Why We Need to Pay More Attention to What We Hear
At The Science of Rock’n’Roll, the museum exhibit that I’m involved in, there’s a gallery called Your Brain on Rock that examines what happens with our brains when we encounter music. That’s why this article in the New York Times caught my attention because of how these concepts can be applied to listening to music. Read about “The Science and Art of Listening.”
Hearing is a vastly underrated sense. We tend to think of the world as a place that we see, interacting with things and people based on how they look. Studies have shown that conscious thought takes place at about the same rate as visual recognition, requiring a significant fraction of a second per event. But hearing is a quantitatively faster sense. While it might take you a full second to notice something out of the corner of your eye, turn your head toward it, recognize it and respond to it, the same reaction to a new or sudden sound happens at least 10 times as fast.
This is because hearing has evolved as our alarm system — it operates out of line of sight and works even while you are asleep. And because there is no place in the universe that is totally silent, your auditory system has evolved a complex and automatic “volume control,” fine-tuned by development and experience, to keep most sounds off your cognitive radar unless they might be of use as a signal that something dangerous or wonderful is somewhere within the kilometer or so that your ears can detect.