When Are My Ears Better Than My Senses?

Sometimes this question is asked by patients who have ear problems. But I often come across many of my peers who have no difficulty with their ears. Even I struggle to describe the difference between a clean and dirty ear. So I’ll ask. And then, I’m going to ask.

My friend recently asked for the difference between a dirty ear (“I feel that is the only way to describe the difference between a dirty ear and no ear”) and a clean ear ((“The clean ear is exactly what it sounds like. It is absolutely smooth and clean, exactly like the ear of someone who has never been to the gym and has been playing with his nose all his life. No dirt, no grime. No earwax, no nothing”).

When I heard his question, I thought that maybe he was having a hard time telling the difference between a dirty and clean ear, but in my experience, he could. After all, the sound of the dirtiest of dirtier dirt isn’t at all a pleasure to listen to, but just like a nose is the only part of our body that really gets to the point of having any odor, we have to get used to the sound of dirtiness. This is a very important point. It is because of this point I know how my ears can be used to “clean” their own ears.

But when we look at someone who’s never been to the gym and has never been to the gym, what does the human ear do? What is the human ear doing when there is no dirt?

As it turns out, the human ear is in many ways our most sensitive sense. Our ears are so sensitive that some of the noises we hear every day as they occur are no more than a whisper compared to our ears, which, if left on their own, can hear sounds so loud (at their very weakest point) that even a police siren could be heard over them!

This is why I believe that a clean ear for me is a much happier ear than my friend’s ear, as I know what it means to be clean and yet still able to hear (at least to me) something so simple as a train whistle or the buzz of a television set. And it is also why it is possible to understand how someone without trouble distinguishing between a dirty and a clean ear, still can recognize that the “clean” ear is a more pleasant, pleasurable one. So it will be no less pleasant to listen to the noises my friend has just described as being “dirty” than it will be to listen to the noises he is describing being “clean”.

This also explains why it is easier to hear what somebody else is saying and more likely to tell us if we are wrong than it is to hear what we’ve said (to ourselves).

One reason why dirtiness has such a strong physical reaction to the human ear was first noted by Paul Broca , the discoverer of speech . He described what he called  an “injury to the ear”:

The ear is sensitive to the touch of all kinds of foreign bodies and to other sounds. This makes it the main organ of sense of hearing, since the sense of touch is not very extensive. If the ear of a human being has been injured, the auditory apparatus becomes quite sensitive to all kinds of new sounds, although it can also detect and distinguish the sounds it has always heard. In short, we can say that the injured ear is extremely sensitive to all new sounds and noises, and very sensitive still to the sounds it has long heard. It responds to the change in the external condition and to the movement of body parts. This is the reason why an injury to the ear of a human being causes a change in behavior. For a human being, hearing a sound or voice is like listening to the noise a horse goes past.