How we listen Animals vs. Humans

February 29, 2012

I just read Justin’s post and his observation of how animals are denoted as being deep listeners brought back my own encounters with various animals. I feel as though it’s common sense that dogs, cats, possums, etc. have a much more sensitive ear than humans. I’ve never truly sat down to think about it, though. It’s always been a knowledge I considered as “just there” such as “grass is green” or “the sky is blue.” We never stop and ask why? I know there have been many occasions where I’m walking home from the library or from work and out of the corner of my eye, I spot a possum or skunk up the road. Every time, as soon as I see the animal, it is already frozen in place looking in my direction. I know this is because it hears me approaching even though I’m two blocks away. If I were unable to see, I wonder if I would even here the animal at all, let alone from that distance.

Why is this? Is it because their ears are more fully developed and have a far greater capacity than human ears? I agree with Justin’s thought that all animals (including humans) are naturally deep listeners in order to survive. Maybe we could hear just as well as animals do but we choose not to. For animals, though, it’s more than just having an exceptional sense of hearing, they can pin point sounds (such as me walking down the street) out of all the other noises surrounding them. Perhaps this is an evolutionary trait in order for them to sustain life in the wild.

The thought of ear adaptation fascinates me. Loud sounds that are frightening to animals (e.g a vacuum or thunder and lightning) are more of an annoyance or even a comfort for humans. We are reared into a world where these sounds are normal and we associate them with non threatening apparatuses. However, our animal-like characteristics come out when we’re walking down the street at night and we hear footsteps in our general vicinity. Much like animals freeze and search for the origin of the sound, we too feel a surge of paranoia until we have identified the creator of the noise as “non-threatening.” Our hearing has become severely desensitized over the billions of years we have existed as a species and I believe it has a lot to do with evolution. Were we as perceptive as animals in the cave man era? Can we train ourselves to get back to that point?

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