Reverse Speech.. WTF?!?

I ran across a very weird site, check this out:

Apparently this guy believes that our minds are unconsciously forming backwards speech and slipping it into our everyday spoken words. He claims that we do it all the time, and anyone’s speech can be recorded, played backwards, and reversed words can be clearly heard. But the web page is full of RealPlayer stuff that doesn’t want to cooperate with my old version of RealPlayer, I can’t hear them.

This guy is obviously a complete and total lunatic. But I have no way to hear his examples and scoff at them. And I’d like a more scientific debunking, aside from the obvious self-deception involved since they guy says it takes some practice to be able to hear reverse speech clearly.

Anyone want to take a crack at this one?

A Google search on “reverse speech” gives you tons of sites, both pro and con. Mostly, it’s a case of believers hearing what they want, and skeptics hearing nonsense. It’s most likely somewhere between the two: rather a similar phenomenon you find with the Bible Codes that were a big stir a few years ago, or reflecting sufficiently complex images along a vertical axis and seeing faces hidden in the chaos. In other words, things are going to resemble something sometimes just by coincidence, if nothing else. Most of the reverse speech clips are just a few seconds, and the website will have to tell you what’s being “said”. Pretty much an awful lot of interpretation involved.

One proponent of this stuff was David John Oates, who was on the Art Bell show a few times until they had a falling out. Most of the reversals that Oates comes up with are (according to him) metaphors that have to be interpreted, thus adding yet another layer of configuration: you’ve got what was spoken, what is claimed was being said in reverse (subject to interpretation), and what the claimed reversal symbolically means (also subject to interpretation). Add to this their claim that you have to be “trained” to hear the reversals, which conveniently ( :rolleyes: ) explains why they mostly sound like nothing to most people. Pretty much allows total freedom to find significance whether it’s there or not. You can find a pretty in-depth skeptical analysis (verdict: they think it’s BS, but then…they’re skeptics! Of course they would!) here. Hope that helps.

Yep Dijon, this seems to be a classic case of The Edison Effect but since I can’t play the audio, I can’t tell for sure. Thanks for the skeptics link, it looks good.

The question I’ve always had is: If two people said the exact same thing, wouldn’t they both sound the same backwards, making the claim of hearing what people are thinking by reversing the speech rediculous?

I’ve listened to several of these clips from time to time, but unless you’re told what they’re “saying”, it’s pretty much up for grabs. I’ve never been able to pick out even the “amazingly clear” ones. Must not be holding my mouth right.

In other words, if you were to tell your SO she looks really fine tonight, but didn’t really mean it, if she were to have taped your voice and played it backwards, she might hear what you “really” meant which might be completely opposite. Have I got that right? Jesus! Just what I need! As if I didn’t get myself in enough doo-doo just talking normally! :smiley:


Mikhaw: I think it would depend on who the people are. People enunciate differently, and subtleties of accent are going to produce variations. Someone from New York saying the same thing as someone from Texas isn’t going to necessarily sound the same, so their reversals could be different. It still seems to me to be akin to seeing pictures in clouds.

Quasimodem: Yeah, you might want to be careful. Your reversal might be someting like “Newt pocketwatch Fred” which of course would have to be metaphorically interpreted by ReverseSpeech experts (for a fee, of course). A few people (David Oates among them) were actually selling modified tape recorders, so you could do your own reversals. Know what your SO is buying over the Internet…

Language behaviour is learned behaviour and conscious behaviour. You learned your first language at a very early age - you learned how to make, and to some extent to hear speech sounds at a very early age - so early that you almost certainly don’t remember learning it, but nonetheless you did learn it. You do not do it automatically, or unconsciously.

All this “reverse speech” stuff is garbage, pure and simple.

If you listen to speech reversed through a tape recorder - or any other source of gibberish within the normal sound range of human speech: the output of someone with glossolalia springs to mind - you are used to trying to interpret these sorts of sounds as speech, and if you concentrate hard enough, you can come up with some sort of interpretation of the noise. But whatever you come up with will depend entirely on you - your conscious or unconscious prejudices about what you expect to hear - and has nothing to do with the speaker’s intentions, or hidden desires, or whatever. The interpretation is supplied entirely by the listener. (And it will depend on things like the listener’s native language - you learn to make phonological distinctions, based on your native language, so speakers of different languages can “hear” quite different speech sounds within the same set of gibberish sounds. Run a search for, say, “categorial perception” to get more information).

It would be relatively simple to design an experiment to demosnstrate this - off the top of my head: play a chunk of backwards speech to two native speakers of different languages, don’t give them any information about where it originally came from, and ask them (in their native languages) to come up with an interpretation. They should both come up with something - in their native languages.

Ahhh, but the contention of the ReverseSpeech crowd is that we learn to speak backwards first. I ran across a website by a guy who is studying this, who taped his baby (don’t remember how many months old, but pre-talking) and claimed that when he played her baby-babblings backwards (say that three times fast), she was speaking clearly and coherently. Still sounded like baby-babblings to me, but that’s because I don’t have years of experience studying and deciphering this stuff.

So, we have this “reverse speech” thing which A) we learn quicker than “normal” speech and B) enables us to express our innermost thoughts and feelings much more accurately than noraml speech… so, if this were the case, how and why would we learn to speak forwards at all?

…em ot esnes ekam t’nseoD

Here’s another good article on reverse speech, which incidentally mentions by name, from the CSICOP guys.

A subset of this topic is so-called back masking in the lyrics of rock songs – in particular, all of the alleged “clues” involved with the “Paul is dead” hoax (i.e., Paul McCartney allegedly dying in 1966 and being replaced by a lookalike).

I’ve seen otherwise intelligent people insist that this stuff is there – for example, the “number 9” in “Revolution 9” saying “turn me on dead man” when you reverse it. There are instances that aren’t backwards as well. For example, John Lennon’s mumbled gibberish at the end of “I’m So Tired” supposedly being “Paul is dead…miss him, miss him” or his “cranberry sauce” at the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever” being heard as “I buried Paul.”

What these people can’t seem to grasp is that if you play these examples to a person with no prior knowledge of them, and * don’t tell him or her what they’re SUPPOSED to sound like first*, they will be unable to hear the alleged phrase.

It’s only the power of pre-suggestion that makes it possible (“Gee, you’re right…it really does sound like ‘turn me on dead man’”).

Right – and it works both ways. There is a segque between songs by the band Grandaddy on their album “Sophtware Slump.” I wasn’t quite sure what it said, but it sounded roughly like:

“And on the aft deck, the surface he, was even.”

Turns out it is someone speaking forward, but it is non-sense that when reversed says:

“The music is reversible but time is not”

A tribute to the Electric Light Orchestra, who did it the other way around (spoken forwards, then reversed) on their song “Fire on High” some 20+ years ago.

But, I never would have figured this out if it wasn’t for hearing “Fire on High” (for the first time in years) on the radio, realizing that was backmasked, and reversing the Grandaddy clip.

Anybody here ever suffer through that movie Baby Geniuses? Sounds like exactly the same premise. Except the scientist looked like Kathleen Turner. And the movie babies knew kung fu.