Episode 2: Illusions

Episode 2: Illusions 

“Tippity … Do you hear what I hear? … Now hear this … Name that tune … I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before … The fiction of memory”
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  • Episode 2 - Illusions > Tippity tap
  • Episode 2 - Illusions > Now hear this
  • Episode 2 - Illusions > I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before
  • Episode 2 - Illusions > Conversation with John Vokey (Part 1)
  • Episode 2 - Illusions > What do you expect?
  • Episode 2 - Illusions > Conversation with John Vokey (Part 2)
  • Episode 2 - Illusions > Do you see what I see?
  • Episode 2 - Illusions > Conversation with Elizabeth Loftus
  • Episode 2 - Illusions > The fiction of memory
  • Episode 2 - Illusions > Naïve realism
  • Episode 2 - Illusions > On campus
  • Episode 2 - Illusions > Uncut conversation with John Vokey

Episode 2 – Illusions > Tippity tap

  • The tune should be something that you think everyone would know.
  • A few examples that most people would know from North America, Australia, or the UK might be ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’, ‘Baa, Baa, Black Sheep’, or ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head’.
  • Now imagine that you’re standing in Matt’s position and that there’s a hundred people watching you perform in front of this auditorium.

Episode 2 – Illusions > Now hear this

  • So how well do you think you went? I think I did reasonably well.
  • Well, let’s see whether the people at home can actually guess what it was that you were tapping out.

Episode 2 – Illusions > I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before

  • How well did I do? Well, if you’re like most people who have done this experiment-this has been done a lot of times.
  • People actually try to hum or they tap a particular song, and other people in the room try to guess what it was.
  • People who guess, an audience of about a hundred people who guess, find that about-I don’t know-about 2.5 percent of people guess correctly.
  • I think people guessed about 50 percent of people in the auditorium would guess correctly, when in fact only about 2.5 percent of the people in the auditorium guessed correctly.
  • In part, that’s because, when you’re tapping the tune, you hear the music that accompanies it, and you know, when you’re not tapping, whether that’s a musical rest or a sustained note.
  • Now the idea is that when you’re listening to these songs as an audience member to the person who’s tapping and you know what it is that you’re looking for, it’s extremely vivid from the inside because you’re kind of following along; you’re listening to the music, but if you’re not familiar with the music, it’s just tapping.
  • The idea is that it’s really difficult to put yourself in the shoes or see things from the perspective of other people.
  • Now what I get people to do is I just play the song from the start without saying anything.
  • I say, “There’s an electronic voice here, and it’s actually saying English words, and I want you to tell me what the lyrics of this song are.” I play it through, and people say, “I think I got this word,” or, “I think he said salmon or people.” Lots of things come through.
  • All of sudden, people can hear vividly exactly what these words are and what the electronic voice is, like it was there all along.
  • People sometimes think that I’m playing a trick on them, that I played two tracks no, when you know what the lyrics are, the words just sound crystal clear.
  • There’s another really good example of this: where people find hidden messages in songs.
  • So you can either play a song forward, or you can play it backward, and when you’re listening to it, you can hear messages that may not have been there intentionally on behalf of the band, and so people have some pretty creative interpretations of what the actual backward or forward messages say.

Episode 2 – Illusions > Conversation with John Vokey (Part 1)

