Deliberate manipulation, Hanlon's Razor, or a trick of the mind?
January 6, 2018 12:26 AM   Subscribe

I seem to have stumbled upon an anomaly, and I was wondering if this phenomenon is shared by others.

So the story begins while watching this video (18s, students protesting in library, Asian student comes over and asks them to quiet down). I began reading comments here, and there was a claim that someone blurted out, "Go back to Beijing!" at the end of the video. The Youtube comments also echoed this sentiment. I sure didn't hear anything like that, and simply waved it off as your classic case of alt-right trolling/brigading. But some of the comments seemed very earnest, so I gave the video another watch. "Go back to Beijing!" Clear as day. Wait, what? No way...

I went back to the comments and saw there was a huge divergence in interpretation. The most common retort was that all you can hear is "Whose university is this?" I had clearly heard the Beijing line. But evermore curious, I gave the video another spin: "Whose university is this?" Again. "Whose university is this?" Holy crap. What a weird illusion. I watched over and over and over again, and I couldn't even piece together any set of phonemes that could construct "Go back to Beijing!" How odd.

I found this peculiar enough that I put out some feelers to get multiple opinions: 1 2 3

A large contingent of the interpretations also appeared to hear it both ways, at different intervals.

And that's why I'd like some opinions; whether it's an error of interpretation, my framing, my choice of (questionable) subreddits to seek confirmation, or other ideas: I'm all ears.

The reason I want to explore this is because if different people can watch the same video and take away a different meaning with deep, political implications (in perhaps an effort to further divide us), then it may shed light on how we've come to where we are in the political landscape.
posted by Christ, what an asshole to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I downloaded the clip and looped the relevant portion in Audacity, and from what I can make out, "Whose... whose university is this / university's this / university is it" are all much more plausible readings than "Go back to Beijing".

if different people can watch the same video and take away a different meaning with deep, political implications (in perhaps an effort to further divide us)

Far more likely to me is that it's the other way around: our political positions affect what we think we'll hear, and what we think we're hearing genuinely affects what we thought we heard.

In a world where Facebook can feed political propaganda selectively to those most likely to sympathise with it while hiding it from everybody else, I can't see how an audio white dress / blue dress conversation starter is going to do harm on anything like a comparable scale.

simply waved it off as your classic case of alt-right trolling/brigading

I think this is the correct response, mainly due to the fact that it's been edited in such a way as to cut the ambiguous utterance off right at the point where "Go back to Beijing" has any plausibility whatsoever.
posted by flabdablet at 2:49 AM on January 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

Having been fed both lines I clearly heard something-something-Beijing first, and then while trying to hear university it became clearer that that is what is being said and now I can't make it "say" Beijing at all. I think the main issue here is that the cadence and pronunciation of the phrase is very non-standard, it's a question without a particular raise of inflection at the end, etc so we struggle a little for context, it comes across as a statement initially perhaps.
posted by Iteki at 3:01 AM on January 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is pretty much the principle that underlies stuff like “proof” of supernatural phenomena. If we have a preconceived idea of what we’re supposed to hear, we can trick ourselves into hearing those things even from white noise. Brains are weird.
posted by Phire at 3:29 AM on January 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

A classic example of how we can prime our brains to hear things here
posted by Heloise9 at 4:39 AM on January 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

Previously on Metafilter is probably relevant.
posted by pharm at 7:52 AM on January 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

I would categorize this phenomenon as priming. We hear/see what we're expecting to hear/see.
posted by lazuli at 9:57 AM on January 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

I would categorize this phenomenon as priming. We hear/see what we're expecting to hear/see.

My fascination with this is how the transition seems to be one of unpriming. As in, how does something go from distinct to less so, even with concerted effort to make it out?

Wow! That is insane! I fully expected to hear one or the other but first I heard Beijing, then university, then Beijing again and after that no matter how many times I listened I only heard University!!! That was awesome! Thank you for posting!

Well I teared up lol, I heard go back to Beijing so clearly the first time I closed the video. Decided I had to listen again and heard the other clear as day. Wtf

The first time I watched it I heard Beijing, then a few times after I heard university....Huh. Interesting

At first I heard "- back to Beijing" and I listened again and can now only understand it as "whose university is this" so that's weird.

I heard Bejing the first time, and then I could only hear University.

I heard "Go back to Beijing" the first two times. The third time I heard "Whose university is this?" which really weirded me out. However, I continued to watch it and I couldn't unhear "whose university is this?"

-I used to hear “go back to Beijing” but now that you mention the line “whose university is this,” I can’t stop hearing it.
I think it might be selective hearing in all honesty.
--whats strange to me, is that I read the comments BEFORE watching / listening to the video and STILL heard go back to beijing the first time.. but whose university is this the second and third.
I'm gonna watch ONE MORE time tho! lol
---Ok. I listened AGAIN and tried my damndest to hear "go back to beijing"..without success. W.T. mf. F?
----TBH I’m kinda pissed off that I can’t hear “Go back to Beijing” again
-----Me too! lol I'm trying to give it a little while and then I'm gonna relisten.. see if that helps lol

With most illusions, the brain can easily flip back and forth between interpretations. But something about this seems to transform one case from being distinct to indiscernible. This seems to work as an antagonist to the principle of priming, and that's what vexes me.
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 10:07 AM on January 6, 2018

As for mice elf, I can hear it both ways. For all intensive purposes, I'd consider this a mondegreen.

Like some lyrics, this doesn't have the context to help you know what the sounds you are hearing mean. It's easy to mishear things based on your expectations -- watch this video of Louie, Louie and read the two different interpretations of the lyrics.
posted by yohko at 7:54 PM on January 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

Yes OP, I have an example that seems to defy priming too.

This is from Age of Empires: (Sorry, can’t link - phone)

My son and husband can only hear the nehnehneh version and I can only the much lower pitched wololo sound. Even why I try to deliberately prime myself, I can only hear wololo...

So weird and interesting!
posted by stellathon at 3:09 AM on January 7, 2018

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