The recent “what word is it” sound debate of Yanny vs. Laurel is a perfect example of how perceptual experiences are uniquely individual.
Which sound did you hear? I have heard both at different times on different devices on different websites. Conversations like this happen from time to time and almost always create dividing opinions. (Here are a few other fun examples if you have time- Which color dress do you see? What color is the square? )
See below for more perceptual entertainment!
Experience the Cornsweet iIllusion below for an immediate change of perception. Put your finger over the center line and notice how the two-colored box suddenly appears to be the same color.
Here is the classic “Which line is longer?” illusion.
(They are the same length)
Your perception of the above examples is very complex. To perceive the dress color, sound bites, and illusions there is a conscious awareness informed by your senses that takes information from your current environment and filters it though contextual variables from the past and present all in a split second. This perceptual decision leaves you with an answer you likely trust. You have learned to value and trust your perceptions completely, and most of the time they are correct. Though, as we have already witnessed, perceptions can be tricky and sometimes your senses make you believe things that simply are not true.
How is persistent pain related to Yanny, Laurel, and simple illusions? Because all pain is always and unequivocally a perceptional experience of danger produced by the mind to protect. Acute and persistent pain are the conscious output of a mind, having processed information from the senses and environment, which has determined danger exists and protection is required. In acute pain there is specific nociceptive information that signals danger for a short period to provide adequate time to recover and heal. Though in persistent pain the mind and body can become convinced that danger still exists when in fact the danger is greatly reduced or gone. Here in lies the faulty perception. The experienced persistent pain is 100% real and life altering, but in reality there is nothing dangerous happening. Yet, the mind and body use pain to protect as the best option moving forward. There are many reasons why danger can be perceived, but in all cases the pain will continue to persist as long a perceived danger is present. This cruel perception remains present in the lives of millions of suffering patients.
It is more important than ever that each of us view pain this way. Grasping the complexity of pain as an output shaped by the environment and senses (hear, taste, touch, smell, and see) is essential for all modern healthcare providers. There is still much to be learned and improved on to help those suffering with persistent pain. Understanding pain as a perceptual experience does not change pain alone, though it does help shape treatment strategies beyond the still pervasive “find it and fix it” mindset. There is still a long way to go. But just like the above examples, your perception can change in an instant. Louis Pasture once said, “Chance favors the prepared mind”. Go and prepare your mind to take on the complexities of pain and always be open to learning and challenging your perceptions.