Yanny or Laurel


Who has time for this? Aren’t we so busy that we have no time to think?

And yet, we take on another challenge to prove we are right and smarter than the next person. The latest challenge is the Yanny/Laurel puzzle. The same recorded word is heard in at least 2 different ways…2 different names. The controversy, reminiscent of the Blue/Gold dress, is polarizing. Those who hear “Yanny” maintain there is only one name, and, of course, those who hear “Laurel” say the same.

According to scientists (yes, even after the abuse they have suffered, they are still trying to help us make sense of this universe) sounds may differ according to the frequency at which they are heard. Likewise, the perception of color changes according to the context in which it is seen-light, background, etc. While recordings may sound different, and colors may look different, it is not the sounds or colors that change. They are as they are. Instead, it is the context in which we see them. So, facts are facts; it is context that changes how we perceive.

While the Yanny/Laurel Sounds or the Blue/Gold Dress are not political issues, they could not be more relevant to our political differences. Here are 2 concrete illustrations of what is at the heart of our differences today. The theories posited as explanations for these memes all focus on us, not the subjects of sound or color

  • The interpretation of sounds depend on the frequency (how it screams at you and how much distortion is present). In fact, it was found that increasing the volume of the Yanny recording only emphasized the differences amongst listeners.
  • The sounds we hear depend in large part on what we are predisposed to hear. In general younger people heard the sounds one way; older people heard them the opposite way.
  • Not surprisingly the input file (i.e. the source of the dispute was of poor quality.

Moving to politics… the sights and sounds, the facts don’t change. These internet challenges, as frivolous as they may seem, illustrate that. It is our interpretation-formed in our brains-that differs. That interpretation is affected by our eyes, ears, brain and our life experiences. Whether the issue is race, gender, social class, or politics we can’t change the dress to suit purposes. We start by acknowledging, if only to ourselves, that our perceptions are not facts.

Written by Margaret Pendleton & published with permission.


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