17 May 2018

By Editor | Blogs

May 18

Dear Friends,

In the unlikely event that you have had the blissful pleasure of being totally ignorant of the internet for the last 72 hours, I’m want to point your attention to an argument which has raged across cyberspace, tearing apart families, causing marital strife, and leading to thousands-long comment chains of people yelling at one another: Yanny or Laurel.

On Monday, this post went viral on Twitter. In it, there is a 4 second audio clip of a computerised voice saying a single word over and over. Here’s the tricky part: it appears that half of humanity believes the recording says ‘Yanny’ and the other half hears ‘Laurel.’ Obviously these are two very different sounding names, so what’s going on here?

Wired has the full history of this mysterious debate, which, unbelievably includes an obscure subReddit and one of the original cast members of the Broadway musical, ‘CATS.’ In effect, it seems that the clip is an ‘auditory illusion,’ like the ever-present Rubin’s Vase, but for your ears. The science behind the clip has also been puzzled out, and the Atlantic does its best to academically explain the confusing clip.

Despite all of that information, and the fact that when manipulated, the clip can be made to sound like either name to any person– the simple fact remains that some people hear one word and some hear another. If you have listened to it (and you really should, just click here), you either heard Yanny or Laurel. I heard ‘Yanny.’ I can’t, no matter how hard I strain my ear, hear ‘Laurel.’

Now, this may seem pretty ridiculous (more ridiculous even is the fact that this will likely make it into some future history textbook on the development of the internet alongside 2015’s The Dress debacle (it’s obviously blue/black)) but it actually matters a huge amount.

In a week in which politics has proved that people are often unable to really hear one another, that we so rarely can break out of seeing what we expect to see, Yanny/Laurel is a good reminder that our perceptions are different. When we disagree, about current events or about a bizarre audio clip, we should remember that just because we hear one thing, doesn’t mean another person hears the same. Some of us hear Yanny, some of us hear Laurel– and we’re both right. Let’s hope as time goes on we can realise that such a phenomenon applies to a lot more than internet audio illusions and learn, above all else, how to hear each other.


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