Skip to content

The Quandary of Doubt

A bloggery post about the the seriousness of science and figuring out what is important and while listening to the morning news, I hear:

Light Drinking Might Help Keep Women Slim

and they go on to give their findings of the 19,220 women studied and how a link is found between moderate drinking and not gaining weight. The study's author Dr. Lu Wang, an epidemiologist with the division of preventive medicine at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston states several possible reasons including:

"Among women, those who regularly consume light-to-moderate alcohol usually have a lower energy intake from non-alcohol sources. On the other hand, alcohol intake tends to induce increased energy expenditure beyond energy contents of the consumed alcohol in women. Taken together, regular alcohol consumption in light-to-moderate amount may lead to a net energy loss among women."

Hmmmm, Really? Oh my, what have they discovered? I wonder what kind of increased energy expenditure it could be? Perhaps that explains the plethora of 2am female joggers and crowded ladies night at fitness gyms after the bars close.

So while pondering scientific studies may as well dive back into unraveling more in the wonderful world of sound.

Hey, is anyone interested in an NL4 tester version of the Rat Sniffer? The prototype is done and it is a two ended tester that checks for every fault in NL4 cables. Like the Rat Sniffer, this is a field use product that allows you to test NL4 cables when the cable ends are located at a distance from each other.

These are high quality machined aluminum and based on the same patented circuit utilized in the Rat Sniffer testers and tests for every possible short, open and miss-wire ALL GREEN = CABLE IS GOOD. No on off switch to worry about and they use the same 12 volt replaceable remote key chain alarm battery as the Rat Sniffer as well.. I am trying to gauge how many to make on this first order so if you are interested let me know. I am going to make first production run of US made custom machined units priced at $120 per send receive pair plus a free rat shirt and serial numbered warranty card for helping me get these things rolling. Soon to follow will be an NL8 version an then a Cacom unit as well. Also, if you do buy them and don't love them, send them back and Rat will do a full refund.

**** Sound Nerd Speak ****

So I am watching this AES panel video on the perceptions hearing

and as much as I agree with the discrediting of scammers, and the undermining of audio voodoo, I also prickle at the arrogance of assumptions. Especially when what starts out as a clear and believable scientific observation becomes blurred as opinions of perception leak in. I so agree with keeping things in perspective which of course involves first establishing a well grounded and valid viewpoint to start with.

Let me clarify perspectives. On one hand we have the perspective of believers, 'the anything is possible crowd,' where the sky is not the limit, possibilities are endless and whether the concepts are repeatable or provable is not near as important as the fact that they were written, thought or spoken. On the other side we have the perspective of huddling skeptics, the self proclaimed 'investigators of verifiable proof' building the world of science, based on identifying dependable repeatable concepts from which real-world functioning successes can be built.

Both the believers and the skeptics inspire massive rivers of money flowing to support their respective causes. Both construct items of perceived value and usefulness. Both sell or pass freely their thoughts and revelations to attract others to swallow and follow. Whether it is a crystal that heals, an automobile that transports or a process of thought that helps one navigate one's life, they are both trains of thought with long and twisted histories peppered with successes and misconceptions over the years. Due to their differences in perspective, neither is able to truly resolve the expertise of the other. The pure skeptic can no more prove a certain type of music is beautiful than a pure believer can construct a cell phone that actually functions.

It is easy to to understand why science is useful and easy to feel why adding the complexities of beauty and art improves our lives beyond the monotony of what is purely utilitarian.

So what is the problem?

It is the middle ground, that gray area between fact and recreation where science encounters discomfort. The things we purely feel or think we know that science has yet to be able to adequately encompass.

The credibility of science comes into question when we are told that something can't be heard yet we do hear something. In our own confusion when we believe we have taken every variable into account only to find the most remarkable surprises still remain. These false assumptions are the feeding ground for the tangled garden of ideas for believers in magic and mystery. The Skeptics are doing all they can to excavate and form clean rows of well organized thoughts while the Believers immerse in weaving fact and fiction into complex and intoxicating stories and patterns. And yet a third perspective exists wherein both viewpoints are viewed as desirable, sellable, marketable and therefore useful.

