Ah, Those Vibrations

Ah, Those Vibrations

The day after big winds of 50 km/hr with 70 km/hr gusts, my bike ride alongside the conifer forest was a delight to the olfactory capabilities. Yet, the thing that struck me when I stopped to take in the ocean scene was the sound of the water gently splish-splashing into the hollows between the beach logs. Just the day before, I laughed gleefully in the crashing, thundering sound of ocean waves churning up big beach logs like they were nothing, while the wind blasted me with its crushing force. Now, there was just the gentle hollow sound of ocean on logs like a soft marimba.

A question popped into my head: “if a tree falls in the forest, does anyone hear?” The answer is no, unless there is an animal with functioning ear anatomy within range of the vibrations in the air that were generated by the falling tree. It seems strange that sound doesn’t exist in and of itself. It requires the added “technology” of the ear and all of its mechanisms to be actualized.

An object sets vibrations into motion through the air. When those vibrations hit the ear, they trigger a series of functions that ultimately produce a mental image in the brain that is the particular sound. The path is this: vibrations in the air hit the eardrum, which is a membrane; the vibration of the eardrum triggers a series of three small bones to ultimately push the salt-water type fluid inside the cochlea through its chambers as waves in the fluid. The basilar membrane runs along the cochlear surface and has those famous hair cells we are told we are destroying when we attend too many rock concerts without ear protection. The hairs move with the fluid and the membrane and trigger the signals that are sent to the brain via the auditory nerve. Well, something to this effect.

I paid special attention to the sounds along the bike ride home: lapping ocean with Canada geese honking on one side and eagles screeching in the trees on the other side. The sound of my bike tires on the ground brought it all together as a mesmerizing tune.

Photo: "File:Anatomy of the Human Ear.svg" by Lars Chittka; Axel Brockmann is licensed under CC BY 2.5

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