Every now and then, someone comes up with a question or problem so divisive that it starts an online debate that rages for days, or even weeks. (Some even last for centuries, like the “duck or rabbit” image above.) Here are five puzzles that teach us a lot about how our brains work and how we interpret the world.
Yanny versus Laurel
This one was a big deal back in 2017. At the time I clearly heard Laurel whereas my wife looked at me like I was a fool and said it’s obviously Yanny. So, with that one, I guess it’s mission accomplished.
What do you hear?! Yanny or Laurel pic.twitter.com/jvHhCbMc8I
— Cloe Feldman (@CloeCouture) May 15, 2018
It turns out, the reason we hear different things is that some of us are better at hearing particular sound frequencies than others. By altering the pitch of the audio, you can change what you hear from the same sound. It can also change for an individual depending on what device you use for playback.
All right, folks. I changed the speed of this Laurel vs. Yanny thing.
Listen to it at different speeds and see if there's a speed at which you start hearing a difference.
I hear Yanny until about 120 percent speed. Then it's Laurel pic.twitter.com/q1dvm4W2v4
— Keith Albertson (@KeithTVGuy) May 16, 2018
What do you hear?
Is it white and gold or black and blue? It’s white and gold for me but, it turns out the colours of the “Lace Bodycon Dress” from the retailer Roman Originals was actually blue-and-black. But the photo that set things off was overexposed and that resulted in people seeing it in different ways.
Like the Yanny/Laurel thing, the reason we perceive the colours differently is because of the way different people’s brains interpret colour. Our eyes are inundated wth lots of data so our brains discount data that isn’t useful. Various neuroscientists and other experts have expounded specific theories on why some people see the colours one way while other people see them differently. But it all boils down to our brains interesting the same set of data differently.
What colour are the strawberries?
This one really highlights that our brains are awesome at filling in missing data or switching out information that doesn’t make sense or belong.
This picture has NO red pixels. Great demo of color constancy (ht Akiyoshi Kitaoka) pic.twitter.com/pZHvbB6QHE
— Matt Lieberman (@social_brains) February 27, 2017
The picture about does not contain a single red pixel. Yet, to my eyes at least, the strawberries appear red but are behind a bluish filter.
My brain knows strawberries are meant to be red so it adds the missing data to make the image consistent with my experience of what a strawberry should look like.
What do you see?
The Adidas jacket
What is it? Brown and black, or blue and white. It’s brown and black for me but like The Dress, the nature of the light hitting the jacket means people see the jacket differently. Although, some parts of the jacket do look a little blue to me so I can imagine why some people perceive the colour differently to me.
WHAT COLOR IS THIS???? pic.twitter.com/ClZagql3u8
— BuzzFeed (@BuzzFeed) February 26, 2016
There’s a lesson to learn
It’s easy to get get caught up in the fun of all this but there’s a more serious thing to consider. It’s possible for people to see or hear exactly the same things but take away a completely different interpretation or perception of what they’ve been exposed to.
In some cases, it’s possible to change their view or make it easier to understand why you’re peering things in different ways. Changing the pitch of the Yanny/Laurel soundbite, or altering the light hitting The Dress can change what we hear and see. But it may not always be that easy.
Next time you disagree with someone and you are diametrically opposed to each other, perhaps consider that their experience and perspective might simply be a reflection of their history and the conditions in which they are viewing things.