The Penny

Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.

[Monday, May 18, 2009]

What We Hear

Hi, Laynie. I'll try to explain what we hear by likening hearing to seeing. Picture a day at a a large county fair. 

There are lots of visual details. Can you sort it all out? Imagine you just got your sight... it would be tough to figure out what everything is. It would be too overwhelming to start with figuring out a fair, with all the colors and lights and people... You would want to begin with something simpler.

Take this plate, for example. Its shape is a circle. Focusing on the shape is like the traditional timing-based strategy, which gives you the "envelope" of a sound. It would not be possible to identify a plate without its shape. But if all you saw were a circular outline, you would need practice to know that THIS circle is a plate, other circles are DVDs, balls, coins, etc.

Does it matter what color the plate is? If you are a doctor and you just want someone to be able to recognize objects, wouldn't you choose to have them see shapes rather than colors? So does the it matter what color the plate is? I suppose that the person who made the plate would argue that its color is important. 

The color is like the frequency. As a matter of fact, color is very much like frequency... red is low and purple is high. But that's another story. Do you think you could figure out what the plate was based on shape alone? Yes. But would you enjoy looking at it more if you could see the beautiful design on it? I suspect that you would.

Your FSP processing strategy gives you timing and frequency information, which is like visual shape and color information. But you can't hear the fine gradations of frequency, which is like not being able to see slight differences in color. Suppose we see millions of colors. Suppose that you see hundreds. 

Do you remember old 8-bit computer monitors, which could produce up to 256 colors? They were limited, but they were a lot better than black and white monitors. Having some color definitely makes the viewing experience more enjoyable. Here are two images from games with 8-bit color:

Certainly, you could play those games if they had black and white graphics. It doesn't matter that the bus is green. It doesn't matter that the little spaceman is blue. It doesn't matter, but it makes it more interesting. However, could you imagine looking at these and figuring out what everything is if you had NEVER seen anything before? Take the second game, for example. You would certainly need a lot of practice to process it, especially when the little eyes start moving around and you have to control the spaceman to avoid them or shoot them. You would have to figure out what the important images were (the eyes, the spaceman, the platforms) and what the unimportant images were (the background). If you were just learning to see, you would probably find it difficult to ignore the red thing in the background. It's just always there! And it's red! That's like background noise. It's always there, and it can seem like it really stands out, but it's not important.

Here are some games with 256-bit graphics, which means millions of colors. 

Although these do not equal real vision, they are pretty darn good. Now try to imagine THESE images but with only the colors from the last images (the bus and spaceman games). That's more like what you are trying to do. Comprehend normal images with limited colors. The first one would be pretty tough. The greens might all blend together. The horse might blend in with the bridge. And the mist might make it impossible to distinguish the far-off castle. If you saw the second image but all the yellows looked the same and the reds all looks the same, etc., you might have trouble making matches and winning the game. You'd probably say to yourself, "These look the same! How do people tell them apart? They must be sighted geniuses!" But would you give up colors and go for black and white? Or shapes only? I doubt it.

Now go back to the day at the fair. It would be overwhelming if you were just learning to see and you only had the shapes plus a limited amount of colors. 100 barely-different shades of red would all look like the same red. Things might blur together. It would be exhausting to try to make sense of it all. But if you had practiced looking at different colors and shapes, when you were able to say that the horse on the carousel was definitely blue, wouldn't you be excited?

It's hard to learn to use a sense you have never really had. I guess you could say that using a hearing aid was like seeing several shades of dark red and some VERY dark orange. True, you had some color knowledge from that, but the 8-bit graphics you see now are different and probably better, when you get used to them and learn to distinguish them. If you saw something blue, you would really clue into it, because you had never seen blue before... like how you really clue into /s/.

I hope this makes sense.


Laynie | May 18, 2009 at 12:03 PM

I think I understand what you means. It's almost like Ear 3-D for you guys. For me, it perhaps Ear 1-D right now. Wow, thank you for a good describe on that. :D

Annie | May 18, 2009 at 4:33 PM

Haha... Maybe Ear 2-D


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