Have you ever seen a face or shape of an animal in passing by clouds? This tendency of our perception to find structures within an image or a pattern, is called pareidolia (derives from Greek eidolon = picture). Essentially, this is a misperception where we see objects changing subjectively. But this can also be so much fun and inspire our fantasy to search for these shapes and to find them. Children, in particular, are known to be true masters of this game.
Good examples of those images, that humans seem to recognise, can be found on the surface of the Moon, which make a specially good feature during full moon. And there is a wide variety of shapes and figures that people have seen and described in lunar landscapes over the centuries. Interestingly enough, the images differ from culture to culture. The reason being, you will see a figure, particularly when you expect it and when it plays a significant part in your culture.
While you speak of the »man in the Moon« as in Central Europe (see center image) for example, the »hare in the Moon« plays an important role in China (see right image). This stems from a Buddhist story, talking about a hare that accomplishes the great deed of compassion by offering himself as food to a poor and hungry man and therefore throws himself into the fire. However, he does not burn to death and the man, who is deeply moved by his deed and devotion, puts the picture of the hare onto the Moon, for it to be seen by all mankind and to always remember the sublime virtue compassion and also immortality.
This is how the dark spots on the Moon (that call themselves maria and are nothing other than dark basaltic rock, by the way) present people with room for stories and images, sometimes entertaining, sometimes educational.
Hence, one could label the full moon as the world’s oldest TV programme.
P.S. Incidentally, the Chinese New Year begins with new moon on 3rd February 2011 and it is the year of the hare! This time, however, the hare in the moon will be concealed in darkness, but can be seen again in full glory, next full moon on 18th February 2011.