Regardless of the propagation of education, I will personally make the jump to the conclusion that our world will always contain some balance or ratio of Believers and Skeptics. It is impossible to live our lives without the rules of science, just as it is impossible to live without the influences or art, pleasure and those magical stories affecting our lives. So let me call the beliefs that have a low level of probability and are grounded in floating perceptions, 'art.' I will refer to the beliefs that have high degree of provability and therefore probability, 'science.' It is when one side denies the relevance, the importance and/or the necessity of the other that voids are created allowing pseudo-science and other forms blurred perspective to gain traction. When art attacks science or visa-versa it just undermines it's own integrity. To tell an amazing story is one thing, to claim it is true is another. To measure the various nuances in sound is one thing, to claim it can or can not be heard is another.

So just as I laugh at the absurdity that people actually buy colored stones to tape to their audio cables in ignorance of the astronomical improbability that there will be any form of realizable alteration of the sound, I also believe that it is the failure of the science world to embrace the unknown that allows this ignorance to fester. And yes, science does try to quantify the importance and realities of art, and the world of art-thought tries to encompass science as well. Science teaches us that there are things that are known and things that are not yet known. Art teaches us there are things we 'know' and feel that defy definition.

We feel, yet science is typically by nature methodical and cold. The attractions to the warmth of mystery inspires the desire to circumvent being characterized and labeled as a predictable reproducing food eater. We know in our minds that we see, feel and hear so much more than even the most complex analysis system seems account for. Science's downplay of the cumbersome and its inability to adequately explain everything leaves the door ajar for people that will believe anything. Not that they wouldn't grab bit or real info, twist and run with it anyway

So anyway, back to the video. I am watching and enjoying the clarifications on human perceptions yet as and as the video progresses to the "what we can and can not hear" I find myself feeling swindled a bit and tempted to jump to conclusions and thinking that if the power of suggestion can inspire us to hear things that are not there, would not the opposite also be true? As the various sounds are played, are we convincing ourselves we can't hear them? What about cumulative effects of several independently inaudible aspects combining? Just as it is important not to jump to the assumption I can hear something, it is equally important not to jump write off something as audible or relevant without doing due diligence. In the end though, and in defence of the demo, a clear point was repetitively made; "this is just to help keep things in perspective" and with that I concur.

And with that lets take a big huge step back and ask ourselves "What would this accurate audio reproduction sound like if perfected?" How can we determine what is or is not important for audio accuracy if we have yet to create audio accuracy? Whether $10,000 audio cables are used or 192K converters and razor flat mics, the real story is that at the end of the day has anyone ever heard a recording played back where you tried to search around the room to find where the live band was hiding? How come we can know there is a garage band rehearsing a block away and when you sit dead center in front of the best sound systems money can buy and close your eyes, the best we can get is a descriptive range of similarities to live?

What if one side or the other was truly able to prove their position? What if those pricey cable companies with colored rocks put together a system that when turned on, you would swear up and down that there are actual musicians in the room. Would it sell systems? Would it sell cables? If they could do it do you think they would? Would that not be a game changer? Then they could show that vinyl is more realistic than CD's, or that it no longer sounded exactly real without the faster D to A converters or fancy power cords. The room would not matter, just as the room does not matter with that garage band. "Oh, you were playing live in a crappy room so I thought you were a recording" Yeah, right.. Has anyone ever heard sound reproduction so clear that you were unable to tell it was not in real time? I haven't but when and if I do, it may be a good place to start testing truly whether some of these products and concepts actually function.

**** End Sound Nerd Speak ****

Oh, check out these pages

Play this auditory illusion over and over and it should sound like it keep rising in tone:

And some more illusions and an interview with Poppy Crum who rocked one of the more fun presentations and clearly has one of the the coolest names ever!

A bit more about James "JJ" Johnston:

And Ethan Winer

And finally in my long winded word wanders it looks like Coachella adventure is coming up quick. Oooooh big huge audio playground!

Dave Rat