Skepticism

Auditory Coolness

Richard Wiseman and Simon Singh do a great bit in some of their presentations, demonstrating how easy it is to make someone hear just what you want them to hear simply through suggestion. (I’ve seen both guys use this, so I’m not positive who developed it but I’m willing to let them mud wrestle over it [naked]. WAIT, EDIT: I’ve just been informed the originator is Chris French! Thanks, Sid.) They play Stairway to Heaven backwards, and it’s all garbled. Then they play it again, this time giving you lyric to read along — the second time, you can actually hear words. It’s interesting to compare this to electronic voice phenomena (EVP), where “ghost hunters” record garbled nonsense and claim to hear the dead telling them to bite the purple banana (or whatever). Then of course it can also be extended to show you how gullible even the most skeptical brain can be.

All that is to say, here’s another fun example I found on a friend’s Facebook, starring Joe Cocker.

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Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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17 Comments

  1. Whenever I see a video of Joe Cocker, not only am I reminded of how good John Belushi’s impression was, I’m also reminded that Belushi actually underplayed the man’s tics and quirks…sweet fancy wonder loaf.

  2. If you haven’t looked at the TED talks before, I can recommend almost every one of them.

    As a sample of a (relatively) random three, Sir Ken Robinson’s ‘School’s kill creativity‘, Anna Deavere Smith’s ‘Four American characters‘ (warning — harrowing) and Clifford Stoll’s ‘ on …everything‘ are a relatively good sample.

    Actually, If I had Clifford Stoll as my science teacher, I would have immediately gone out and become a Physicist or never wanted to look at science again. I’m not sure which (the man’s unhinged: he makes klein bottles for goodness’ sake!).

  3. The human mind is especially adept at finding patterns. Unfortunately it is not necessary that the patterns actually exist for use to find them :-). Part of my time in the US Marine Corps was spent in Intelligence. The training I received largely had to do with how to verify that what you think you see/hear is what is actually there.

    Pat O

  4. Am I the only one who was disappointed with this post? I mean it was a good post, don’t get me wrong, but I read the title as “Adultery Coolness” at first and sweaty, stoned Joe Cocker was really not on my radar…

  5. My understanding of the history is that Wiseman and Singh developed the Led Zep presentation together as part of Theatre of Science.

    Shermer’s version is just Wiseman’s slides and words, I don’t know if he credits anyone.

    Chris French, I think, was the person who originally started using the example (of course the Zep stuff is old news) in psychology, but the famous presentation is Theatre of Science.

    So with the exception of Shermer, it’s a collaborative effort.

  6. Yes.
    As I understand it Chris was using the Led Zep clip as an example of EVP and “top-down” processing of auditory information, which I saw featured at a Skeptics in the Pub many a moon ago. It wasn’t as swish, with a couple of overheads used instead of PowerPoint.

    Simon Singh asked Chris for permission to use the presentation for The Theatre of Science and the rest, as they say, is history.

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