  • The claim, I think, was that they had backwards messages in their rock music that led to some unfortunate outcomes.
  • Can you tell me a little bit about that? Two young men, two days before Christmas were sitting in their basement of one of their houses, drinking beer, smoking marijuana, and listening to Judas Priest all afternoon.
  • I received this phone call because of the work I’d done on backward messages in rock music with Don Read, a colleague of mine then at the University of Lethbridge, that we’d done in response to this pastor from California coming to town and holding his big rallies about backward messages in rock music that were leading young people down the path of life such as sex and drug use.
  • He claimed it was because of the backward messages in the rock music.
  • So I got a phone call back then from a local announcer of a rock station in Lethbridge, calling me up after Pastor Greenwald had arrived, saying, “Is there anything in psychology that we could use to speak about this alleged backward messages in rock music,” or subliminal messages, they were calling them.
  • We couldn’t find anything on backward messages.
  • “Well, fair enough.” Now his claim-and it’s more subtle than most people think, so when it really hit the press in the mid-’80s, people had the wrong idea of what he was claiming.
  • So his concern is not that messages are being inserted in the rock music.
  • There’s obviously the forward messages in many rock songs that promote drug use and the like.
  • His concern was that, as he rephrased it at one of his meetings-I’m paraphrasing now-is that, well, good Christian teenagers, with a forward message, would hear it, understand it, and reject it.
  • His concern was that because it was backwards and it’s hard to register consciously, if the message is still getting through, the meaning of the backward version of the message was getting through, then they would be unaware of the source.
  • The thought popped into their head by some unconscious mechanism-he never specified what that would be-but if it did, then they would have a message in their head with no attributable source except themselves.
  • “Now here’s the same section I’m going to play backwards, and I want you to listen for,” in this particular example, “It’s fun to smoke marijuana.” Sure enough, everybody starts laughing because everybody hears it.
  • By the time he’s done, after about an hour, people were totally convinced.
  • All these backward messages, I heard them all when he asked me to hear them.
  • “Okay, he’s got a theory. He’s got an explanation of why he’s concerned: that if it did manage to get in without you being aware of the source, that in fact could be of some concern.” So we thought-and there was no research-so why don’t we actually see if you can influence people’s behavior consistent with the meaning of the backward passage? But they’re not hearing the backward passage.

Episode 2 – Illusions > What do you expect?

  • John Vokey and Don Read wanted to find out exactly what people could do with backwards messages, so they did an experiment.
  • They recorded a bunch of voices of people from different countries, so different languages, so French, German, and English.
  • They recorded people asking questions, and they also recorded people just saying declarations.
  • The question was: what can people do with these messages when they’re played backwards? So what exactly does a backwards message sound like, and what can people pick up? They found there are a couple of things that people could do with backwards messages and a couple of things that they couldn’t do.
  • Is there anything that people are able to pick up without their awareness? So they asked people to categorize these backwards sentences as either Christian or Satanic or even pornographic, and they found that people could not correctly classify these things.
  • One of the sentences played forwards was: “Jesus loves me. This I know,” and people couldn’t correctly classify it as pornographic or Christian.

Episode 2 – Illusions > Conversation with John Vokey (Part 2)

  • That’s the background, published the paper in ’85.
  • Come the early ’90s, I get a phone call from the lawyers for Judas Priest in Reno, Nevada, where the trial was going to take place.
  • They were claiming there were a number of backward subliminals in this particular album, the “Stained Class” album by Judas Priest.
  • Well, I said, “I think you really want my colleague.” So here’s what happens: the day of, we were flying down there for the first weekend meeting, an actual face-to-face meeting.
  • She’s all, “Not a problem. Don’t worry about it.” So the day we were to fly down to meet the team and Judas Priest, Don Read was leaving from I think it was Vancouver, and he headed earlier to Reno than I did from Lethbridge, so I’m the last to arrive.
  • All the other lawyers and Judas Priest are around the table.
  • I’m walking in, and she looks up at me, and she goes, “Oh, my God,” and then says, “Now, Don, when you’re on the stand…” So I actually didn’t testify at the Judas Priest trial.

Episode 2 – Illusions > Do you see what I see?

  • People have really fantastic pattern-recognition abilities, and it’s not just hearing messages that we expect to hear but it’s also visually as well.
  • What if I told you that the title of this picture is called “Dalmatian Dog”? Does that help? Well, if you still can’t see it, then savor this moment because once I show you, then you’ll never be able to see this photo in the same way ever again.
  • People have reported seeing a face on Mars, or Elvis in the form of a tree, or even seeing the Virgin Mary in a toasted cheese sandwich.
  • There’s a nice website called Faces in Places where people upload their own photographs of faces that they see in everyday objects, and it’s filled with hundreds of great examples.
  • Many times, our basic pattern-recognition abilities are shaped by really specific expectations like, “It’s fun to smoke marijuana,” and once you know what it is that you’re listening for, automatically kind of pops out.
  • Once I tell you, for example, to look for the Dalmatian dog in the scene, all of the things that aren’t consistent with the Dalmatian dog just fade into the background, and all the things that are consistent with the Dalmatian dog really pop out.
  • It’s this difference between sharpening things that are consistent with it and leveling the things that are inconsistent with that specific message.
  • We’re going to see this come up again and again throughout the course, where things float to the top that are consistent with your expectations, and things that aren’t consistent kind of fade into the background.
  • Instead of things being shaped by our specific expectations, they’re also shaped by our general expectations, so things like-well, language is a good one.
  • Language-we aren’t even aware, really, of doing any sort of interpretation whatsoever.
  • When you read a sentence, it just kind of emerges, what the meaning of that sentence is, but there’s all sorts of things like syntax and grammar, obviously spelling, word configurations, sentence structure.
  • These things are all happening, and you’re applying them.
  • Again, looking at the Dalmatian dog, you can’t un-see the Dalmatian dog.
  • You fail to recognize, A: that you’re even making any sort of interpretation whatsoever; and, B: that there are a squillion other ways that you could’ve heard or that you could’ve seen these things.

