We’ve known for a long time that your eyes play tricks on you.  They invent things.  You can see this in many ways.  One way is to do the blind spot tests you can find easily.  The drawings above you might see initially one thing or the other.  If you look longer you can see the other image.

We have all seen these tricks before.

The issue is that our brains are complicated signal processing machines.

Our consciousness does not receive raw input as we think it does.

Our brain looks at data from very noisy sensory systems and extremely complicated inputs and produce from this input abstractions that we interpret as “information.” You should know that your eyes are constantly flitting about and moving in a very rapid fashion and don’t get an image similar to a camera of 4 million bits at one time. Our image in our heads is a highly processed image of abstractions.

This is important.  Our brain sees a letter and and eventually we recognize that combination of edges and gradients as a letter.  We recognize variations in that letter are still that letter.  We recognize that different sizes of the letter are that letter.  We get so good at this that we then are able to recognize combinations of letters make words.  Pretty soon our brains abstraction no longer even “sees” the letters.  We see the word.

When we say we see something, the fact is we are depending on our eyes working with our brain interpreting an extremely complex set of noisy inputs and gives us a symbol we see clearly yet doesn’t actually exist.  Our brains create it.

Sometimes we see the wrong word.   So, when we process information related to politics consider if our brains are performing pattern matching to make a conclusion that gives us what we think is reality but actually is not.

Yanny vs Laurel

A few days ago a similar phenomenon was found using our ears.

Do you hear Laurel or Yanny?

When I first heard people talking about this I thought they were lying.  I guess a similar thing happened when I was informed that some images you can see 3d images from a 2 dimensional painting.  When you see the 3d image it is shocking.

So, what is going on?

You have to understand how complicated what the brain is doing for us.  We have some clue because for 40 years of AI work we have not been able to approach the human ability to recognize written text or to recognize spoken word.  This is incredibly hard.

The latest AI techniques “simulate” the brain by trying to produce abstractions like the brain.  The neural network AI called deep learning works first by trying thousands of variations of algorithms looking at portions of an image and tries to find which variation seems to recognize better.  The AI learns to recognize lips or eyes or ears.  The next layer of cells act as a filter which throws out the cells or algorithms that didn’t recognize well. The next 2 layers in this analog to our brains learns the next level of abstraction like a face or word from recognizing combinations of letters.

Our brain does this from one abstraction to another creating layers and layers of abstractions.  The best AI today does 2 layers. The brain dozens and maybe more. This is how the brain works not only for sound and letters but also how it processes higher level information such as should I flee?  Is this person dangerous or this animal?  Is this person likely to commit a crime or are they bad or good. It is how we think and learn.

This technology in computers works imperfectly.  Even after 40 years of work and a lot of smart people we can’t do as good as a human brain for simple things like letters or sounds.  However, it is getting better, almost as good as a human in some situations and good enough to be useful but it is not as good as a human in many ways.   In these cases the computer will say the word is frank when blank.

It is not surprising then that our brains sometimes also fail to recognize and when they do they make us think we are seeing or hearing something else and we believe it is reality that we are hearing when all our brains have done is present us with the abstraction that seems to closest match the sequence it hears or sees.

In the Yanny vs Laurel case it is apparent that something about the initial few vibrational patterns hit our ears and our recognition circuitry puts a Y sound to it. This is amazing because if you look how you form the letter Y sound vs the letter L sound in your mouth it is remarkably different.  The sounds are quite unlike each other we think.

This makes us convinced that we are hearing or seeing reality. If the two images are blurred we could see how one person could see or hear this or that but when our brains return a strong abstraction we question how the other person could have made a different recognition. We accuse them of lying.

The fact is in some cases are brains get confused by the complex nature of the input and flip from one abstraction to another and we see or hear completely different things even though it is the exact same input

Is hearing sensitivity the problem?

Some people have noted that if you change the frequency of Yanny and Laurel you will more frequently hear Laurel or Yanny. Our brains are complex and even when you change frequency or size or loudness our brains still recognize the letter or word or whatever. Our brains abstractions are extremely robust and invariant to many modifications. It may take a second longer for the recognition to flip in or we may need other clues but once we have the clue the brain adjusts and then we see the “other figure” or hear the other.

With seeing it seems we are more familiar with how to look at a drawing again and remembering we saw one figure we can see one or the other fairly easy. We don’t seem to know the cues that trigger our sound processing so we can’t as easily flip but so far as I’ve seen everybody can hear one of these words or the other and as you play it at different times or in different contexts you will hear different words.

