backmasking psychology religion

Jay-Z and his Unconscious Influence

I came across a video clip of a preacher speaking out against the Hip Hop artist Jay-Z. Proponents of the evils of backmasking, like this preacher, argue that the effects of listening to music with backward messages are manifested in an unconscious manner on the listener’s subsequent behaviour.

He states that:

the heavy metal folks used to do that and they would put the backwards masked messages in your music and they’d say that your subconscious is smart enough—that right brain was smart enough to decode and flip that message so by the time it got to your left brain you understood it and you didn’t even know you understood it. You just acted it out. Because they have the song called Another One Bites the Dust — Queen. Played it backwards it said, I like to smoke marijuana. Yeah, and then they interviewed kids and kids say when they listen to it they just wanna get high, they just want to smoke weed and they had no idea that that message was being reversed in their mind and causing them to want to do that.”

I’d like to point out that contrary to this preacher’s claims, studies have shown that it is, in fact, impossible for the subconscious mind to “decode and flip that message”.

In volume 40, No. 11 of American Psychologist (November 1985), psychologist professors John R. Vokey and J. Don Read address the possibility of unconscious influence within reversed audio.

The proponents of backmasking argue that the effects of greatest concern are not the consciously perceived meanings of backward messages but rather those effects arising from unconscious or subliminal apprehension of the (forward) meaning of the material. Consequently, we also used tasks that required less in the way of conscious apprehension of meaning. We reasoned that if some subconscious mechanism existed for the interpretation of backward messages and their influence upon behaviour, then this mechanism should allow decisions to be made about content without necessarily revealing that content.

Their series of properly controlled scientific experiments included:

  • Identifying whether a backward message when played forward was a statement or a question – 52.1% accuracy (50% expected on the basis of random assignment)
  • whether they believed two sentences had the same meaning with only changes in the active or passive voice or whether the two sentences had different meanings — 44.81% accuracy (50% expected on the basis of random assignment)
  • identifying a series of sentences into whether or not they would make sense if heard in the forward direction – 45.2% accuracy (50% expected on the basis of random assignment)
  • categorizing statements of the sort, “Jesus loves me, this I know” into one of five content categories: nursery rhymes, Christian, satanic, pornographic, and advertising. 19.4% accuracy (20% expected on the basis of random assignment)

Upon the completion of their experiments Vokey and Read concluded, “we could find no evidence that our listeners were influenced, consciously or unconsciously, by the content of backward messages.”

I’m not one to deny that it does SOUND like Jay-Z has an anti-religious message in the reverse clip. It’s my belief that if such a message is intentional, its purpose is to gain publicity for his album. By pointing it out, this video has actually done a favour for Jay-Z. The prudent thing to do would be to ignore such obvious attention grabbing tactics. Nevertheless preachers like this one continue to disseminate the false claim that backwards messages within music can influence those listening. I think it’s because that message draws big crowds and allows the preachers to more easily sell copies of their sermons on DVDs.

[Jay-Z Subliminal Message – YouTube]

(Thanks Cody)

life philosophy Science

Ball Lightning

Recently I began reading Richard Dawkins new book, The God Delusion. In it the author describes his reasons for not believing in supernatural beings. He points out that if one considers himself an atheist about the Greek gods or believes that “Mother Nature” is merely a fairy tale and not an actual creator, then why not take it one step further and rule out Abraham’s deity as well?

It’s an interesting and logical way of thinking. Pondering this, I decided last night to get out of my shell and do something rather uncharacteristic. I took Dawkins’ advice and kind of twisted it. I met with some nice folks who believe in a creed _not_ rooted in the God of Abraham.

We met at a coffee shop, it was explained to me, because meeting in public is a privilege that those with such radical beliefs were not always granted. Now that freedom of assembly is a protected right, they choose to take advantage of it.

The three women sitting across from me were real live witches; the older gentleman beside me, a druid. Though they followed different paths, they were all adherents, in one way or another, under the umbrella of belief known as paganism. Nothing about their appearance made them stand out; they didn’t wear pointy hats or carry brooms. One of the girls did say she was in the process of adopting a kitten and another admitted that she owned a cloak but that was where the stereotypes ended. Over the course of the evening, I learned what it meant to these people to be a pagan. Wikipedia’s introductory paragraph on Paganism provides an accurate summary:

Paganism is a term which, from a western perspective, has come to connote a broad set of spiritual or religious beliefs and practices of natural or polytheistic religions. The term can be defined broadly, to encompass many or most of the faith traditions outside the Abrahamic monotheistic group of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. “Pagan” is the usual translation of the Islamic term mushrik, which refers to ‘one who worships something other than The God of Abraham’. Ethnologists avoid the term “paganism,” with its uncertain and varied meanings, in referring to traditional or historic faiths, preferring more precise categories such as shamanism, polytheism or animism. The term is also used to describe earth-based Native American religions and mythologies, though few Native Americans call themselves or their cultures “pagan”. Historically, the term “pagan” has usually had pejorative connotations among westerners, comparable to heathen, infidel and kaffir (‘unbeliever’) in Islam.

