The Mystery of Sound

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How is it that we can play back sounds in our heads?

I'm a musician and I can compose works in my head. It's a mystery to me why I can hear sound, but bypass my ears.

"If a tree falls in the woods..." Hell, I can hear them all.
 

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  • #2
Pythagorean
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How is it that we can play back sounds in our heads?

I'm a musician and I can compose works in my head. It's a mystery to me why I can hear sound, but bypass my ears.

"If a tree falls in the woods..." Hell, I can hear them all.
I'm a musician myself and I've just begun to study the brain, but I haven't absorbed enough to have found an answer to your question.

Anyway, I'd conjecture that it's mostly you imagining sounds based on sounds you've heard before. We can imagine visual things that we haven't seen before quite easily, why not audio?

As musician's, we have a feel for key, so we can play around in a key theoretically in our mind with our memory of the individual notes in the scale. Just like you can imagine a red ball falling into a purple woven basket and lid slamming shut even though you probably haven't seen it before. You've likely seen red, a ball, purple, and a woven basket with a lid, so it should be rather easy to put them together in your imagination.
 
  • #3
DavidSnider
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You guys actually hear music in your head? As if it's playing from a stereo?

I can reconstruct a song from a conceptual standpoint from memory but I certainly can't hear it.

I can remember the beat. I can remember the relationships between the notes. But I can't hear it. If I could why would I need an iPod? =)
 
  • #4
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I think that your ability is a "gift" that many do not have. Beethoven was able to compose music even though he was deaf. He heard the music before he lost his hearing, but he retained the music in his memory with such clarity that he could still compose.

He spent his later life extremely frustrated because he could no longer hear his new work, but only knew what was contained in his memory.

I wonder if we know the music that he really intended in his own mind?

I think that the ability is akin to a photographic memory that a few people possess. You can memorize a sound and it is remembered with perfect clarity. For most people it becomes fuzzy after a while.
 
  • #5
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I have often stumbled upon a question: is creating possible. Everything that exists exists, it is constantly changing. Musicians create patterns of pressure waves that are all combinations of something that has already existed before. Well there are so many possible ways to create these pressure waves within a small range that is descernable for human ear, but all these possibilities are theoretically already there. So musicians make a choice by select these patterns and this is something that we undersand as creation, but in a sense it's selection by some personal assumptions. It's quite suprising to think of it in this manner. It's also interesting that music is something so inherent in our nature, music can really transform our very being. I mean even historically, people used trum sequences to go into trance state, to communicate with gods etc. But there are no symponies of smells nor does electromagnetic radiation create such deep experience. This last statement can be a little rough around the edges, but the point I wanted to make that pressure waves are truly amazing and it's a real gift that we live inside atmosphere that is making it possible.
 
  • #6
fuzzyfelt
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This has been mentioned here before-
'Even when incoming sound is absent, we all can "listen" by recalling a piece of music. Think of any piece you know and "play" it in your head. Where in the brain is this music playing? In 1999 Andrea R. Halpern of Bucknell University and Robert J. Zatorre of the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University conducted a study in which they scanned the brains of nonmusicians who either listened to music or imagined hearing the same piece of music. Many of the same areas in the temporal lobes that were involved in listening to the melodies were also activated when those melodies were merely imagined.'

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=music-and-the-brain
http://cercor.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/9/7/697
 
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  • #7
FredGarvin
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Maybe I am putting this in too easy of terms, but I don't see what is so mysterious about it. The ear/eyes/nose even touch all do the same thing; they take an input and covert it to signals the brain understands. All memories are based on them. If the brain experiences something once, then why wouldn't it be able to "play it back" for you? Not only can I hear music in my head, but I can remember smells especially when tied with really strong memories.
 
  • #8
DavidSnider
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Maybe I am putting this in too easy of terms, but I don't see what is so mysterious about it. The ear/eyes/nose even touch all do the same thing; they take an input and covert it to signals the brain understands. All memories are based on them. If the brain experiences something once, then why wouldn't it be able to "play it back" for you? Not only can I hear music in my head, but I can remember smells especially when tied with really strong memories.
So if you wanted to smell apple pie right now you could just by thinking about it? That is beyond belief for me.
 
  • #9
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So if you wanted to smell apple pie right now you could just by thinking about it? That is beyond belief for me.
It's true. Many hypnotists can make you recall a smell. It's stored in your brain and what we smell is just the perception. The science behind it is the sensory receptors in the nose, there is no stimulation of those but the brain can remember what that stimulation felt like.

In the end it comes down to "sound" vs. "hearing." What we recall when we're not actually in the presence of a sound is "hearing" whereas the "sound" is the set of pressure waves that comes from the source and vibrates our eardrums.
 
  • #10
DavidSnider
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So why can't you flip to a random page in a dictionary, close it and then read from it as if it was in front of you?

What it seems like to me is that the actual information in the signal doesn't get stored, but properties about it do. That's why you can remember what something smells like but can't recall the smell on demand.
 
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  • #11
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So why can't you flip to a random page in a dictionary, close it and then read from it as if it was in front of you?

What it seems like to me is that the actual information in the signal doesn't get stored, but properties about it do. That's why you can remember what something smells like but can't recall the smell on demand.
Some people can. Photographic memory is just this. It's our brains remember the stimulation from the photons bouncing off the page.
 
