The belief that our senses share sensations or help contribute to each other's experiences is nothing new. When food smells good it obviously tastes good, but how enticing it looks also plays a role in how much we enjoy our meal.
Don't get me wrong. I love me a sloppy looking cobbler slathered in ice cream, but there's a reason why people's Instagram feeds are packed with photos of delicious-looking food. Like seeing that melted cheese hang down from a broken apart cheesesteak makes your mouth water for a reason.
So those shared sensory experiences can be found in a bunch of different places. Like this very strange GIF of an electrical tower skipping rope with its pals.
Take a look at it. Do you hear any sounds when you watch this gif?
If you do, then you're not alone. Other people who watched it heard a variety of noises.
What do you experience when you watch this gif?— Lisa DeBruine 🏳️🌈 (@lisadebruine) December 3, 2017
People are freaked out to the say the least.
I hear boinging— snipe, mother of assets 🐾 (@snipeyhead) December 3, 2017
While others think the woman who originally presented the tweet influenced their thought process.
I’m having difficulty knowing whether I would have heard anything if I had not read the suggestion in your tweet that I should hear something.— Ben Ramsey (@ramsey) December 3, 2017
Me too, but now I can't unhear it.— Trash Gordon (@lomotrashgordon) December 3, 2017
For some viewers, what they were "hearing" morphed over time.
DeBruine was trying to get to the bottom of why people heard something from a silent GIF image. This one explanation she came across is pretty interesting.
The "acoustic reflex" is triggered by the image likely because our brain anticipates that whatever's going on the GIF will most likely produce a loud noise that our ears need to protect itself against.
She involved the original animator of the GIF in the conversation to try and get further context.
And a conversation began on what exact part of the image triggers our acoustic reflex.
Hey! Do you have a version without the camera shake? Curious if it causes the same auditory hallucinations.— Actual Given Name (@TruthInSynth) December 4, 2017
The culprit is probably this little part of the GIF here, that "shake" is what does the trick, most likely.
DeBruine asked the animator for some help so she could try and replicate the sound that isn't there.
Is there a particular technique/algorithm you use to get the shaking so realistic, or just a good artistic eye? I’m going to see if I can produce simplified versions to test the parameters of the illusion.— Lisa DeBruine 🏳️🌈 (@lisadebruine) December 4, 2017
And they obliged.
Not on that one, it was just a quick random camera shake that happened to get it almost right, It could be improved with more of a degrading wave, but I tend not to bother putting that much effort in to my gifs :D— HappyToast ★ (@IamHappyToast) December 4, 2017
It doesn't seem a specific action in the GIF is what ultimately causes the "sound" either, just that jarring shake. For example, take a look at these action GIFs and see if you hear anything.
Pretty trippy, right?
I mean, other than the sound of my own laughing, I'm not hearing anything when I watch these. Are you?