I will make one more aside before getting to the higher level abstraction confusions regarding politics.

Sensing color is astonishing

Some of you may know that light is a continuous frequency spectrum.  It ranges well outside our eyes ability to see.  We call the higher frequency vibrations we can see blue and the lower frequency ones more red however in fact there is no red or blue just a frequency.

Our brains do far more than ascribe a color to a frequency.  Our brains take a smattering of reflected light all of different frequencies and combine them to produce new colors.  This is just a combination of frequencies.  It is not one frequency we call a color.  Our eyes take a combination of frequencies and generate out perception of color.

Our eyes do this because we have 3 types of receptors in our eyes sensitive to 3 different frequency ranges.  When we see a color we are seeing actually 3 different frequencies combined, not a single frequency of light.

If you think about it this greatly helps our recognition system. By combining the 3 colors we have a way of looking at something as particular ratios of those 3 reflected frequencies. Since different objects reflect light differently by being able to look at all 3 frequencies simultaneously and call it a color we are able to identify objects and to make more generalizations.

The combination of prevalence of the different frequencies reflected off a surface are turned into our brain into a color.  What is also amazing is that apparently we all seem to think this color is the same and we give it the same name and as far as we know we all see it the same but this is a fabricated thing that doesn’t really exist in nature as a thing by itself.

This is similar to our noses detecting smells.  We are detecting the vibrational pattern of a molecule that came off of the surface of something.  We may smell it as sweet or musky or minty and our brains combine the vibrations of the molecules in combinations that make flavors we recognize. This allows us to decide what kind of food something is and therefore whether it is healthy to eat. What is amazing is that the pleasurable flavors happen to correspond to flavors we can gush and exclaim over as incredibly pleasurable. Why that happens we have no clue.

Different people have different preferences for flavors and may have genetic basis but some of this is learned too. We don’t understand exactly.

We find some colors gorgeous, some colors match other colors, some smells are heavenly or the feel of this fabric is soft and wonderful.  Some foods are bland or horrible. Our brains return abstractions we call qualia and those qualia are shared apparently by people and some of it is apparently baked in somehow. Much of this is unknown how it is done.

We assume we all see the same thing or smell or hear but like politics below we each have different interpretations.

What is amazing is that when people are certain they see or hear or smell something they think they are hearing raw input. They will swear they heard X which is an abstraction usually built upon abstraction and abstraction which is heavily processed.

The fact we end up with largely the same abstractions is remarkable but is also planned. We are taught to build those abstractions up one by one in school.


So, when we are presented with a complex set of behaviors of a President or a politician or we hear a speech our brains are incredibly good at putting what the speaker is saying in context of what it understands and presenting that as fact to us.

Let’s take a very relevant issue around the division in our country now.  The Animals vs MS13.

Some brains are interpreting what the President says in one way and other brains another way.   Why?  It depends on the abstractions our brains have learned from all the inputs of political stuff we’ve heard.  What is astonishing is how passionate the people who say they believe the president said this or that and others say something opposite.  This is exactly the Yanny vs Laurel phenomenon.

When I hear a liberal person speaking sometimes I think they are lying outright.  They may be lying but frequently I think that they are absolutely convinced of their viewpoint and are speaking truthfully.

I have argued with liberals in very intellectual conversations about the same set of facts yet sometimes someone who claims very similar viewpoint and values recognize a behavior differently and comes to a different conclusion. It is astonishing.

I realize there are people who lie. I realize there are people who have malice. I realize that some people are simply dumber than others. But the veracity of people’s comments and the division in America is not a matter that one side is simply lying all the time and the other isn’t. These people really believe it even though they are looking at the same set of facts.

Are MS-13 members animals

Maybe one of the most shocking was a few days ago on “The Five” a program on FOX.  Donald Trump answered a question about ms-13 calling them animals.

Objectively speaking I believe the question was about MS13.  His answer obviously referred to ms13 as animals not immigrants in general and not even illegal immigrants.  He was referring to these specific illegal immigrants.

Yet on news reports on the 2 sides it was apparent that some people heard the president saying he was calling immigrants, all of them animals.  Others heard him calling evil people in MS13 gangs animals.

On the five Jaun Williams heard Yanny and Greg Guttfield heard Laurel.

Personally, I think that people like the MS13 members are people we cannot have in any society.  Call them animal, subhuman, barbaric or otherwise we need to jail or terminate people who commit violent crimes over and over whether they are legal or illegal immigrants or not immigrants at all.  This is not controversial.  It is objective fact that nobody wants barbaric criminals in our society.

