What Laurel or Yanny Teaches Us About a Lack of Human Empathy

The Laurel or Yanny debate tells us less about how we perceive sound, and more about how human beings perceive each other.

This computer generated voice is heard by some people to be saying 'Laurel', and by others to say "Yanny'.

The real surprise isn't that different people hear things in different way. The REAL surprise is the sheer amount of people who are completely unable to believe that it’s possible for anyone to hear the word in a different way than them. There's a perception that our opinion must be the right one, even when it’s in contrast with 50% of the population.

This smacks of a severe global empathy shortage.

What can this teach us? If our opinions can be so varied for something as simple as how a word is perceived, think how differently people interprit much more complex parts of our world. Add emotions and values and genetics and environment to the mix, and the range of perceptions is almost infinite. Who’s to say that how you see the colour blue is how everyone else sees it. Or if roasting coffee smells the same to everyone. Or if coriander is a tasty addition to chilli mussels or the devil himself.

‘If a tree falls in the woods and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?’. No, because sound is something we perceive. And if we don’t perceive it, sound doesn’t exist. It’s just a series of invisible waves of pressure. Until those waves strike our eardrum, it's just compressed air.

So if something doesn't exist until we perceive it, and our perceptions are all different, maybe we should turn up the volume on our own empathy, respect the thoughts/feelings/beliefs of others and understand that life is a very different prospect for different people.

If someone does wrong by you, don’t react by letting the chimp part of your brain charge into fight or flight. Instead, have the presence of mind and a level of empathy to understand that their experience of the word is different to your. Not better. Not worse. Just different.

And for the record, it's DEFINITELY 'Yanny', are you guys bloody deaf!?

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Dan Williams

Dan Williams is the Founder and Director of Range of Motion. He is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist and Exercise Scientist with a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Exercise Rehabilitation Science. Dan is a CrossFit Coach (at CF Games Level) and four time CrossFit Regionals Athlete.