There’s a debate in America today that threatens to tear the country apart. No, it has nothing to do with Trump and Mueller or Democrats and Republicans.
The question is: Yanny or Laurel?
No, it’s not gibberish. That question stems from an audio clip shared online by a group of high schoolers in which a robotic voice pronounces a single word.
But, what’s it actually saying — Yanny or Laurel?
Through massive social media sites including Instagram and Reddit, the audio clip has gone viral, leaving people scratching their heads and bickering with their friends and neighbors. The phenomenon has been likened to the infamous dress from 2015 which divided viewers over its true colors: some said it was black and blue, others said white and gold.
Like the dress, the Yanny versus Laurel debate has the country fired up ostensibly. As humans, we come to believe with a near absolute certainty in our senses. I hear this, so it must be true. I see this, so it must be true. If you see or hear something differently, maybe it’s time to get a new pair of glasses or have your hearing checked.
But experts say our senses are not nearly so infallible. In fact, these instances instead highlight how subjective our own faculties can be.
“The way we interpret sound is very, very individual,” Dr. Darius Kohan, director of otology/neurotology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told Healthline.
“It’s not that one person is correct and the other one is incorrect. It’s the way that we reflect the vibrations of sound and how they’re being transmitted into the inner ear and the nerve,” he said.
Hearing is complex: Sound waves enter through your outer ear and travel through your ear canal to your eardrum. Vibrations of your eardrum are sent to three tiny bones in the middle ear, which are passed on to the cochlea and auditory nerve.
Changes and abnormalities anywhere along this chain influence our hearing.
Anything from skull thickness and outer-ear size to the condition of your eardrum can affect how different people subjectively hear the same sound.
“The way the sound reverberates in our own body has something to do with the way we interpret the sound around us. That’s part of the mystery of this latest craze,” said Kohan.
In this case, some astute listeners have pointed out that whether you hear Yanny or Laurel may come down to your perception of bass (low frequencies) and treble (high frequencies). Kohan points out that Laurel is a bassier sound, and Yanny is more treble.
Whether you hear Yanny or Laurel likely doesn’t say much about the quality of your hearing, but more what your natural inclination is when hearing the sound itself.
“The mind will jump to what it’s most aware of. Our mind will decide which way it wants to interpret it based on the frequency of the sound and intensity that is hitting the eardrum,” said Kohan.
And according to CBS, the debate is pretty evenly split. According to Twitter data, 47 percent of people say they hear Yanny, while 53 percent hear Laurel.
“In this particular case, I think that the baseline really was Laurel,” said Kohan.
And he’s right. The New York Times reports that part of the audio recording now heard ‘round the world is in fact from the Vocabulary.com page for “laurel”: “a wreath worn on the head, usually as a symbol of victory.”
As for Yanny, well, Yanny isn’t even a real world.
But, Yanny is what I heard, and you won’t convince me otherwise.