Am I unaware I can hear?

By | November 5, 2019

I remember reading Daniel Goldman’s book Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception. One story stuck in my mind. It was about blindness caused by stroke. Basically, what the experiments demonstrated was that some of the patients could see but they were not aware they could see. This is called cortical blindness.

I started to think about this again because Jordan Peterson brought this up in one of his talks. As I reflected on this, I wondered if there was the same phenomenon with the ability to hear and being aware of hearing. Sure enough there is something called Cortical Deafness. My understanding is that it is very rare and often due to tumors on the auditory nerves.

I have read that some people get tinnitus apparently from injury after a whiplash experience for example in a car accident or from exposure to some medicines which may damage the cochlear hair cells. However, I am now wondering if some tinnitus is caused not from the loss of the ability to hear or transmit sound to the brain but rather the loss of the awareness of sound.

This phenomenon crossed my mind about 10 years ago. I had fallen asleep in my son’s room and at about 4:30 am I woke up and as I walked into the hall I could hear the faint sound of my alarm clock buzzer in my room. I could barely hear it as my hearing was not very good. For someone with normal hearing it would have been loud. I literally thought to myself ‘How did I wake up? Did I actually hear the alarm even though I was not aware of it until I got closer to my room?’

It made me think of Daniel Goldman’s story on cortical blindness. Maybe I could hear external sounds but I was just not aware. I think this somehow relates to tinnitus which is the opposite – an awareness of sound by the brain that is not from an external source.

This may be a stretch, but my intuition tells me that I am onto something.

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