Reflections on mirror talk

The Skeptic, 6.3

`It is the most exciting breakthrough of human communication in all history.' This modest declaration describes `Mirror Talk', a revolutionary new form of New Age one-upmanship which would probably have left Ian Carmichael in `School for Scoundrels' speechless ... literally.

Do we actually speak our true thoughts backwards at the same time as we are speaking normally? Hard to believe, I'm sure you'll agree, but according to the manufacturers of Mirror Talk, we do:

`When we have a conversation with someone, we are actually sending and receiving two messages at once. The first is the normal forward dialog of our conscious mind that we are all aware of. The other, our true feelings and thoughts, are communicated in the language of subconscious... in reverse. We call these backwards messages MIRROR TALK. If you had a conversation recorded on a cassette tape and listened to it on a MIRROR TALK MACHINE, with a little practice and patience you would begin to hear among the gibberish, messages straight from your subconscious in plain English!'

Somehow, the Mirror Talk people are saying, our larynxes are not only producing normal speech under our conscious control, but are also wobbling away making backwards speech which reflects our unconscious thoughts. (It's a moot point whether some people even have their larynxes under conscious control, but that's a different matter.) Quite why our vocal cords should be behaving in such an extraordinary manner isn't explained, but examples are cited which make Mirror Talk an attractive idea. It is claimed that one unnamed endorser of the Mirror Talk Machine (a tape recorder which also plays backwards, so you can hear the secret words) was involved in negotiating a business deal. On playing the conversation backwards, `decoding the Truth he saved thousands of dollars from a would-be rip-off artist'. Quite why the dodgy businessman would be saying `I am ripping you off, mate' backwards isn't entirely clear.

The Mirror Talk blurb goes on to say: `Users report lucid dreams, deep psycological [sic] clearing, Self Knowledge, and altered states of consciousness'. One altered state of consciousness easily achievable with Mirror Talk is that of feeling strapped for cash, since the basic (play only) Mirror Talk Machine will set you back $149.95. For a play and record machine, we're talking $199.95. That's talking forwards, of course. Maybe backwards it's cheaper.

The one thing about Mirror Talk is that it's fairly easy to verify. Not long ago, so-called `backwards masking' was in the news. Some people think that backwards recorded Satanic messages are secretly added to rock records, the idea, apparently, being to persuade the listener to worship Satan. Some records certainly do have backwards messages deliberated recorded on them - the Beatles, the Electric Light Orchestra, Styx, and XTC, among many others, have had fun doing this in the studio. On Pink Floyd's song `Goodbye, Blue Sky', from the album `The Wall', a backwards message by Roger Waters even says `Congratulations, you have just discovered the secret message'.

These kinds of deliberate messages are crystal clear when you hear them the right way round, but the controversy starts when people find backwards messages when they aren't really there at all. It's interesting how many phonetic coincidences do actually occur when you play ordinary speech backwards. Queen were accused of promoting drugs when it was claimed the message `It's fun to smoke marijuana' was included backwards on their hit single `Another One Bites the Dust'. Actually, `sfun to scout mare wanna' is a more accurate interpretation. When I did some experiments with listening to some of my own speech backwards (reading from entries in the telephone directory picked at random) I was amazed to hear the word `bicycle' pop out quite clearly. Was my subconscious telling me that it was time I got some exercise? Actually, it was only amazing at first. As I listened to it subsequently, a better rendition seemed to be `bye-sss-icker'. But on first listening, my ears were obviously desperate to make some sense out of what they were hearing, so they `heard' the word `bicycle'.

Distrusting the principles of Mirror Talk, I set about some basic research and I can now exclusively reveal my latest invention to Skeptic readers: Tosh Talk. Tosh Talk is a revolutionary sonic analysis system based on the latest findings in quantum mechanics and cold fusion. Simply aim the Tosh Talk antenna at the person talking to you. Tosh Talk beams low-energy N-rays at the speaker, picking up the tell-tale variations in their aura which reveal how they really feel about you. Now that's what I call a breakthrough in human communication!

You think I'm being flippant? Well, in these litigious times, you'll just have to read all this backwards to see what I really think.


©Toby Howard 1995

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