Listen to the clip. What do you hear?
Now, I know exactly what I hear, and I know that anyone who claims to hear the other thing is a frothing lunatic. And this is not up for debate.
A short audio clip of a computer-generated voice has become the most divisive subject on the internet since the gold/blue dress controversy of 2015.
The audio “illusion”, which first appeared on Reddit, seems to be saying one word – but whether that word is “Yanny” or “Laurel” is the source of furious disagreement.
Professor David Alais from the University of Sydney’s school of psychology says the Yanny/Laurel sound is an example of a “perceptually ambiguous stimulus” such as the Necker cube or the face/vase illusion.
“They can be seen in two ways, and often the mind flips back and forth between the two interpretations. This happens because the brain can’t decide on a definitive interpretation,” Alais says.
“If there is little ambiguity, the brain locks on to a single perceptual interpretation. Here, the Yanny/Laurel sound is meant to be ambiguous because each sound has a similar timing and energy content – so in principle it’s confusable.
“All of this goes to highlight just how much the brain is an active interpreter of sensory input, and thus that the external world is less objective than we like to believe.” […]
McDermott also thinks visual cues may have played a part. “You would have noticed it had both the names appearing on the screen with no other context or information. This forces the brain to make a choice between those two alternatives.”
How much of what we think is real is just a cognitive illusion? And how many of our certainties about the world are build on a foundation of perceptual sand?