Episode 2 – Illusions > Conversation with Elizabeth Loftus

  • We’re taking bits and pieces of experience-sometimes things that happened at different times and places-in constructing our memories.
  • These activities can change your memory, can transform or distort your memory, so that when you try to call up a memory for a past event, you’re reconstructing, and there can be lots of errors.
  • Surely if I’m really confident about my belief or my recollection and it’s sincere and really emotional, surely that means it’s more likely to be an accurate memory.
  • Well, it may be slightly more likely to be an accurate memory if you’re really confident about it, but confidence is not a good indicator that your memory is accurate because false memories can be expressed with a lot of confidence.
  • They have the same characteristics as true memories, and just relying on those characteristics can mislead people into thinking that something is real when it’s not.
  • I mean, in my own work, for example, we’ve changed people’s memories for the details of events that they did experience.
  • You can plant entirely false memories, whole memories, into the minds of people for things that didn’t happen.
  • I mean, it doesn’t really matter if I tell you that I had a hamburger for lunch instead of chicken, but when it comes to the legal world, now very precise memory matters, and so memory evidence is precious.
  • A lot of times, it’s not, and people or circumstances get in there and contaminate those memory traces and lead to travesties of justice.
  • Are there any famous cases of false memories? Oh, gosh.
  • There are certainly a lot of famous politicians who have had distorted memories.
  • So what’s going here? She had a distorted memory, one that resulted in a little bit of embarrassment for her because people called her Pinocchio, but she made a mistake.
  • Her case shows us that all that intelligence, all that experience, all that education, all that Yale Law School degree, doesn’t protect you from having false memories.
  • Do we ever repress memories? If there’s something bad that’s happened in our childhood that we might want to forget on some level, do we ever repress memories, and do they ever come back without our knowledge? On this whole question of repression, I have to say that what we do do is we sometimes don’t think about things for a long time and can be reminded of them.
  • Maybe you see different brain images if you did put people in an FMRI machine, and you’d see differences between true and false memories, but there are barely any differences.
  • Maybe true memories and false memories would persist differentially.
  • Maybe true memories persist longer, but we don’t see any evidence for that.

Episode 2 – Illusions > The fiction of memory

  • What Beth’s research really shows is that our-not just what we see and what we hear-but our memories can actually be distorted.
  • The media could give you information that might bias you in a particular way and create a false memory or an impression of something.
  • It’s only a false memory because it never happened.
  • So if memory is not working like a video camera, it’s hard to even recognize that you’ve made an interpretation at all.
  • We’re completely unaware of having made, an interpretation and the illusion happens to us in the same way that these memory illusions are just as real as actual memories.
  • Now we’re going to present you with some faces on the screen, and I want you to keep your eyes on the center of the cross in the middle of the screen.
  • By this point in the video, the faces should look a little bit strange.
  • Some of the eyes might be a little larger than you’d expect, and they might look a little bit paler.
  • If you replay this section of the video and look at the faces again, you’ll see that they’re completely normal.
  • What’s happening is that the previous face is distorting the face that follows it.
  • If one of the faces has small, beady, little eyes and it’s followed by a face with regular-sized eyes, then these regular-sized eyes look huge.
  • Again, you can’t help but to see these faces as distorted.
  • With this visual illusion, when the faces are flashing up and they look alien-like, it’s nothing that you’re doing.

