Posts Tagged ‘sound’

A Sound by any Other Name

January 9, 2022 Leave a comment

What is the difference between thinking that consciousness requires a living body and thinking that sounds have to be made by acoustic instruments?

It seems like the same common sense intuition, and I think in both cases, it happens to be false. From audio recording we learned that we did not need to have someone play a horn to hear a horn sound. We could actually use the sound that a needle makes when scratching over a grooved surface to make a nearly identical sound, as long as the grooves matched the grooves made when the horn was played in the first place.

As audio technology progressed, people discovered that purely electronic changes in semiconductors could be used to drive speakers to drive eardrums. We didn’t need to begin with a horn being played, or acoustic vibrations to propagate from brass to air to a steel needle to a cooling disc of resin. All we needed was electronic switches to rapidly change the flow of current through a speaker in the same pattern that the needle used to make going up and down in the groove. The up and down analog became digital stop and go, all the way up to the point where you have to jiggle people’s eardrums. That could not be done electronically but required a membrane to mechanically push air into the ears.

It seems now that we are getting closer to cutting out the acoustic middleman entirely with the possibility of Neuralink type technology and broadcast music directly into your brain without any physical sound at all. No speakers, no ears…but you still need something that senses something, and you need something that senses that something as sound. Even if we play music and record our dreams electronically, it still doesn’t solve the Hard Problem of consciousness. There remains an explanatory gap between the silent operation of electrical current and the experience of sounds, sights, feelings, thoughts, and the entire material universe of objects…including brains and electronic instruments.

That last sentence is the tricky part that physicalist thinkers can’t seem to stop overlooking. Yes, the entire physical universe that you know, that you read about, that scientists experiment on, can only exist under physicalism as a ‘model’ or ‘simulation’ that simply, um, ’emerges’ from either electromagnetism itself, or electromagnetism in various brain structures, or from the ‘information’ that we imagine is being communicated by any or all of these processes.

Of course, it’s all circular. To say ‘the brain’ is to say ‘my qualitative and cognitive experiences that I call ‘brain”. To say ‘the world’ is to say ‘my’ or ‘our’ qualitative experiences that seem like a world. There is no getting around this. The last mile of any cosmological theory always has to cash out in some experience-of-a-cosmos, with or without a theory of a cosmos-outside-of-some-experience. Noumena are optional and hypothetical. Experiential phenomena, as Decscartes almost said, cannot be deined.

I argue with a lot of people about information and qualia, because it is glaringly obvious to me that this technology based idea of information conflates the purely intellectual and abstract process of learning or communicating with the concrete aesthetics of what it is being communicated. Information or simulation theory says nothing about what is ultimately doing the communicating and what literally happens when a communication is decoded, from the billions of quantifiable microphysical stop/go events in an engineered device or neurological organ to unquantifiable and irreducibly aesthetic sight/sound/objects/feelings/thoughts.

The idea of simulation only pushes the explanatory gap down further in scale, but it is the same gap. It’s not enough that a change in a computing device or brain coincides with a change in direct experience, we have to ask what is doing the correlation in the first place, and how, and why. It’s not just “what breathes fire into the equations?”, but what the hell is fire doing in equations in the first place? Why wouldn’t it make sense to ask what breathes equations into every form of ‘fire’? What could it be other than conscious experience itself? Anything we try to put in between conscious experience and nature always has that same last-mile problem. In the end, you need something eternal that can make sense – some capacity not only to run programs on hardware to manipulate hardware but for either programs or hardware to exist as something aesthetic rather than just invisible facts in an arithmetic void.

Light, Vision, and Optics

September 22, 2013 1 comment


In the above diagram, the nature of light is examined from a semiotic perspective. As with Piercian sign trichotomies, and semiotics in general the theme of interpretation is deconstructed as it pertains to meanings, interpreters, and objects. In this case the object or sign is “Optics”. This would be the classical, macroscopic appearance of light as beams or rays which can be focused and projected, Color wheels and primary colors are among the tools we use to orient our own human experience of vision with the universal nature of material illumination.

On the other side of bottom of the triangle is “Vision”. This is the component which gives vision a visual quality. The arrows leading to and from vision denote the incoming receptivity from optics and the outgoing engagement toward “Light”. When we see, our awareness is informed from the bottom up and the top down. Seeing rides on top of the low level interactions of our cells, while looking is our way of projecting our will as attention to the visual field.

While optics dictate measurable relationships among physical properties of light on the macroscopic scale, ‘light’ is the hypothetical third partner in the sensory triad. Light is both the microphysical functions of quantum electrodynamics and the absolute frame of perceptual relativity from which various perceptual inertial frames emerge. The span between light and optics  is marked by the polar graph and label “Image” to describe the role of resemblance and relativity. Image is a fusion of the cosmological truth of all that can be seen and illuminated (light), with the localization to a particular inertial frame (optics-in-space), and recapitulation by a particular interpreter – who is a time-feeler of private experience.

