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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Aural Dyslexia

Yesterday, in an obvious attempt to curry favor, one of the Solipsist's minions brought him some blueberry muffins.

(Digression: What's so bad about bribery anyway?  You know, in some countries, bribery is such the everyday occurrence, that people are allowed to claim bribes as a legitimate expense on tax forms.  Seriously!  End of digression.)

Anyway, today, said minion asked said Solipsist, "How do you like the muffins?"

The Solipsist, in a bit of a rush and admittedly a bit punchy, heard "How do you like my face?"

Thinking this was an odd question and richly deserving of a snarky answer, YNSHC replied, "Your face?  It's no worse than usual, I suppose."

Clarifications followed, and a good laugh was had by all.  (And, yes, the next time the minion offers muffins, the Solipsist WILL be sure to run a tox screen on them before ingesting).

This got YNSHC thinking about the phenomenon of mishearing.  We all have our favorite examples.  From pop music, of course, you have "'Scuse me, while I kiss this guy" and "There's a bathroom on the right."  Once, YNSHC was having dinner with some friends at a semi-trendy New York restaurant.  One friend, speaking about the restaurant and its famous clientele, pointed at a booth and said, "I once saw Dennis Miller over there."  What the rest of the table heard, though, was, "[mumble, mumble] Juan is smelly over there."  It was one of those great you-had-to-be-there moments, but the rest of the table convulsed with laughter for the next three courses.

What causes these moments of aural dyslexia?  Obviously, unfamiliar accents and failure to enunciate are culprits.  That explains WHY people don't always understand what is being said to them.  But what fascinates the Solipsist is the automatic impulse to translate.  That is, we don't hear NOTHING when we mishear; we hear SOMETHING, and our brains quickly convert what we've heard into something resembling a coherent (if odd) message.  Even though there was no "Juan," three people--without discussing it amongst themselves--translated a mumbled statement into a judgment on this non-person's hygiene.  Even though the minion had no reason to ask his boss about his face, the boss--rather than hearing "nothing" or just coming to the realization that he had not heard--"heard" the odd question.

Our brains' need for order is apparently so great that they will impose order on not just the disorderly, but on the thoroughly order-less.  It supports the idea that there is no objective reality, only a series of random events with order imposed by these wonderful little computers in our heads.

Maybe the Solipsist is just reading too much into things.  But that kind of proves the point, no?


  1. I agree that our brains do their best to assemble sense from what appears to sound like nonsense.

    -"eat a hot dog! " for "do the hustle!" (probably before your time)

    -"gloria, i think he's got your number, i think he's got elliott's, that you've been living under"

    (Insert "the alias" for elliott. i always wondered who the hell elliott was, as there is no mention of him in laura branigan's early 80s hit "gloria")

    -"we can dance, we can dance, everyone look at your pants" (from the safety dance) ( i don't know what it is, but i know that ain't right)

  2. Nevermind aural dislexia, your minions give you muffins? Geez! Well, I do get a healthy dose of booze on the holidays (particularly nice Gin), but muffins? I hope she baked them herself :-)

  3. I have Tinitus, coupled with some hearing loss from years in manufacturing, this leaves me with what I have come to think of as "Aural Dyslexia." I tend to hear when people speak to me, yet have come to realize that frequency of voice as well as frequent mishearing of consonant sounds spoken in phrases leave me with a misconception of what is being said vs. what I am hearing, or rather what I desipher from what I am hearing. The musical references listed above are very common occurances in my life as well. I've lived my entire life with the tinitus after a bout with Mastoiditis as an infant and while it's ever present it isn't the annoyance that people who come to suffer with it in their adult life experience. My annoyance is with the combination of my two conditions and what they leave me with. Misinterpreting what people say to me is frustrating for both parties involved in the conversation. When I am in a crowded room such as at a party, forget about it. I hear well enough that a hearing aid is not needed, but I cannot pass a standard hearing test as often the tones are in the same ranges as the tinitus. I think of this as less a phenomenon of the brain trying to fill gaps and more as a disability that I've come to live with. Maybe I should learn sign language.