painted wood sailing towards them across the open waters.

The horror of the unknown stems from uncertainty. We fear death because no one knows exactly what will happen to us when we die. Similarly, a creature which is so bizarre that it defied our imagination is far more terrifying than any known beast. A wild animal will pounce at you, and try to devour you, but you may at least do something to defend yourself. Yet you have absolutely no idea what the unknown creature might do to you. It may, for example, take you to some unspeakable dimension, where your soul would suffer for all eternity; or maybe it would devour you and take your form, so that it could deceive and prey upon your family and friends. The possibilities are endless.

On the other hand, since fear is the most potent momentum behind all animal behaviors, and a man is, after all, an animal, maybe our fear of the unknown can be used to explain our obsession with science, which is essentially the effort to obliterate the unknown by studying it. When you fear something, you want to get rid of it--it's that simple.

In fact, the fear of the unknown is so intense, that should you see something extremely bizarre and horrible, the sight alone could potentially kill you by giving you a massive brain hemorrhage--or maybe a heart attack.

So how does the human brain protect itself under such circumstances? Simple. We all know that the brain, which has been evolving for millions of years, possesses numerous "failsafe" mechanisms to safeguard its functional integrity. For example, those who are overwhelmed by grief may temporarily lose their memory--and the same goes for countering intense fear. When our eyes capture an image which our brain deems harmful, it will deceive us into thinking that the unspeakable being we are looking at is some common, daily object such as a cloud, a set of pattern in our bathroom tiles, or a shadow.

So now you finally understand, don't you? 

Such deception is aimed at self-preservation, yet it is by no means perfect. That's why we sometimes get the feeling that a particular patch of cloud, or a set of pattern, or a shadow looked a little "out of place". 

Others will tell you that it's just your imagination. But now you know better.

We strongly suggest that, should you come across such circumstances again, you should get the hell out of there. 

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