This triangle schema is not limited to light. Any sense can be used with varying degrees of success:


The overall picture can be generalized as well:


Note that the afferent and efferent sided of the triangle have a push-pull orientation, while the quanta side is an expanding graph. This is due to the difference between participation within spacetime, which is proprietary feeling, and the measured positions between participants on multiple scales or frames of participation. Sense is the totality of experience from which subjective extractions are derived. The physical mode describes the relation between each subjective experience and between other frames of subjective experience as representational tokens: bodies or forms. It’s all a kind of trail of breadcrumbs which lead back to the source, which is originality itself.

Why do pitches separated by an octave sound “the same”?

February 14, 2013 2 comments

Answer by Paul King:

This phenomenon is called “circularity of pitch.”

Once a tone has gone up one octave, it seems to be “back to where it started” but “higher”:

As others have mentioned, this effect is derived from the overtone structure of natural sounds. The “richness” of a natural sound comes from several overlaid frequencies, each of which are an integer multiple of the base frequency or “fundamental”, and the reason for this has to do with the physics of how sounds are produced by vibrating objects like strings and vocal cords.

The reason that shifting up one octave “sounds the same” is that the overtone structure of a tone and the same tone one octave higher (all frequencies doubled) is almost the same.

Here is the frequency spectrum of a violin string (the horizontal axis is frequency, and the vertical axis is”power”). The first “bump” is the fundamental and the ones to the right are the overtones:

Shifting this tone up one octave amounts to stretching this spectrum to the right by 2x. When this happens, the spectrum will be almost identical except that every other overtone will be missing. The tone thus sounds almost the same (activates the same frequency-sensitive neurons in the brain), but with a higher “average frequency” and “thinner” due to the missing overtones. This is illustrated here by stretching the above image horizontally by 2x and showing the overtones that line up:

If these two tones are played together, they reinforce each other and will merge to sound like a single note but with a different timbre (different frequency spectrum).

This circular relationship between frequency and pitch leads to the “circularity in pitch judgement” illusion called the Shepard scale in which a chromatic scale of notes seems to rise forever. Audio demo here:

The animation accompanying the audio shows how it works: The frequency spectrum is shifted to the right, increasing the perceived “pitch” (chroma), however the power envelope, and thus the average frequency (height), is held artificially fixed the tone does not actually climb higher. The net effect is this:

Perhaps the creepiest version of this illusion is the never-ending falling tone auditory illusion, here:…

To show just how intertwined overtones are with the perception of scale, pitch, and octaves, it turns out that when a piece of music is played on a “stretched scale” (one octave stretched from 2x frequency to 2.2x), the music sounds horribly out of tune and wrong. But if the overtone structure of the notes being played is synthetically stretched by the same amount, the music sounds oddly in tune again.

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I think that this reveals a lot about the nature of sense in general. Rather than calling these perceptual surprises ‘illusions’, I would say that they are examples of how conflicts are resolved among multiple levels of sense and sense-making.

In particular, I think that the fact of overtone dominance in tone perception tells us about the Top-Down nature of sensation, where larger wholes or gestalts are interpreted at a higher priority than granular, low level sensation. I think the illusion more likely is in the confidence that we have for our expectations about what perception actually is. When we assume that physics is an observer-independent reality with pockets of privacy containing approximations of that reality, then we overlook the possibility that physics is indivisibly both private and public, universal and proximal. This is the more accurate model in my opinion.

Overtones show us the nested nature of perception where our sensitivity plays an active role on many levels. It’s not just a matter of data accumulating in structures, but of encountering our own local experience of eternity as a rolling ‘here and now’. Like the perpetual floating peak of circular pitch, our here and now is only the most obvious range of a larger phenomenon united by likeness.

Our personal range of awareness yokes together a fugue of sympathetic echoes, both from repeating pasts and the promise of novelty from possible futures. These sub-personal and super-personal ranges are bound by instantaneous space and eternal time, respectively. The more sub-personal you get, the more you are talking about the experiences of organs, tissues, cells, and molecules in spatial relation to each other as bodies, objects, or random machines. The more super-personal you get, the more we refer to timeless themes of inspiration and teleology.

Physics can teach us how to understand the mathematics of ratios and the mechanics of wave, but in its current legacy form, physics can’t explain the physics of ratios themselves, or the mechanisms which drive us to perform the production of acoustic pressure waves. We are dazzled by the perfection of the ratios, but we no longer care what they are actually ratios of.


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