Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Day 52: Sound

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it fall—does it make a sound?

On Sunday, 9/21, I learned the answer to this question.

The book I am currently reading is called “This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession” by Daniel J. Levitin. It is about the human obsession with music and it asks and answers the questions, “What is music?” “Where does it come from?” “Why do some sequences of sounds move us so while others—such as dogs barking or cars screeching- make many of us uncomfortable?" "Why do we listen to music?" "Why are we willing to spend a lot of money on music listening?" "And for those that aren’t willing, why aren’t they affected?" "Why do some people prefer certain types of music?" And more.

I don’t want to come off as a plug for this book because I have really only just begun to read it. However in the introduction chapter, I learned something new already that I found really fascinating. I’m not going to try and paraphrase but I’ll just leave you to read the next two paragraphs as I copied them straight from the book.
“A bowl of pudding only has taste when I put it in my mouth—when it is in contact with my tongue. It doesn’t have taste or flavor sitting in my fridge, only the potential. Similarly, the walls in my kitchen are not “white” when I leave the room. They still have paint on them, of course, but color only occurs when they interact with my eyes.”

“Sound waves impinge on the eardrums and pinnae (the fleshy parts of your ear) setting off a chain of mechanical and neurochemical events, the end product of which is an internal mental image we call pitch. If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? (the question was first posed by the Irish philosopher George Berkeley.) Simply, no—sound is a mental image created by the brain in response to vibrating molecules. Similarly, there can be no pitch without a human or animal present. A suitable measuring device can register the frequency made by the tree falling, but truly it is not pitch unless and until it is hear.”

Pretty neat, huh? And although I won’t plug the book itself since I just started it… I will plug its Web site. It is one of the best author’s sites I’ve seen.

1 comment:

Philip Dorrell said...

Katie, you might be interested to look at my book What is Music?: Solving a Scientific Mystery and its website at whatismusic.info.