So, obviously it would be good to filter at the border any people like this from entering the US.  Canada has said the same.  They said they love having American immigrants but not MS13.  No sane person could actually want these people in their country and that was all I heard President Trump saying but liberals heard a president who wants to turn America white and stop all immigration.

Some people’s brain returned an abstraction from the President’s comment which was another attempt to justify racism and to turn America white.  Some people saw it as trying to Protect America from unnecessary crime.

Is it Laurel or Yanny?

It is very easy to believe that one group is evil and another not.  One group is lying and wrong and the other as right.  Sometimes I think they really are lying and evil.  However, too many people argue passionately they believe sincerely they heard Yanny vs others saying Laurel. Which is it?

There is an objective answer.

The person who answered the question knows what he meant.  He said he meant that it was MS13 not all immigrants.   In this case we have plausible reason to believe the President because the question clearly was about MS13.  Possibly on some news reports they omitted the question leaving some people hearing Yanny just as some part of the sound is parsed by our brains depending on which recognition abstraction hits our brains which might depend on which vibrations hit our ears first or which recognition abstraction happens to match in one brain vs another.

There is truth and there is still interpretation:

1) The President may have objectively meant to answer the question about MS13 illegals not about all immigrants. In general there is no way to know what someone meant without being the person. Since language is a very imperfect way of communicating abstractions we should give people leeway to say precisely what they meant.

2) There is also the truth of whether MS13 are animals. They are not. They are human beings of course but the animals term is a metaphor for “unthinking base and cruel.” In fact, animals are very focused in general on their objective but they are not mean for the purposes of being mean. Humans are particularly unique in the imagination and application of their cruelty. I interpret the use of “animal” as simply a metaphor maybe as others use “Satan” or “hitler” or “f***er.”

3) There is the fact that MS13 are evil and illegal immigrants that don’t produce any positive consequences in the US.

4) There are myriad facts about the underlying point of calling them animals.

5) There is the fact that some people want to support the president and some want to hate him.

6) There is the complex set of facts about immigrants and illegal or legal ones and what they contribute and don’t contribute.

7) There is the support network you belong to and what they will think of you thinking one way or another

8) there is Your ‘Id’ or your ego and how you think of yourself and what you think about yourself

9) there is all you’ve thought about and said before on this issue

10) there is complex considerations of all the other facts and abstractions you’v’e built up, the knowledge you have of the subject

All of these things factor into your brains abstraction building mechanism and creates a bias. This bias causes you to jump to one abstraction. Frankly considering the complexity of the analysis it is amazing we can communicate at all let alone agree. The fact we don’t even have the actual raw information but only these abstractions built upon noisy inputs and can still operate with each other is astonishing. It’s an amazing world.

It could be that the President is a racist and is being fraudulent in saying he is calling just ms-13 animals. He actually meant all immigrants. It could also be that the President is pointing out MS13 to paint all immigrants or all illegal immigrants in a bad light.

However, I believe I understand what the President meant and his purpose. He meant to call out MS13 because this is an obvious example of how an uncontrolled border will produce such results. It is similar to what he said that if you let anyone come across some will be rapists. He didn’t say everyone was rapist or that most were but his implication is clearly that it is a higher percentage of bad people than he thinks we should tolerate. It also implies he thinks there is some way to prevent a large number of the bad apples from getting through.

98% of US immigrants (legal or illegal) are non-white. Unless the President advocates complete end of immigration there is no way to limit the immigrants to be white. Therefore there will be huge numbers of non-white immigrants. It can’t be he is against their color or ethnicity.


The Yanny vs Laurel paradox is a gateway to understanding how the human brain processes input and builds our sense of reality. It points to how two people can hear the same thing and come to entirely perfectly different conclusions without lying.

For humanity I am convinced that this variety of opinion is key to our success. It is not the skin color or our ethnic background that gives us diversity. It is a huge mix of genetic and learned experiences that have to be used to arrive at the right conclusion.

To get at the right conclusion we don’t know what will work. We have to experiment. Thus we must be tolerant of people being and thinking different and wanting to try different solutions. People who argue for following rigid ideas are simply wrong. There is no single truth. We can all misinterpret something as Yanny or Laurel and be perfectly convinced when it turns out the answer is really Laurel.

(Why Laurel? If you read the link I provided at the top you will see the conundrum was produced by someone trying to pronounce Laurel from a phonetic description.

So, we need diversity and we need to listen to others but we also all have to be open to the idea that we are hearing Yanny not Laurel and try to hear the other.