Adam Rogers in Wired:
Some people heard the word “laurel” in a short audio clip that became internet-famous this week, while others heard the not-word “yanny.” This proves that we will all die alone.
Thanks to some sleuthing by my colleague Louise Matsakis, people interested in following up can learn that regardless of what they heard in the clip, the person speaking was, in fact, saying the word “laurel.” But the question of what was recorded, for real, diverges in important ways from the question of what people heard, also for real.
Let me put this another way: Three years back, a picture of a dress—The Dress—became internet famous, because some people saw it as blue and others saw it as white. The question of why sent scientists who study color vision into a flurry of activity that’s still going on today. They want to better understand how the brain factors in illumination when calculating the color of an object, and how people see yellowish colors differently than bluish ones. Again, none of that work asks what color The Dress actually was, for real. (Blue.)
There is a world that exists—an uncountable number of differently-flavored quarks bouncing up against each other. There is a world that we perceive—a hallucination generated by about a pound and a half of electrified meat encased by our skulls. Connecting the two, or conveying accurately our own personal hallucination to someone else, is the central problem of being human. Everyone’s brain makes a little world out of sensory input, and everyone’s world is just a little bit different.