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4. Hearing and Language: Hacks 44–52 > 48. Detect Sounds on the Margins of Cert...

Detect Sounds on the Margins of Certainty

Can you sort the signal from the noise? Patterns and regularity are often deeply hidden, but we’re surprisingly adept at finding them.

Our perceptual abilities and sensory acumen differ from one individual to another, making our threshold for detecting faint or ambiguous stimuli vary considerably. The brain is particularly good at making sense of messy data and can often pick out meaning in the noisiest of environments, filtering out the chaotic background information to pick out the faintest signals.

In Action

A sample of Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” has been hidden in the sound file on our book web site (http://www.mindhacks.com/book/48/whitechristmas.mp3; MP3). The sound file is 30 seconds long and is mostly noise, so you will have to listen carefully to detect when the song starts. The song will start either in the first, second, or third 10 seconds and will be very faint, so pay close attention.


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