It Was the Dress in 2015. In 2017 It's the Silent Gif People Can Hear.

A silent gif is sweeping the web because many people think they can hear it.

You certainly remember The Dress from 2015 and the viral internet debate regarding what color it really was. This year it's a silent animated gif showing three electrical pylons playing jump rope — the odd thing is that many people can hear it.


The gif was actually created by Twitter user I Am Happy Toast back in 2008 as part of a Photoshop challenge, and it appeared in British parallel-universe comedy show The Wrong Door. What set off the current uproar was a December 4 tweet by Scottish scientist Lisa DeBruine.

Does anyone in visual perception know why you can hear this gif?

— Lisa DeBruine (@lisadebruine) December 2, 2017

She asked her followers what, if anything, they hear when the watch the gif. 315,483 people have responded to her poll as of this writing. But that's just the tip of the iceberg, since the whole thing has gone viral. One of the things that intrigued DeBruine was why some hear the sound and others don't, as reflected in her tweet's survey.

Her basic question has yet to be definitively answered, though, but there are certainly some interesting theories. The early favorite on her feed was that the pylon in the middle is jumping at a tempo very similar to the human heartbeat, and so it's their own hearts that people are hearing. This theory actually makes sense only if your heartbeat happens to be in sync with the pylon, which is vanishingly unlikely. Anyone who's ever tried to get two pieces of music at the same tempo to play back in time can attest to this — it only happens when they line up exactly. DeBruine quickly put the kibosh on this one On the other hand, as long as we're talking viral videos, why does this eventually happen to unsynchronized metronomes? (It does take significantly longer to achieve its effect than the gif.)

It didn't take long, however, for the discussion to center on the camera shake that occurs when the jumper lands. I Am Happy Toast himself got into the conversation, showing how the effect still happens when the towers are cropped out, leaving just the shake.

The thump is almost entirely in the shake, if you crop out the pylons themselves you can still hear it. They just give it height.

— HappyToast (@IamHappyToast) December 4, 2017

He also notes that in The Wrong Door, there's no shake, and no boom.

I've tracked down a copy of the pylons as they appeared in The Wrong Door - No ground shake and therefore no perceived noise! @lisadebruine

— HappyToast (@IamHappyToast) December 7, 2017

A couple of other examples with a camera shake back up his point. This one's from My Neighbor Totoro, and it, too, booms.


This seesaw go doesn't boom, it snaps. Still…

Tweeter Aaron Carlson noted a phenomenon that may begin to get at what's going on for those who hear the gif.

The gif shake seems to cause me to have an extremely minute muscle tensing around my ears (bracing for impact?). I think this is where the sound is coming from for me at least.

— Aaron Carlson (@crazycarl864) December 4, 2017

Jonathan Toolan tweeted his young son's reaction to the gif: “7 year old son's report on skipping pylon: 'I can't hear it, but my body can feel it.'"

Avowed technoanarchist Andrew Kemendo puts this in a more sciency, sensible way:

Look into Correlated neuronal activity. The brain is "expecting/predicting" what is coming visually and then fires a version of what it expects across the relevant senses. Also explains why some might "feel" a physical shake

— Andrew Kemendo (@AndrewKemendo) December 3, 2017

Another, not completely unrelated theory comes from Christopher Fassnidge, a University of London scientist, who spoke to the BBC. He suggests a kind of movement-to-sound synesthesia. Fassnidge is studying what he calls "vEAR" — for “Visually-Evoked Auditory Response" — which he says is a phenomenon experienced in daily life by around 20% of us, much higher than the generally reported incidence of synesthesia.

“We are constantly surrounded by movements that make a sound, whether they are footsteps as people walk, lip movements while they talk, a ball bouncing in the playground, or the crash as we drop a glass. There is some evidence to suggest that synaesthetic pairings are, to some extent, learnt during infancy."

Fassnidge offers this example: “I might assume I am hearing the footsteps of a person walking on the other side of the street, when really the sound exists only in my mind."

There hasn't yet been a lot of research into vEAR, but Fassnidge is conducting a survey, if you're interested.

The truth may be one of these theories or something not yet posited — what do you think? Is it something else entirely?

Befriend your ideological opposite. It’s fun.

Step inside the unlikely friendship of a former ACLU president and an ultra-conservative Supreme Court Justice.

Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Former president of the ACLU Nadine Strossen and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia were unlikely friends. They debated each other at events all over the world, and because of that developed a deep and rewarding friendship – despite their immense differences.
  • Scalia, a famous conservative, was invited to circles that were not his "home territory", such as the ACLU, to debate his views. Here, Strossen expresses her gratitude and respect for his commitment to the exchange of ideas.
  • "It's really sad that people seem to think that if you disagree with somebody on some issues you can't be mutually respectful, you can't enjoy each other's company, you can't learn from each other and grow in yourself," says Strossen.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
Keep reading Show less

Physicists find new state of matter that can supercharge technology

Scientists make an important discovery for the future of computing.

Surprising Science
  • Researchers find a new state of matter called "topological superconductivity".
  • The state can lead to important advancements in quantum computing.
  • Utilizing special particles that emerge during this state can lead to error-free data storage and blazing calculation speed.
Keep reading Show less

Physicist advances a radical theory of gravity

Erik Verlinde has been compared to Einstein for completely rethinking the nature of gravity.

Photo by Willeke Duijvekam
Surprising Science
  • The Dutch physicist Erik Verlinde's hypothesis describes gravity as an "emergent" force not fundamental.
  • The scientist thinks his ideas describe the universe better than existing models, without resorting to "dark matter".
  • While some question his previous papers, Verlinde is reworking his ideas as a full-fledged theory.
Keep reading Show less

How to heal trauma with meaning: A case study in emotional evolution

As tempting as it may be to run away from emotionally-difficult situations, it's important we confront them head-on.

  • Impossible-sounding things are possible in hospitals — however, there are times when we hit dead ends. In these moments, it's important to not run away, but to confront what's happening head-on.
  • For a lot of us, one of the ways to give meaning to terrible moments is to see what you can learn from them.
  • Sometimes certain information can "flood" us in ways that aren't helpful, and it's important to figure out what types of data you are able to take in — process — at certain times.
Keep reading Show less