Most of the conversation turned out to be rather ordinary. They talked about their careers, their day at work, and just the usual friendly banter that you might expect from a group of twenty-something women.
However, early in the evening one of the ladies dramatically related an interesting phenomenon that she witnessed just last night.

She said that she was giving lessons to some teens on horseback riding when she observed a brilliant ball of white light a few hundred meters away. It slowly grew changing to a beautiful blue hue and then suddenly disappeared. At that same moment the power in her house and the stables all went out. She said that about three minutes later the power came back on and although there were a few other students and adults nearby, nobody but herself and two of the 14 year old teens had been around to witness the light.

She asked the druid if he knew what it might be, explaining that her friends at work thought she was nuts. At first he appeared just as baffled as she, but then in a humorous tone he pronounced, UFO’s. I think he was joking.

I asked her what she thought it might be. She replied that she had a hunch it was some kind of supernatural being trying to give her a message, however she wasn’t sure if that message was she was on the right path and should keep doing what she was doing, or if she needed to change her life to get her life back on track. We all agreed it was not very helpful with the possible interpretations being polar opposites.
Always the sceptic, I knew right away what it was she had seen: ball lightning.

The interesting thing about ball lightning is, it seems that nobody really knows what it is exactly, let alone what causes the phenomenon.

During World War II ball lightning was reported as “escorting” bombers, flying alongside their wingtips. Pilots of the time referred to the phenomenon as “foo fighters,” initially believing that the lights were from enemy planes. UFO enthusiasts have reported seeing the mysterious lights at crop circle sites and ball lightning has also been used to explain the eerie moving lights known as will o’ wisps.
They accepted my answer more readily than I would have expected. Very modern in their thinking despite what one may expect from pagans. It is clear that although they like believing, a scientific answer would trump the unexplained if one was available. I respect that.

We chatted for the rest of the evening, sometimes about déjà vu, sometimes about the history of paganism. I found the entire evening extremely interesting, but in the end, I have to say, I still feel closer to believing in the kind of belief that Einstein professed when he said, “if something is in me which can be called religious, then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”
But remember science isn’t always right, and who’s to say for sure that the ball of light wasn’t actually a magical being sent from another dimension for some deep mysterious purpose? Despite my scepticism, believing would be much more fun.


Stanford Prison Experiment

In 1971 Stanford University conducted a study of the psychology of imprisonment. While extremely unethical by today’s standards, this 50 minute video takes a fascinating look back at the incredible psychological experiment. See also the Prison Experiment slide show with written history.

(The German movie Das Experiment is based on this event.)


The Wizard of Oz and the Dark Side of the Moon

Fans of my backmasking page will probably want to check this out.

A few years ago my friend Megan dropped by the house sporting a copy of The Wizard of Oz in one hand, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon in the other, and a giant grin on her face. We played them both simultaneously and watched/listened as the two synchronized. I am not completely sure it’s intentional, but there are some interesting coincidences.

I recall reading that when asked about this, Pink Floyd has neither admitted or denied intentionally creating their album to go along with The Wizard of Oz.

To set this up at home, you needed to start the album just as the MGM lion roared for the third time, but thanks to Google Video you can see the combined video and audio: Dark Side of the Rainbow.

It’s a little easier to make connections if you know the name of each track:

  1. “Speak to Me”
  2. “Breathe”
  3. “On the Run”
  4. “Time”/”Breathe (Reprise)”
  5. “The Great Gig in the Sky”
  6. “Money”
  7. “Us and Them”
  8. “Any Colour You Like”
  9. “Brain Damage”
  10. “Eclipse”

So what do you think, intentional syncronization or just our minds making connections where none exist?


When Black Holes Collide

Nasa has created, what they call, their best simulation yet of what happens when black holes collide.

Black hole collision simulation image

It’s worth a look, even if it turns out that a simulated black hole collision isn’t half good as the Klingon moon explosion in Star Trek VI.

