Surely you’ve heard of the Yanny vs. Laurel controversy? A computer-generated voice has become perhaps the most divisive subject on the Internet since the gold/blue dress flap posted three years ago. But which is it – Yanny?….. as most of us seem to hear? …… Or is the voice saying, “Laurel”?

I’d like to make the case that there is no real right or wrong answer because it depends on how we hear the recording individually. Yes, even in today’s global village, the fact is we are still individuals, and as such, it stands to reason that no two people are going to hear (or see) the same thing. (Surely you’ve heard of the Rorschach inkblot test?)

Consider how diverse political views can be on the same topic… Do we need to vastly reduce the number of guns to slow down the disturbing number of mass shootings in our society? Or is the problem much deeper-rooted than that, in which limiting guns would only be the tip of the iceberg? Is a border wall needed to reduce the number of drug runners and illegal aliens coming in to the US? Or is this an example of racial and ethnic discrimination at its worst? I could go on and on and on.

The point is, I think, we all tend to hear things a little differently, filtering our own experiences, and yes biases, into the equation. It reminds me of when I was a newspaper reporter and covered the construction of a proposed Target distribution center near Oconomowoc, Wis. The argument went back and forth….would the center damage the environment? (A “Yanny” of its day). Or would that effect be negligible, in favor of the “greater good” – adding hundreds of good-paying jobs to the area. (the flip side or “Laurel” of the issue).

Try as I did to be objective, which was the order of the day in journalism back then, the fact was that I grew up in a small Wisconsin city that had seen hundreds of layoffs in the 1980s. Having witnessed firsthand the economic devastation the vast loss of jobs had on my hometown, it was very difficult for me to see what was wrong with adding lots of good-paying jobs to the Oconomowoc area!

I understood the need to put some environmental precautions into the equation in order to minimize pollution. (My wife and I enjoy the outdoors and like to camp, and so I like to think I got that.)

But when the center cleared the environment impact statement hurdle, what was wrong with proceeding at that point? The environmental side continued to cry, “Foul!” As a reporter, I had to cover that part of the story, but I sure didn’t get it!

The point is, we all filter our beliefs and experiences into what it is that we are hearing. In this case, the “Yannys” of the issue said the center was a bad thing because of the pollution it would add to the environment. Conversely, the “Laurels” said the economic boon outweighed any potential pitfalls.

And the Yanny vs. Laurel recording controversy? For the record, I just hear “Yanny.” As I say, it all depends on the individual.

For more on the Yanny/Laurel illusion, see https://www.cnet.com/news/yanny-vs-laurel-illusion-heres-why-were-hearing-different-words/