Episode 2 – Illusions > Naïve realism

  • We tend to believe that, with the exception of a few tricks or illusions and so on that might fool us into seeing things a particular way, that the world is essentially as it is.
  • I mean, this is kind of an extension of this idea of the videotape, that we’re just going through the world and taking things in; it’s being recorded and we can reproduce it faithfully.
  • Obviously, that’s not the way the world works, but this idea that the world is like that, the world is as it is and we just interpret in particular ways-it’s called naïve realism.
  • Human beings necessarily think that the world is the way they perceive it to be.
  • To a physicist, the world is made up of these infinitesimally tiny strings of matter and energy fields-nothing like the way we perceive it to be.
  • What we perceive as reality is our way of responding to that input and that construction.
  • Of course, we have to assume that the world is the way we perceive it, and in many ways we perceive the world similarly.
  • It serves us really well to believe that: this naïve belief that there’s a one-to-one relationship between the way we perceive and the way they really are, but it can get us into trouble, particularly when other people come to that world with different histories, different needs, different goals, different biases, different experiences.
  • The world doesn’t really look the way you think it looks.
  • Much like we do in the real world, these aren’t threshold phenomena that either is or isn’t.
  • An illusion of the sense or type, I guess, is the way to think about it.
  • We’re not really seeing the world as it is; we’re just trying to create something that’s reasonably predictive of allowing us to act in the world.
  • As Lee Ross, and now John, have indicated, it doesn’t really make sense to talk about things objectively as seeing objects and events as they are in the world instead of being filtered by our own experiences.
  • It should be clear now to people watching this that, again, seeing, hearing, and remembering all involve considerable knowledge of the world.

Episode 2 – Illusions > On campus

  • Welcome to week two, of the science of everyday thinking.
  • Do you think that there are health practices, herbal medicine, spiritual harmony, dietary practices, traditional healing, that are not being investigated either because medicine and the drug companies don’t like them or because they don’t fit current scientific theories? It is actually 84% that yes to this one.
  • We asked our guests in think101x to pick one word to describe what they think about.
  • What single word describes what you think about? Go to that URL and enter a couple of questions for us.
  • Talk among your small groups and see what the difference is between the way you responded and the way everybody else on the planet would have responded.
  • What we are essentially going to be doing in the first couple of episodes is shattering some myths about the way that you think the mind works, the way that you think the world actually operates.
  • So we need, up front in this course, to at least challenge some of these basic beliefs that you have about the way that perception works, like this, change detection, choice blindness and the way that memory works.
  • I can bet you right now that I think completely different to anyone here at this table.
  • Because we can’t expect that the whole world is going to think exactly the same way that we do.
  • Two of the people on our table put science as what they think about most and I put a similar answer.
  • So we are thinking that a lot of people would of put that they think about like how the world works.
  • I think I more was trying to choose a word that described me in a whole.

Episode 2 – Illusions > Uncut conversation with John Vokey > Uncut conversation with John Vokey

