Quick, do you hear the word “Yanny” or “Laurel” in the audio clip below?
It’s the latest internet controversy with a blatantly obvious answer to everyone who experiences it. However, not everybody experiences it the same way. Which means that some people — like, say, this writer — will unambiguously hear the word “Laurel” in the clip (because that’s what it says, “Laurel”), and other people — like, say, this writer’s uninformed colleagues who obviously can’t hear properly — will hear “Yanny” (even though it clearly says “Laurel”).
And if this type of controversy sounds familiar to you, that’s because we’ve been through it before, specifically, back in 2015, when the internet went to battle over whether or not a certain dress was blue and gray or white and gold. But first, the audio clip.
As Vox reports, the controversy erupted on Tuesday night, when “social media influencer and vlogger” Cloe Feldman posted the audio clip on Twitter. It’s not clear where Cloe found it, or if she produced it herself. But what is clear is that everyone has a different reaction.
My wife and I just listened through my laptop speakers — she heard “Yanny” and I heard “Laurel” and now I feel like I’m living in a simulation.
— Michael Weiss (@RotationlSymtry) May 15, 2018
Yanny….I listened 10 times and cant figure out how anyone hears laurel
— Kay◟̽◞̽ (@hazzasxinfinity) May 15, 2018
How are y’all hearing yanny???????? it clear as day says laurel????
— Divonte Wilson (@Wilson1Divonte) May 15, 2018
And in case you were wondering, Yanni hears “Yanny,” because of course he does.
So what’s going on here? Several users have pointed out that they hear things differently depending on the speakers through which they hear it — laptop, mobile, or headphones. There may also be some audio tomfoolery involved as well, as Twitter user @earthvessquotes fiddled with the audio and found that mixing the bass/treble ratio plays a role in what you hear.
you can hear both when you adjust the bass levels: pic.twitter.com/22boppUJS1
— Earth Vessel Quotes (@earthvessquotes) May 15, 2018
In fact, how the human brain receives information is the crux of all such controversies. Back when that silly dress became an internet “thing,” it was later revealed that the lighting in which the dress was viewed played a role in how the human brain interpreted the image, as Psychology Today explained. Therefore, one human brain took the information gleaned from the user’s rods & cones in the eye and said “white and gold!” while another human brain took the same information and said “blue and gray!”
In a larger, philosophical sense, things like “color” and “sound” don’t actually exist in the universe in the way we think of them. Sure, light exists, and it exists at different wavelengths (what we think of as “color”), but how the brain interprets those wavelengths varies from person to person – maybe. What I see as “green” may appear to you as what I think of as “purple” — and we will never know unless someone develops technology that allows us to experience each other’s brains. Similarly, sound exists, (or more accurately, pressure waves of various wavelengths and strengths exist), but what your brain interprets as, say, “deep bass” may show up in my brain as “high treble” — and again, we wouldn’t know unless we could somehow share brains.
And in the absence of being able to share brains, we’ll just have to take each other’s word for it when we say we hear “Yanny” or “Laurel” in internet audio clips.