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When you're listening, you're constantly developing expectations of what you're going to hear.

These expectations change over time as new sounds (and new patterns of sounds) happen.

When I listen to the "shave and a haircut, two bits" rhythm (without knowing ahead of time that that's what it is), here's what I expect (the large note shows what just happened, the Xs show what's already happened, the small notes are my prediction, and the text is my description of what I think is going on):

Only when it's all over (or maybe a little earlier) does the recognition happen.