What is knowable?

June 11, 2019
 by Paul McGowan

Spring is in full swing and the pollinators are busy at work, flitting from flower to flower in pursuit of sweet nectar.

If you watch bees moving between flowers you might notice something extraordinary. Once a bee has removed a flower's sweet offerings other bees don't visit the flower again. How is that possible? Do bees have a way of communicating to the others a complex map of what's been harvested?

The facts are likely more interesting than our best guesses.

It turns out that bees become positively charged with a tiny amount of static electricity from the flapping of their wings. Plants have a natural negative charge. When a positively charged bee lands on a negatively charged flower, the two energy differences are nulled leaving the flower without its attracting negative charge. The next time a positively charged bee approaches the spent flower there's no attraction and she buzzes off to find a virgin pollen-filled candidate instead.

What's this got to do with stereo equipment? Simply this. All things are ultimately knowable even if they seem a mystery at the moment. There's currently no way to measure what the ear/brain is perceiving in a high-performance stereo. That doesn't mean we can't. It just means we haven't yet figured it out.

All mysteries are knowable just as soon as we get around to figuring them out.

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17 comments on “What is knowable?”

  1. It is possible to make a mapping of brain’s regions showing increased activity. Thus I am pretty sure that there will be significant differences in activity level when people are informed about the price or innovative technologies used in the new demo sysyem they are going to listen to. The confirmation bias or expectations thus can be made visible heavily influencing the focus of the listener.

  2. Hopefully this opens up brains of some measurementists!

    I think in the whole history of agriculture or anything else of human interest people did what made sense before they finally understood the background. Unfortunately this also includes selling of indulgences in religions and other bad examples...so this could be the key again for the measurementists to prove their scepticism.

    And regarding bees: aren’t flowers also discharged by rain or other occurrences? Maybe charged again by something else...have to read about it, interesting!

  3. The issue with bees is binary. Unfortunately our ears are not binary, they are complex structures subject to both physical and neurological decay over years, so beyond frequency tests you cannot examine anyone's ears and tell in detail how they will perceive specific sound. Moreso, you can't tell how the brain adapts to interpreting a frequency range that reduces over time.

    As we all hear differently, most discussion of audio perception is moot, and I can't imagine that will change anytime soon.

  4. "As we all hear differently, most discussion of audio perception is moot"
    The most (first ?) sensible words from this Englishman I've ever read...

  5. The relationship between electricity, chemistry, biochemistry, and biological systems has always been of great interest to me. I've studied and tried to understand as much as I could about all of them. The role of electrical charges in biological systems appears everywhere. For example, inside every blood vessel in your body the negative end of the amino acids in the proteins that are the building blocks of the vessels themselves project that end into the blood. Amino acids are called amphoteric, having both a positive end NH2 and a negative end COOH. When you get a cut positive charges appear in your blood triggering a cascade sequence of 14 biochemical processes that results in a clot. I had to memorize all of them 🙂 Hemopheliacs have a genetic defect that prevents them from synthesizing one of the critical elements in the chain.

    Some time ago in Copper Magazine the was an article about a visit to Edgar Choueiri's lab. I think the article was written by Richard Murison. It described a technique Choueiri had invented to make sound from headphones appear to have direction, something that normally doesn't happen with headphones and that has been known for over 50 years, maybe longer. I think I know exactly how he did it. 45 years ago I had to figure out how the ear/brain ability to detect the direction of a sound actually worked. This was not to exploit it but to defeat it since the reflected sound from the room in a live performance has no perceived direction and my machine would have to duplicate it. The answer would determine the engineering criteria for the design. When Paul visited my house and I demonstrated my invention to him, he didn't know that behind him sitting on a sofa next to a wall was a speaker about 3 feet from his ears creating part of the sound yet he never heard where that speaker was. It was one of 16 speakers in that room intended to duplicate that effect. Anyway, when I thought about this problem I realized that the current explanation was either incomplete or just wrong. How did I know? Because the explanation still currently believed contains three factors and binaural recordings played through headphones meets all three of them but it doesn't work. So it had to be wrong. BTW, it was a critical element in the design and unless others figure it out and exploit it in their engineering designs, they will have no chance of achieving the absolute sound from recordings.

  6. Just so we don’t get all excited about the imminent understanding of the brain. Just watch what part of it lights up when we enjoy music. Easy Right?
    Not. The neurologists call this the Hard problem”. Correlating brain activity with our feelings. Sorry, no.

    1. I don't think everything is knowable but eventually I think the way human and animal brains work will be understood. We are only just starting to have the tools we need to find out. FMRI is a start. The science is still in its infancy. Give it a few hundred years. If the human race is still around and overcomes the threats against its survival in the form we call civilization then this I think is one problem that can be solved. That solution can have beneficial or frightening consequences depending on how it is used.

    2. I think Paul is completely correct in theory, but I agree with you that our understanding of the hard problem of consciousness -- and even our understanding of how our brains interpret the data from our ears -- is a very long way off.

      By the way, after I finish Paul's new book, I will move on to "Conscious" by Annaka Harris. https://annakaharris.com/conscious/

  7. “All mysteries are knowable just as soon as we get around to figuring them out”

    There is immense joy in discovery and increased understanding of how the stars in the night sky were formed.

    But our quest for knowledge and understanding should never interfere with our ability to take in the beauty of a star filled sky.

  8. Point well made. Much can be measured but a lot more needs to be learnt and then methods devised to measure it. That is why mistakes are made when the attitude is taken that we know enough and therefore if it cannot be measured it, it does not exist. A point to ponder. Did reproduced music come first or measurements to measure it's various aspects ? Regards.

  9. What's it called when pollen gets heavy and covers everything?

    Matter of fact? So heavy, you can even write your name on your car with your finger?

    ........................................ "Plant Parenthood."


  10. Electro-static fields are sensed by extensions of skin or exo-skeletons. All our furry and feathered friends use this sense to navigate and bees have fine chitinous extensions. It has also been used for auto-piloting aerial vehicles for straight and level flight while avoiding obstacles, mimicking birds' ability to fly at night.

    Humans used to use electrostatic sensing for hunting and gathering (including mate hunting and social gathering), but then we started shaving and cutting our hair, wearing clothing over our arms, legs and back, and living in villages which suppresses electrostatic fields by shelters, footpaths, cultivation and landscaping which all cut soil micro-organism bio-diversity radically and likewise the information content of ES fields.

    ES fields are also utile in tracking lost people, predicting storms and earthquakes, which is why our domesticated animals often have better sense than we do.

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