This week saw another episode in our nation’s psychic divide with Lysolgate. Unless you were living under a rock, on Thursday Trump, in true Trump fashion, made inexplicable comments following a presentation on the impact on surfaces of disinfectants, sunlight and temperature on the COVID-19 virus.
In relevant part, here they are:
“And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning, because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it’d be interesting to check that, so that you’re going to have to use medical doctors with, but it sounds interesting to me. So, we’ll see, but the whole concept of the light, the way it kills it in one minute. That’s pretty powerful.”
From there, the internet exploded. Immediately, the President’s detractors went with Lysol syringe memes and the President’s supporters went into a special denial land of “he didn’t say that” or “here’s what he really meant” – -with detailed medical explanations. Of course, the latter is so implausible as to be beyond belief. Trump refuses to read briefings more than one page and literally gets much information from cable television. To suggest that he is aware of the details of respiratory therapy treatments is simply beyond imagination.
Nonetheless, you could say everyone heard what they wanted to hear. However, I think that’s a cheap out. The reality is more complex.
Two years ago, social media raged with a media clip called “Yanny or Laurel” in which almost half of people heard Yanny and half of people heard Laurel. The reality was that word was Laurel. Higher frequency distortion had been added to the clip. Those who brains are more attuned to higher audio frequencies, such as me, heard Yanny. Those less sensitive heard Laurel. Even after establishing the fact that the word was Laurel, I could not hear it. I used an audio software program to peel off the higher frequency distortion and then I was able to clearly hear Laurel. However, add it back and I still hear Yanny – even knowing the truth.
In parapsychology (yes, I’m one of those crazy people that investigates ghosts – but as a skeptic, not to find the ghost of your dead Uncle John), we refer to a concept of mental matrixing. People will sometimes claim to see a disassociated human face in mirrors or pictures. More often than not, this is an optical illusion. Our brains are computers that interpret input data. When that data doesn’t make sense, it tries to make sense of it. If visual data has characteristics resembling a familiar object, it will interpret it as that object. Thus, if certain features are consistent with a face, the brain will interpret a face. It will even fill in the blanks sometimes if some features – like eye, nose or mouth – are missing. It is not real, however real it’s perception may be.
The same was true of the auditory Yanny/Laurel phenomenon. Perception was reality to the listener, but that did not make it real.
The same thing is happening in our political environment today. I have an enormously diverse group of interactive followers on social media – particularly on Facebook. My followers range from anarchist Libertarians die hard Trump supporters to die hard progressives and Bernie Bros and everything in between. The reaction to Trump’s comments on social media were a true Yanny/Laurel moment. To Trump’s critics, he suggested drinking bleach and shooting up Lysol. To Trump’s supporters, because he didn’t use that exact language, there was nothing wrong with what he said. In fact, the right wing spin machine spun up posts from respiratory therapists and other people with medical knowledge trying to rewrite what the President said and make it seem completely reasonable.
Of course, the reality … it was Laurel. The context was clear – a lengthy discussion household disinfectants and sunlight (for those of you always screaming about comments taken out of context) and he was talking about injecting disinfectants. Now sure, in Trump’s stream of consciousness brain, he probably wasn’t thinking “well, why couldn’t you inject Lysol into the lungs.” But come on people. Any way you slice this, it was a stupid thing to say. There is no defending it, but of course people did – with abandon. Why? Yanny.
Why did people hear Yanny in the Yanny/Laurel clip? It wasn’t a choice. God knows I tried. Hundreds of times. However, the auditory part of my brain was conditioned to interpret the higher frequency and override what my conscious brain told me. This is what is happening in political culture. As people veer off into belief bubbles or echo chambers, where they only hear information that is consistent with a particular point of view, they become less and less able to perceive another point of view. The brain has literally programmed a preference filter and try as they may, they can’t hear Laurel. Try as they may, they can’t hear criticisms of Trump.
Now I realize, I’m the one who supposedly suffers from Trump Delusional Syndrome, so of course, my criticism is invalid. This is another defense mechanism set up by the echo chamber to filter out views that create cognitive dissent. Here’s the thing. I do know “conservatives” that went off the deep end after Trump. If Trump was for it, they were against it and they went from “conservative” to blue waver progressive. That isn’t me. Keep your labels to yourselves. I challenge anyone to review my posts over the last 12 years and tell me where I’ve become more “liberal.” The only area where I have changed my mind is on immigration issues. However, those changes in point of view pre-dated Trump.
TDS is simply a buzzword of the echo chamber. Look, I know you hear Yanny. It’s not your fault. However, choosing to ignore the truth after knowing it is as such is denying your responsibility – and duty. We have a duty to the truth and that transcends our political preferences, fears and biases.