A Heated Debate: The Yanny (Or Laurel) Heard ‘Round The World

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Credit: Tinh tế Photo, Flickr

Some hear 'Yanny'. Others hear 'Laurel'. Some even claim to be able to hear both.

One of the strangest things about social media is how one topic, a viral video or a meme, can dominate the day’s discussion. Whether it’s a rat who won’t leave his slice of pizza behind or a blue and black dress that some people saw as white and gold, the internet loves a good nonsense mystery. The latest of these, an audio clip of a man saying a word that might be “yanny” or might be “laurel,” is making the viral rounds. But does the debate around this clip say something about the larger world and if anything at all can be “true” anymore?

Which is it -- Yanny or Laurel?

In the YouTube video shared by Ellen DeGeneres, you can hear the clip for yourself. In the interest of full disclosure, your humble correspondent has heard both words in the clip. For me, I sometimes hear “Yanny” (which is not a word at all) in the beginning, but by the end of clip I always end up hearing “Laurel.” 

Thanks to some smart sleuthing by Louise Matsakis of Wired, we now know that the voice in the clip is in fact saying “Laurel.” It comes from the entry for the word on Vocabulary.com.

Matsakis digs in further, finding that people (or speakers and / or headphones) more inclined to hear higher frequencies are likely to hear “Yanny.” In contrast, the lower frequencies are more obviously “Laurel.” So, now that we know what is true, we have to ask: Does it even matter?

The Post-Truth World

The debate over the Laurel clip reminds many of us of the online debate three or so years ago about “the dress.” An oversaturated photo of a blue and black dress started a furor online when some people insisted that it was yellow and white.

As noted in Wired, the debate sparked a flurry of research into how people’s brains and eyes perceive color. Yet, all of this debate seems to ignore the fact that, like with the Laurel clip, there is indeed a correct answer. The voice in the clip is saying “Laurel,” and the dress is blue and black. But does it matter anymore?

Credit: Screengrab

From everything to entertainment and our politics, we are increasingly moving further and further away from a baseline of accepted truth. There are things the current U.S. president says that are objectively false and some things he says that are objectively true.

However, when it comes to the rest of us, whether or not you believe what he says doesn’t depend on the objective facts of the matter, but rather how you feel about the man himself. This is a dangerous trend. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan said during the Watergate debacle 40 years ago, people are not “entitled to…[their] own facts.”

What, Like, Even Is ‘Truth’ Anyway, Man?

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Credit: Bill Dimmick, Flickr

The subject of what is true, what is false, and how to determine the distinction seems best suited for a philosophy class. But, it’s not. There are things that are true no matter what your opinion on the subject is.

For example, there is no doubt that the word being said in the viral audio clip is “Laurel.” However, someone might counter that truth by saying it’s their opinion that it sounds like something else. In our society, we are taught that we are supposed to respect people’s opinions, even if it is something crazy like the Earth is flat or the Moon landing was faked.

But, even opinions aren’t immune from such scrutiny. For example, a person may have an opinion that one race of people is “better” than others. While such a person would be entitled to their own opinion, it doesn’t change the fact that the opinion is demonstrably untrue. It also doesn’t change the fact that such an opinion is the very definition of racist.

On the other hand, something like Star Wars is better than Star Trek (or vice versa) is an opinion and the truth of the matter is subjective. But not all opinions are created equal. 

What Can We Do About It?

This is a societal problem that will take more than think pieces about the Laurel clip to fix. However, this isn’t necessarily an unsolvable problem. Ironically, the best way to address it is for people-at-large to keep an open mind. It might seem that keeping an open mind is how we got into this mess in the first place. If some things are either true or not, wouldn’t keeping an open mind only muddy those waters? No, not in the least.

So many of these weird, false things people believe are not the result of research done with an open mind. Instead, they come from people or media outlets who have a vested interest in keeping people skeptical, even in the face of facts.

Conspiracy theorists on radio and internet shows pretend they have open minds about things, but instead simply push the wildest theory they can for entertainment’s sake. When it comes to politics, people treat political ideologies like sports teams, supporting one side or another regardless of what facts and context say about an issue. 

In keeping an open mind, you will be able to evaluate stories or issues based not on these preconceived notions, but what is actually there. Don’t trust sources that have defined agendas without fact-checking what they tell you. Don’t be so skeptical that, even when faced with incontrovertible facts, you still allow yourself to cling to doubt.

What do you think? Share your thoughts, reactions, and feelings in the comments below. And, because it’s just a silly audio clip, let us know which word you heard: Yanny or Laurel.

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