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Signals, cochlear mechanics and pragmatism: a new vista on human hearing?

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The sense of hearing in humans became a research field in its own right around the middle of the nineteenth century. The foundations of the field were laid by physicists such as Georg Ohm and Hermann von Helmholtz and by the physiologist Alfonso Corti. The concepts of pure tone and Fourier analysis have informed hearing research ever since. The miracle of our exquisite capacity for perceiving salient qualities of music and speech such as pitch and prosody has often been explained in terms of Fourier analysis of acoustic stimuli into pure tones. In this article, I combine a historical–philosophical approach with acoustic signal modelling, cochlear mechanics and qualitative experiment. I discuss auditory phenomena irreducible to Fourier analysis of acoustic stimuli and reappraise the conceptual foundations of the field by proposing a pragmatist framework for understanding the sense of hearing in humans.
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Keywords: Corti; Fourier analysis; Helmholtz; hearing; pragmatism; signals

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of History and Philosophy of Science,Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, 1017 Cathedral of Learning, 4200 Fifth AvenuePittsburgh,PA 15260, USA

Publication date: December 1, 2012

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