Black hole collision simulation (7.45MB MPG)

psychology religion

Subliminal Messages in “On The Way Home”

I’ve always possessed a fascination with optical illusions, subliminal messages, the unconscious mind, and cognitive psychology in general. I think that’s why I found the idea of messages in music when played backwards so fascinating.

Back in 1998 I went on a mission for the LDS church. I was serving in the most unlikely place of Salt Lake City, Utah. Using the line, “we were just in the neighbourhood” seemed a little disingenuous when the temple marked the skyline behind you. There are a lot of Mormons there so we had to be a little more creative.

There are, however, a lot of people that are not members of the church. One of my favorite things about my mission was meeting people from all walks of life and from every imaginable social and economic backgrounds. The diversity of people I met ranged from those that were on the verge of being homeless, to literal billionaires.

Regardless of background, we (as missionaries) wanted to get our message out and influence people in as positive a fashion as we could. One of the methods of sharing our beliefs was the use of cheesy promotional videos that protreyed value of the family/church/good morals, etc.
On The Way Home Movie
One specific movie that I showed to investigators of the church was the movie, “On The Way Home”.

It’s a quaint little movie about a family who goes through the pain of the loss of their daughter/sister and meet some sister missionaries who teach them about God’s plan, The Plan of Salvation™.

The interesting thing about this movie is a rumour that I heard from another missionary about it containing subliminal messages. I was pretty sure it was just one of those missionary urban legends, because OBVIOUSLY the church wouldn’t buy into subliminal messages, not to mention the fact that even if they are “positive” messages, it sure leaves a bad taste in ones mouth to think I was being used as a pawn to subconsciously brainwash people. (Not me! I was there to help people.)

“What kind of subliminal messages?” I probed. The other missionary explained to me that near the start of the movie, when one of the main characters is jogging home for his baptism there is a bike race and someone watching the race holds up a big cardboard sign that says, “don’t do drugs” which flashes across the screen too quickly to be noticed on a conscious level—unless you are specifically looking for it. So while that message didn’t seem like something you would expect, I still wasn’t convinced.

The message I remember him telling me about most was (and there may be more, but it’s this one that I remember) during the sister missionaries discussion, as they are teaching the family a lesson, the soft lighting and relaxing music which are in themselves creating a very serene and peaceful environment suddenly appear bubbles floating around behind them.


“Bubbles? What? Why?” I couldn’t imagine that this was actually true. Surely I would have noticed bubbles. What would be the point of bubbles anyway?

Well the explanation went something along the lines of, “bubbles are supposed to induce feelings of peace and tranquility. They remind people of their youth and are relaxing. People subconsciously see the bubbles and it makes them feel good. When they feel good about your message they are more likely to act on it.”

I had to see it to believe it. I will always remember the next house I showed that video to. They were a super family that had just moved in to Utah and seemed quite interested in learning more about the church. As we sat there watching the movie I could hardly believe my eyes as tiny little bubbles started floating up in the background. I looked over at the others watching the movie intently. They didn’t notice.

They did however decide to get baptized. I wouldn’t try to say that the movie was the reason for it, I mean come on, bubbles? But nevertheless there you have it. Subliminal messages in “On The Way Home”.

nature Science

A Sneak Peek at Mother Earth’s Aurora

aurora from space

I came across these beautiful— images and videos of auroras taken from the International Space Station.

I’m thinking this particular aurora video must be a simulation, but either way, WOW.


Stardust Mission a Success

A couple of years ago I mentioned NASA’s Stardust mission and their special dust collecting material, aerogel. Aerogel is a silicon-based solid with a porous, sponge-like structure in which 99.8 percent of the volume is empty space.

Well the Stardust mission has returned and as the New York Times explains, the Stardust mission has exceeded expectations.



Science Blogs

I’m somewhat of a science junky and this morning I just discovered a new repository of science related

ScienceBlogs is the web’s largest conversation about science. It features blogs from a wide array of scientific disciplines, with new voices coming on board regularly. It is a global, digital science salon.

The blog topics include everything from ethics to principles of uncertainty.

Science technology

GEN H-4 Personal Helicopter

Since it doesn’t look like the flying cars are on their way, what about personal helicopters? $31,000 will buy you the GEN H-4, a modern marvel that can go nearly 100 kph (aprox. 60 mph). See the GEN H-4 demonstration video. (2.6MB wmv)

(via Cooltools)