  • #12
DavidSnider
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Can you name a person with a photographic memory? As far as I can tell this has never been verified. Not in the literal sense you are implying.
 
  • #13
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Can you name a person with a photographic memory? As far as I can tell this has never been verified. Not in the literal sense you are implying.
I'm not sure what you mean. I know people who can look at something once and recall everything about it. If that's not what I'm calling photographic memory then I'm not sure what you're talking about. I believe that has been verified in the sense I'm speaking of.
 
  • #14
DavidSnider
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Let's say you printed out a piece of paper with random characters from beginning to end. Could the people you know take a look at it for a few seconds and then perfectly recall the entire page?

I'm very skeptical that anybody can do this.
 
  • #15
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Let's say you printed out a piece of paper with random characters from beginning to end. Could the people you know take a look at it for a few seconds and then perfectly recall the entire page?

I'm very skeptical that anybody can do this.
Just because you're skeptical doesn't mean it can't exist ;-). I wouldn't put it past someone with a true photographic memory.
 
  • #16
FredGarvin
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So if you wanted to smell apple pie right now you could just by thinking about it? That is beyond belief for me.
Like I said, it depends on the memory it is tied to. I have had plenty of instances where I'll go somewhere that reminds me of a place I have been and I can almost smell the things from my memory. For example, I had a situation where I went somewhere that was eerily similar to a place I was stationed. I swear I could smell the JP8 fuel and other general smells that went along with being there. It's not like I can do it on a whim, but it does happen.
 
  • #17
FredGarvin
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Can you name a person with a photographic memory? As far as I can tell this has never been verified. Not in the literal sense you are implying.
I don't think it has ever been verified also. I remember seeing a show on a relatively young guy who was being called the next Rain Man. He was pretty incredible but he wasn't perfect. He did learn to speak fluent Icelandic in a week which is supposedly a very difficult language to learn.
 
  • #18
Pythagorean
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I don't believe in phonographic memory. I believe some people just have developed better memory-handling "software" in their brain, either naturally because of physiology or intentionally with practice. To someone with poor memory skills, this may appear to be something like phonographic memory, but real phonographic memory should have been proven by now if it exists.

So if you wanted to smell apple pie right now you could just by thinking about it? That is beyond belief for me.
It's not exactly like that. It's more like, we're talking about apple pie, and I suddenly smell apple pie. But if I look around, I see spaghetti is cooking, and the coffee pot is on. I've somehow "hallucinated" or picked-out a smell that wasn't really there.

I would hear crazy industrial metal jazz music in the engine room when I used to fish commercially too. So I think there has to be another stimulus there for me to actually think I'm sensing it.

In my original reply, I was more talking about imagining the sounds then actually hearing them. But I can actually think I hear a song because it's the song I'm thinking of if I can faintly hear music... then as I get closer to the real source, it's not at all what I thought it was. I suppose I have a very active imagination.
 
  • #19
fuzzyfelt
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The study I mentioned compared reactions during hearing and during imaginary hearing, as I thought the op was discussing imagination. I don't think imaginary hearing is unusual.
 
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  • #20
lisab
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So if you wanted to smell apple pie right now you could just by thinking about it? That is beyond belief for me.
Wow, really? It takes only a few seconds and I not only taste it, I smell it, I feel the nice crunchy texture of the crust (mmm, buttery and toasted!), which contrasts with the squishy apples (think hot apple sauce) and the viscous jelly that fills everything in...the cinnamon is so strong, it's almost like an anesthetic in my mouth...and that filling is hot, I can practically feel my tongue burning!

A la mode? Whoa, don't even get me started, haha....

Really, you don't have sensory memories like that?
 
  • #21
DavidSnider
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No, I don't.

I have trouble believing you do either because it would make little sense to buy another one if you can recall the actual thing from memory as if it were real.
 
  • #22
Pythagorean
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No, I don't.

I have trouble believing you do either because it would make little sense to buy another one if you can recall the actual thing from memory as if it were real.
Nobody's saying it's exactly like the real thing. It's a close approximation of it. I don't get the same kind of dopamine rush from imagining eating pie as I do from actually eating pie. I can't imagine myself out of hunger either. It's the isolated sensation of taste and smell, not the whole bound experience of eating pie.
 
  • #23
Q_Goest
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How is it that we can play back sounds in our heads?
More importantly, I'd like to know where the OFF switch is! Damn songs keep playing in my head all day... got any asprin?
 
  • #24
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I don't think it has ever been verified also. I remember seeing a show on a relatively young guy who was being called the next Rain Man. He was pretty incredible but he wasn't perfect. He did learn to speak fluent Icelandic in a week which is supposedly a very difficult language to learn.
Daniel Tammet was the man who was tested by being challenged to learn Icelandic in a week.

He has written his autobiography, entitled 'Born on a Blue Day'.

Actually no one determined whether he was fluent, but he went on a TV talk show in Iceland and held a conversation that proceded as well as it would with someone who was fluent. It's possible that they had an easy conversation. They probably said to him "Hello, how are you?" rather than something intricate.

He also gets answers to mathematics problems by seeing various shapes moving along in his imagination. As he visualizes a sequence of shapes coming down the line, he recites the correct digits in an answer to a problem.

A very nice thing he did was to spend a whole day reciting pi to 20,000+ digits to raise money for charity, not keeping any of the money for himself.
 

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