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The Scientific Response

It's not surprising that the scientific community has been less than receptive to the idea of reverse speech. Unfortunately, when it comes to phenomena with such amazing claims as reverse speech, the scientific community tends to reject the idea out of hand, without any kind of scientific testing or investigation. But that begs the question: What kind of testing or experimentation would be required? Since the reversals seem to rely heavily on interpretation, how could the results be validated or verified?

Joan Allen says that reverse speech, in its language of metaphors, may be tapping into what Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung described as "the collective unconscious." But here again, when you have a message made up of metaphors - much like dreams - the metaphors can be viewed and interpreted in countless ways.

What makes scientific testing difficult is the lack of consistency in what a reversal might mean. As Joan Allen writes in an essay on reverse speech:

"Within the rule of complimentarily are multiple types of reversals.
1. The reversal may agree with the forward spoken words. This is congruency.
2. The reversal may add information to the forward speech. This is an expansive reversal.
3. The reversal may totally contradict the forward spoken words. This is a contradictory reversal.
4. The reversal may contain exactly the same words as the forward spoken words - a mirror reversal.
5. There is also a trailing reversal in which the reversal relates to words spoken forward that occurred prior to the words upon which the reversal actually occurs."

It is in these detections of inner, often hidden feelings that supporters of reverse speech see its greatest potential benefit - and possibly eventual validation. Oates believes that it may not only be able to detect lies, it may also be able to uncover repressed traumatic memories.

This it-can-mean-almost-anything nature of reverse speech makes it highly susceptible to interpretation.

Oates has conducted his own blind tests with a group of 30 individuals, reports "Reverse Speech Analysis":

"The group was divided into three sections: Group one was told what the reversal was and asked, ‘Can you hear that?' Group two was told a false message that was not present and was asked, ‘Can you hear that?' Group three was told nothing and asked, ‘What do you hear?' The results from group one had an 80 percent recognition, group two less than 10 percent, and group three there was at least 50 percent recognition and even higher than 50 percent for those who were more trained in reverse speech. Furthermore, when several person's read the same paragraph, for example, about their mother, the tests showed that different reversals were found for each person. The content of the reversals indicated how the person felt or thought about their mother.

It is in these detections of inner, often hidden feelings that supporters of reverse speech see its greatest potential benefit - and possibly eventual validation. Oates believes that it may not only be able to detect lies, it may also be able to uncover repressed traumatic memories. "I've done reversals on a woman who was molested as a child," he told Eve Lorgen, "yet had no conscious memory of the event. In her reversals she made graphic descriptions of the perpetrator. I've had people reveal names of relatives, bank accounts, hidden agendas and behaviors that were later confirmed by the individual."

Other experimenters also think reverse speech can even be used as a therapy. In the article Hidden Language, author Marc Iskowitz looks at the work of Dr. Karen Boone, OMD, PhD. - another reverse speech analyst and an acupuncturist - who uses it as "an alternative modality that can be used as an adjunct to other modes of therapy for a variety of problems, such as stuttering, insomnia and depression."

Just Hearing Things?

Can it be that the experimenters are hearing things simply because they want to hear things? Is the reverse speech phenomenon analogous to seeing the form of the Virgin Mary in a patch of tree bark or in the patterns on the side of a building? Just as our brains are conditioned to see familiar figures in random patterns, perhaps they also strive to hear words in random noise.

In an article titled "The Demon-Haunted Sentence: A Skeptical Analysis of Reverse Speech" in the Skeptical Inquirer, authors Tom Byrne and Matthew Normand describe an experiment conducted by American psychologist B.F. Skinner with a machine called the "verbal summator":

"The verbal summator consisted of a phonograph (or tape) of random vowel sounds that were grouped together in such a way as to not produce any systematic phonetic groupings. These random phonetic sounds were arranged into patterns that approximated common stress patterns in everyday conversation. After such strings of nonsense syllables were arranged, they were played for subjects at barely audible volume levels. After repeatedly listening to these sounds, subjects reported ‘hearing' the phonograph or the tape ‘say' things. These sentences, or sentence fragments, did not actually exist and, as such, were considered to be utterances that were already strong in the subject's repertoire. Put another way, they were ‘projecting' their own thoughts onto the sounds they were hearing."

To further prove this point and to demonstrate the heights of silliness such phenomena as reverse speech can reach, at the website What is Bigfoot Talking About In Ohio? a couple of Bigfoot investigators wonder if some recognizable English words can be heard in some recordings they say are of sounds made by the elusive creature. It would be interesting to know what Bigfoot is really feeling.  

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