The perception of the occult?
In the Middle Ages, this faculty made its bearer suspect of witchcraft. It is not so widespread. Alive during youth it is often lost in adults. Because it would be too rarely used? Doubtful. It does not involve reflection. The clues propose themselves to our consciousness. They come from the first neural layers interpreting visual signals. Two holes bordering a blank of nose and mouth, or a zigzagging profile like a face, and the suggestion emerges in consciousness.
Why would we lose such a basic gift in the neural hierarchy? It is used continuously and its complexity is low. Solid neurological foundations, as much as that of balancing on a bike. They are maintained even when not used for a sophisticated purpose.
But then why do some seem better at spotting monsters in twisted stumps and trunks, and why would this faculty diminish with age?
Multiple interpretations of visual data
Additional stages of interpretation are surimposed on the symbolism of the first visual layers. Faces are defined as animals, humans; in these, sexual, racial and cultural criteria are added. An elaborate identification presents itself to consciousness. The symbolism of the base is buried under a significant depth of neural complexity, as inaccessible as geological layers to an inhabitant of the surface.
It is not the talent of symbolizing faces that is lost, but that of quickly putting an identity on a crowd of faces that has appeared.
The child has not yet come across many strangers and most of them have little meaning to him. He directly experiences his ability to symbolize a face and applies it to any object in his field of vision. An adult in a dense social environment experiences his ability to identify the people he knows. Adults who retain their symbolic ability are usually the most introverted or lonely. They do not systematically fix faces in memory, until people have acquired special importance for them.
More figures in the sky when there are fewer around?
We populate the sky and the forest with fantastic characters when we are not already in the middle of a tribe of restless gnomes who must immediately be called by their name to prevent them from getting offended 🙂