Memory: How to Develop, Train and Use It

Chapter X

Training the Ear

The sense of hearing is one of the highest of the senses or channels whereby we receive impressions from the outside world. In fact, it ranks almost as high as the sense of sight. In the senses of taste, touch, and smell there is a direct contact between the sensitive recipient nerve substance and the particles of the object sensed, while in the sense of sight and the sense of hearing the impression is received through the medium of waves in the ether (in the case of sight), or waves in the air (in the sense of hearing.) Moreover in taste, smell and touch the objects sensed are brought into direct contact with the terminal nerve apparatus, while in seeing and hearing the nerves terminate in peculiar and delicate sacs which contain a fluidic substance through which the impression is conveyed to the nerve proper. Loss of this fluidic substance destroys the faculty to receive impressions, and deafness or blindness ensues. As Foster says: “Waves of sound falling upon the auditory nerve itself produces no effect whatever; it is only when, by the medium of the endolymph, they are brought to bear on the delicate and peculiar epithelium cells which constitute the peripheral terminations of the nerve, that sensations of sound arise.”

Just as it is true that it is the mind and not the eye that really _sees_; so is it true that it is the mind and not the ear that really _hears_. Many sounds reach the ear that are not registered by the mind. We pass along a crowded street, the waves of many sounds reaching the nerves of the ear, and yet the mind _accepts_ the sounds of but few things, particularly when the novelty of the sounds has passed away. It is a matter of interest and attention in this case, as well as in the case of hearing. As Halleck says: “If we sit by an open window in the country on a summer day, we may have many stimuli knocking at the gate of attention: the ticking of a clock, the sound of the wind, the cackling of fowl, the quacking of ducks, the barking of dogs, the lowing of cows, the cries of children at play, the rustling of leaves, the songs of birds, the rumbling of wagons, etc. If attention is centered upon any one of these, that for the time being acquires the importance of a king upon the throne of our mental world.”

Many persons complain of not being able to remember sounds, or things reaching the mind through the sense of hearing, and attribute the trouble to some defect in the organs of hearing. But in so doing they overlook the real cause of the trouble, for it is a scientific fact that many of such persons are found to have hearing apparatus perfectly developed and in the best working order–their trouble arising from a lack of training of the mental faculty of hearing. In other words the trouble is in their mind instead of in the organs of hearing. To acquire the faculty of correct hearing, and correct memory of things heard, the mental faculty of hearing must be exercised, trained and developed. Given a number of people whose hearing apparatus are equally perfect, we will find that some “hear” much better than others; and some hear certain things better than they do certain other things; and that there is a great difference in the grades and degrees of memory of the things heard. As Kay says: “Great differences exist among individuals with regard to the acuteness of this sense (hearing) and some possess it in greater perfection in certain directions than in others. One whose hearing is good for sound in general may yet have but little ear for musical tones; and, on the other hand, one with a good ear for music may yet be deficient as regards hearing in general.” The secret of this is to be found in the degree of interest and attention bestowed upon the particular thing giving forth the sound.

It is a fact that the mind will hear the faintest sounds from things in which is centered interest and attention, while at the same time ignoring things in which there is no interest and to which the attention is not turned. A sleeping mother will awaken at the slightest whimper from her babe, while the rumbling of a heavy wagon on the street, or even the discharge of a gun in the neighborhood may not be noticed by her. An engineer will detect the slightest difference in the whir or hum of his engine, while failing to notice a very loud noise outside. A musician will note the slightest discord occurring in a concert in which there are a great number of instruments being played, and in which there is a great volume of sound reaching the ear, while other sounds may be unheard by him. The man who taps the wheels of your railroad car is able to detect the slightest difference in tone, and is thus informed that there is a crack or flaw in the wheel. One who handles large quantities of coin will have his attention drawn to the slightest difference in the “ring” of a piece of gold or silver, that informs him that there is something wrong with the coin. A train engineer will distinguish the strange whir of something wrong with the train behind him, amidst all the thundering rattle and roar in which it is merged. The foreman in a machine shop in the same manner detects the little strange noise that informs him that something is amiss, and he rings off the power at once. Telegraphers are able to detect the almost imperceptible differences in the sound of their instruments that inform them that a new operator is on the wire; or just who is sending the message; and, in some cases, the mood or temper of the person transmitting it. Trainmen and steamboat men recognize the differences between every engine or boat on their line, or river, as the case may be. A skilled physician will detect the faint sounds denoting a respiratory trouble or a “heart murmur” in the patients. And yet these very people who are able to detect the faint differences in sound, above mentioned, are often known as “poor hearers” in other things. Why? Simply because they hear only that in which they are interested, and to which their attention has been directed. That is the whole secret, and in it is also to be found the secret of training of the ear-perception. It is all a matter of interest and attention–the details depend upon these principles.

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