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How Hearing Shapes the Mind

by Seth S. Horowitz

Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-60819-090-4
Publisher: Bloomsbury

How our sense of hearing affects how we think, feel and act.

“What we think of as sound,” writes Horowitz (Neuroscience and Psychology/Brown Univ.), “is split between two factors, physics and psychology.” This dichotomy forms the framework of the author’s debut book, with chapters examining both how we hear sounds and the effects those sounds have on our brains. Horowitz first spends several chapters on how hearing works, using bullfrogs as the model animal to demonstrate how low-frequency sound works, then flipping to bats to discuss high-frequency sounds. After establishing the physical mechanics of hearing, Horowitz moves on to what he calls “psychophysics”: the relationship between what we hear and how we react. For example, a recording of angry bees is “almost universally frightening”; even elephants will move away from the sound and call out a warning to others. While there are some interesting factoids like this scattered throughout the book—e.g., readers will be surprised to hear that herring emit bubbles from their anuses to make ultrasonic noises—these moments are few and far between, with most examples coming off as bland illustrations for whatever is being analyzed in a particular chapter. Throughout, the prose is stuffy and overly explanatory and academic, and Horowitz punctuates the text with heavy-handed quirky asides. Each chapter begins like a new week’s lecture, and, ultimately, the book never manages to coalesce around any overarching idea.

A fairly dreary read about what should be a fascinating subject.