  • The claim, I think, was that they had backwards messages in their rock music that led to some unfortunate outcomes.
  • That’s who the suit was launched against, about alleged subliminal content of two kinds: backward messages, so the messages that-you hear the forward message as normal language, but played backwards it has a completely different meaning, and some forward subliminals, so low-level forward messages.
  • I turned to my colleague Don Read. We both went, “Not that we’re aware of.” We did a little research, but we couldn’t find anything on backward messages.
  • You were initially skeptical of the claim that backwards messages could influence, or you were open to the idea that they could? Moderately or, I guess, minimally, to be honest, but what I did do is I then went to his presentations to see what he was doing that was leading so many people to be so upset about it, because it was the front page of newspapers, all the radio stations, and so on.
  • What he would do is he would walk in with sections of rock music that he must have spent hundreds of hours obtaining, listening to all those rock music backwards and finding these passages.
  • “Now here’s the same section I’m going to play backwards, and I want you to listen for,” in this particular example, “It’s fun to smoke marijuana.” He plays the passage for you backwards, and, sure enough, everybody starts laughing because everybody hears it.
  • All these backward messages, I heard them all when he asked me to hear them.
  • “Okay, he’s got a theory. He’s got an explanation of why he’s concerned: that if it did manage to get in without you being aware of the source, that in fact could be of some concern.” So we thought-and there was no research-so why don’t we actually see if you can influence people’s behavior by the meaning of the semantic content of the backward message when you’re hearing the passage forward? Yes, so the semantic content-the words, right? Yes, yes, so that was something about their behavior was going to be influenced consistent with the meaning of the backward passage.
  • All the headlines afterwards talked about us studying backward messages in rock music.
  • If you could follow me for a moment-so we played the message, the passage, backwards because we know what its-so the forward meaning is now the backward meaning, if you follow me.
  • So in the forward direction, they’re just hearing backward speech, which is… That’s what it sounds like.
  • What can people do with backward speech? Some of the questions we asked came about because both Don and I, Don Read and I, when we first started playing with these sentences, were like, “Those are very speech-like.” When you turn speech around, English in particular, what we were using, you turn that around, it still sounds like speech but it sounds like a foreign language you don’t know.
  • So the very first thing we asked is when we’re playing the passage backwards-and we just had some recorded by women and some recorded by men-and we just asked them when they’re hearing the backwards, “Is that a man or a woman?” They were virtually perfect in scoring that, so they could easily tell the gender of the speaker.
  • That’s not too surprising because women tend to have higher frequency voices than men, and played backwards the frequencies remain.
  • He’d read them all in the normal fashion, and then we turned them all backwards.
  • For many of these people, they’ve never heard anything backwards before, and yet they could still tell the language.
  • We didn’t explore the exact details as to why that’s true, but if you just think about some of the sounds in the languages, you can probably in your head figure out, “Well that kind of guttural sound, backwards it would sound…” So we’re probably going to link to that paper, but can you summarize what the-there may be four or five things that people could and couldn’t pick up when they were backwards.
  • So the bottom line is people aren’t very good at picking up the meaning or the words in very simple messages when they’re played backwards.
  • They’re hearing the forward sentences backwards.
  • We’re probably going to go through the whole of the methodology of your experiment-but what did you find? Well, then we took that very basic idea and repeated it with backward messages.
  • Otherwise it’s identical, okay? Everything is the same except we just turned all the sentences backwards first; that’s it.
  • People given backward message as an exact same experiment, the same kind of paradigm, do not.
  • People given backwards messages were or were not influenced by it? Completely uninfluenced.
  • So if you were to put that-I don’t want to put it in my words-what was the bottom line of that experiment? People given… We found no effect, either conscious or unconscious, direct or indirect, on their behavior from backward messages.
  • As far as we could tell, none of the meaning of backward messages were getting through, none, even in very, very subtle experiments.
  • So you’ve got an experiment with extreme amount of scientific rigor, you’ve found very little evidence for the fact that backwards messages… None.
  • You found no evidence for backwards messaging influencing people either consciously or unconsciously.
  • If you were a rock band, wouldn’t you want the sticker? What 14-year-old boy could resist? “Satanic messages, oh, boy!” So what happened after that point, of course, is that many rock bands started putting backward messages in their music, and they’re easy to tell.
  • Unlike the ones where it’s kind of, you know, you barely get the message to work it out when you hear it backwards, these are very clean ones.
  • You would hear it on the record as the backwards speech, but if you turned it around and played it, it was very clear.
  • Many, many bands started doing it precisely because you’d sell more records if you could claim you had backward messages in there.
  • The same thing has to happen with the backward messages.
  • We had “Jabberwocky” because it makes no sense forward or backward.
  • I recorded one of the passages and then flipped it backwards, and then Don Read recorded the other one and flipped it backwards, so we could control for voice, intonation.
  • You won’t hear that if we played the 23rd Psalm backward.
  • You won’t hear that particular passage, but you will hear it if we played the “Jabberwocky” backwards.
  • So she calls me up and says, “You’re the only authorities on this. Nobody else has ever published a paper on backwards messages.” They were claiming there were a number of backward subliminals in this particular album, the “Stained Class” album, by Judas Priest.
  • The judge said, “Okay, the conclusion seems pretty clear,” and threw that all out, so no longer did backward messages play any role.
  • It’s giving off enough cues that are consistent with the interpretation that that’s a bear-much like our backward messages, if they were consistent with the phrases that Don and I made up-leads you to that conclusion.
  • It’s not yes or no, although I’m just quite sure that with our backward messages experiments, had we put people on highly stressed situations, they would hear that even more.

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