Can we hear the sound of silence?

Hey guys! Happy New Year everyone and I hope everyone had a good Christmas. Sorry its been awhile since my last question, just switched jobs and I’m about to start another semester of school. So all in all, just been making money and doing the school thing. Anyway, enough about me, its time for my first question of the New Year and its very mind provoking .

Last week, I had just moved into a new condo and its the suburbs, so its quiet! A little too quiet, I told my girlfriend, “I never heard so much quiet.” And that’s where the question came from. I literally went on dozens of science websites and blogs, trying to find an easy answer for this. I wrote tons of notes last night in preparation for this blog (as I do with every blog I’ve done) and here’s what I came up with.

Try this cause I did it last night. The next time you’re watching TV, push the mute button and keep watching the images. What can you hear? The chances are that your brain will try to fill in for some of the lost sound track, I know mine did. As you’re probably already aware of, the pictures on the screen trigger memories and these are replayed in your mind, along with their accompanying audio. The sounds you are used to hearing when you see certain things will substitute for the sound track you have just silenced. You hear them in your mind’s ear.

The effect is strangely fascinating. We know the brain is great at filling in gaps, essentially guessing what is happening when our senses fall short. Ergo, our visual field isn’t obscured all the time by the two black dots, the duff patches of the retina where the optic nerves are attached. But it’s the extent to which our brains do this, and how oblivious we are to it, that amazes me.

Kaspar Meyer, the lead author of this type of study, explained that a visual stimulus is processed along normal visual pathways in the brain; this then triggers a memory in associated cortices that is re-experienced when it is projected back into other parts of the brain, such as the auditory cortex. So basically, “You would not hear a howling sound in your mind’s ear upon seeing a video clip of a howling dog if you had not (simultaneously) seen and heard a howling dog before,” Dr Meyer wrote.

But still, how do our brains know the difference between a real sound and a remembered audio clip that is being replayed in our minds? Whatever we “hear” in our mind’s ear is not as crisp and defined as a true sound. Mostly, our brains can distinguish the two. The work might, though, shed light on hallucinations, be they visual or auditory, where people think they are experiencing real sounds or images that are actually generated in the mind.

There’s still more to study and look up but for now….Your Thoughts?

By the way, thanks to all you guys for getting us up to almost 10, 000 views!!!


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