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Section 5

5. But some doubt arises when we consider the phenomena of hearing.

Perhaps we are to understand the process thus: the air is modified by the first movement; layer by layer it is successively acted upon by the object causing the sound: it finally impinges in that modified form upon the sense, the entire progression being governed by the fact that all the air from starting point to hearing point is similarly affected.

Perhaps, on the other hand, the intervenient is modified only by the accident of its midway position, so that, failing any intervenient, whatsoever sound two bodies in clash might make would impinge without medium upon our sense?

Still air is necessary; there could be no sound in the absence of the air set vibrating in the first movement, however different be the case with the intervenient from that onwards to the perception point.

The air would thus appear to be the dominant in the production of sound: two bodies would clash without even an incipient sound, but that the air, struck in their rapid meeting and hurled outward, passes on the movement successively till it reaches the ears and the sense of hearing.

But if the determinant is the air, and the impression is simply of air-movements, what accounts for the differences among voices and other sounds? The sound of bronze against bronze is different from that of bronze against some other substance: and so on; the air and its vibration remain the one thing, yet the difference in sounds is much more than a matter of greater or less intensity.

If we decide that sound is caused by a percussion upon the air, then obviously nothing turning upon the distinctive nature of air is in question: it sounds at a moment in which it is simply a solid body, until [by its distinctive character] it is sent pulsing outwards: thus air in itself is not essential to the production of sound; all is done by clashing solids as they meet and that percussion, reaching the sense, is the sound. This is shown also by the sounds formed within living beings not in air but by the friction of parts; for example, the grinding of teeth and the crunching of bones against each other in the bending of the body, cases in which the air does not intervene.

But all this may now be left over; we are brought to the same conclusion as in the case of sight; the phenomena of hearing arise similarly in a certain co-sensitiveness inherent in a living whole.

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