Not Hearing Sounds

Date: 30 June 2016

Venue: UAntwerpen, Stadscampus - Willem Elsschotzaal (Hof van Liere) - Prinsstraat 13 - 2000 Antwerpen

Time: 3:30 PM - 6:00 PM

PhD candidate: Nick Young

Principal investigator: prof. dr. Bence Nanay

Short description: Doctoraatsverdediging Nick Young - Faculteit Letteren en Wijsbegeerte


The aim of this text is to provide an account of what we hear. I argue that although we hear material objects, their activities, and spaces, we do not hear sounds. I begin by presenting the commonly held views that our perceptual systems function to inform us about our immediate external environment, and that perceptual content has a subject–predicate structure, in that it involves the attribution of properties to individuals. I suggest that disagreements as to what sounds are, and whether we can be said to hear the material world through hearing sounds, are best understood as disagreements about which environmental aspects are represented, and how they are represented. This framework is used to identify three general approaches to auditory perception: on a sonicist account we represent only sounds, on a mediate account we represent sounds and the activities of material objects, such as collisions, scrapings, and rollings, and on an immediate account we represent only these activities. Although sonicism is often considered unpalatable, it is also the most straightforward way to answer questions about what we hear.

This is firstly because sounds seem necessary: what we hear we hear to bear auditory properties such as pitch, timbre, and loudness, which are more easily thought of as properties of sounds than of objects or events; audio recording and playback is easily explained in terms of the production or reproduction of distinct sounds, but much less so without them. Secondly, mediate and immediate views lack a detailed account of how the material world is represented. How does auditory representation of the movements of objects differ from visual representation? How should we account for our auditory awareness of empty spaces? I try to meet both of these challenges. First, by providing a detailed account of how objects, their activities, and empty spaces, can be auditorily represented. Second by arguing that sound–less accounts of auditory properties and recorded audio are available.

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