The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind
Seth S. Horowitz
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
Every day, we are surrounded by millions of sounds - ambient ones like the rumble of the train and the hum of air conditioner, as well as more attention-grabbing sounds, such as human speech, music, and sirens. But how do we process what we hear every day? And how does it affect our brains and our minds? This book answers such revealing questions as:
- How do bats see in 3D with their ears and how did that lead to the development of medical ultrasound?
- What is it about the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard that makes us cringe?
- Why do city folks have trouble sleeping in the country, and vice versa?
- Why can't you get that song out of your head?
Starting with the basics of auditory biology, neuroscientist and musician Seth Horowitz explains how sound affects us, and in turn, how we've learned to manipulate sound: into music, commercial jingles, car horns, and modern inventions like cochlear implants, ultrasound scans, and the mosquito ringtone. Whether you're standing in a crowded subway or a quiet meadow, you'll never hear the same way after reading this book. The Universal Sense gives new insight into what the sounds of our world have to do with the way we think, feel, and interact.
impatient, or you just gave me really bad news and I’m questioning the reality of what you just said. Or if I say it very quietly after a long pause (… what?), have you just given me really bad news? Just by changing the sound of a simple word, you gain insight into the emotional, attentional, and behavioral state of both the speaker and the listener. While you can describe the sound of a contented cat as a purr, how can you explain how it induces a feeling of calm in its owner or frustration in
fingernails on a blackboard? (Not to mention metal, such as a rake, being dragged across slate, which was rated as an even worse sound.) They hypothesized that the spectrum of the sound closely matched that of the warning cries of the macaque monkey, and so fingernails on a blackboard was the sensorineural equivalent of a primate alarm call. This was a cool idea, and it was widely cited, but, as with most non-mainstream scientific studies, it didn’t get much further testing beyond a paper by Josh
of composer Mark Snow, sound editor Thierry J. Couturier, and sound designer David J. West. The show used many typical auditory tricks—lowpitched strings, sudden silence, characters speaking in noisy environments—but one that particularly stood out for me was a specific scene in which the character Fox Mulder was speaking to his partner, who was supposed to be a maternity patient in a lab, and for some reason it was incredibly tense. I kept watching the scene, repeating it, switching to
his oscillators. So could this “earthquake machine” actually work? In theory, yes. Simple periodic vibration of rigid materials will cause them to resonate, and this resonance can get drastically out of control. Do yourself a favor and look up the video of the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. The bridge was built in 1940 by Leon Moisseiff, and four months after it opened, a constant 42 mph wind induced aeroelastic flutter, a condition in which the natural resonance of a structure can enter
use it to try to send signals to flying bats or calling frogs. Problems arose almost immediately. For the bats, 60 kHz is right in the middle of the echolocation range, so a half-meter-wide beam of 60 kHz sound was the bat equivalent of shining a strong spotlight right into your eyes. They all avoided it.55 On the other hand, while the frogs didn’t care about the carrier signal, the amplitude modulation technique used to get the audible signal mixed into the carrier doesn’t really work on signals