Extra_Credit_Sound_and_Science_Re(a)sonance_Travis_Johnson

During the Sound and Science Symposium on Friday, March 6th, I attended the Re(a)sonance lecture given by University of Texas at Austin professor, Veit Erlmann. Throughout most of the lecture, I was unable to really grasp much of what he was trying to say. He often referred to, what I believe to be, French words and phrases that I could not understand, which hindered my attempt at understanding his main points. He discussed Descartes and his contributions to the beginnings of resonance theories. Professor Erlmann went on to explain how Claude Perrault redefined Descartes’ beliefs during the seventeenth century as Perrault argued that there is a “reasoning force” that helps all sensory organs. This idea was contrary to that of Descartes, who thought that sensory organs and all sense of reason are completely separate. Professor Erlmann continued on with his lecture, describing how discoveries during various operas helped to define resonance and any reason that may be connected to it.

Claude Perrault

Claude Perrault

Because I was unable to comprehend much of what Professor Erlmann was articulating, I went ahead and did some research of my own regarding resonance. Resonance is often used to describe musical instruments as “an instrument can be forced into vibrating at one of its harmonics (with one of its standing wave patterns) if another interconnected object pushes it with one of those frequencies. This is known as resonance” (more information at http://www.glenbrook.k12.il.us/gbssci/phys/Class/sound/u11l5a.html). Based on this definition, resonance would make sense in order to explain how we hear certain tones, pitches, beats, etc. The sound waves enter the middle ear and cause the eardrum to vibrate, which then ultimately sends a signal to the brain, which then interprets the sound.

The structure of the human ear.

The structure of the human ear.

My interpretation of how resonance and reason are correlated is as follows: without a certain level of rationality (reason), the sounds that we hear are meaningless and therefore negligible. For example, if we did not have a brain to interpret the sounds that we hear, whether it be a fire alarm that warns us of a fire nearby, a whistle that signals the start or stop of a sports game, etc. Therefore, I believe that, if what I gathered from the lecture is actually what Professor Erlmann was conveying, Perrault’s theory is correct because resonance alone cannot explain how we are able to sense sounds in our surroundings and act accordingly. There must be a level of reason somewhere in order for us to hear and interpret the sounds that we hear.

I wish I could have better understood Professor Erlmann’s main points during his lecture, but I was just unable to do so. I thought that it was a very interesting lecture topic that would have been a lot more intriguing had I known French. Ultimately from this lecture, I took away a perspective that I had never thought of before in regards to sound, resonance, and it all making sense to us. The art and science of sound must be combined in order to explain the understanding of sound to humans.

- Travis Johnson

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