Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Guitar players are notorious for hearing with their eyes... a cool looking guitar always sounds better.  For electric guitar players, they see some guitars or amps and hear them as "BIG!"  Of course the epitome of this effect took place when a band's stage set up included a wall of huge speaker cabinets... except they were all empty and just for show.  For acoustic players, lighter colored woods like maple for the backs and sides are heard as being thin and bright while darker colored woods like most rosewoods are heard as richer and deeper.  That is why you see very few high end acoustic guitars with backs and sides of light colored woods and some companies traditionally dye medium colored woods like mahogany to make them darker (CF Martin is an example).  For both groups of players, the shapes of the guitar also impacts what we hear.  Now there clearly are differences between different kinds of woods and different shapes of instruments... but they are not always consistent with the assumptions.

It turns out there is a scientific background for this called the McGurk Effect.  Watch this fascinating video...

Cool huh?  I think that roughly the same thing is going on for the guitar players.  Now, here's the question... does this work in theology?  Politics?  other social settings?  And does it extend beyond just sight and hearing playing against each other?  I think so.  When I was doing my doctorate, we had a couple of faculty with southern accents.  One of them joked that the right kind of southern accent always increased respect.  The wrong kind, got you written off immediately.  How many times I've heard a newscaster here in sunny Cali with Valley Girl inflections and written her off as a ditz...  And it goes further still, when certain vocabulary is used I place the speaker in categories that impact what I hear.  Start talking to me about seeing angels or getting people saved or the Cosmic All and I easily slide you into a slot defined by preconceptions which color what I hear and do not hear. 

The good news is that I can be aware of it and work to really listen to whatever it is you're saying, trying to understand your language without my baggage getting in the way.  The bad news is that like the McGurk Effect, I may not always be successful.  I'm trying though.

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