The Bain illusion

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The recent media discussion of the “I shot the prick” is rather distasteful. That’s the discussion about a “hidden message” in the recording of David Bain‘s emergency phone call on the day his family was murdered.

Whether or not this should have been submitted as evidence during the trial there is no doubt that the interpretation is highly imaginative. Trouble is with these sort of things, once you are told what the alleged “hidden message” is there is no way you are not going to hear it. We are all very suggestible this way.

Michael Shermer describes a beautiful example of this illusion using the song Stairway to Heaven played backwards. Initially you don’t make sense of it but once you are told what the message is meant to be you can’t help hear hear demonic lyrics. He describes this phenomena, and other similar illusions in his TED talk “Why people believe strange things” in the video below. He also goes into this perception problem in his book Why People Believe Weird Things.

Why people believe strange things

This is just an example of how we, as a species, are prone to recognising patterns – even where there are none. We intuitively interpret evidence to fit preconceived prejudices or understandings. It’s a great problem in politics and religion. We can only overcome it in science because of the rigid requirement that ideas and theory be tested against reality.

Come to think of it – the public reaction to the David Bain verdict is another example. There are a number of commentators who insist the verdict was wrong, and another group who insist wti was right. Chris Trotter has even suggested a class bias in these views (see David Bain and the class divide).

Whatever. It’s hard enough for a jury to make a decision in difficult cases, let alone a member of the public with their own prejudices and selective access to information (self selected and media selected).

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4 responses to “The Bain illusion

  1. I might read/listen to too many skeptical blogs/podcasts – the first word that popped into my head when I heard about the tape was ‘pareidolia’

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  2. Ha! Me too. I blame Skeptoid and SGU.

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  3. Pareidolia – hadn’t heard that word before so I have learned something. Thanks David.

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  4. Once you are told what is said in the 111 call then there is no going back So who told the cop that clearly heard “I Shot The Prick ” at the sound studio.

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