Center Calendar

"The Perception of Silence" - Chaz Firestone, Johns Hopkins University, Assistant Professor

Tuesday, February 20, 2024, 02:00pm - 03:30pm

152 Frelinghuysen Rd, Psych Bldg, Busch Campus, Room 105

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Abstract: What do we hear? An intuitive and canonical answer is that we hear *sounds* — a friend’s voice, a clap of thunder, a minor chord. But can we also perceive the *absence* of sound? When we pause for a moment of silence, attend to the interval between thunderclaps, or sit with a piece of music that has ended, do we positively hear silence? Or do we simply fail to hear, and only know or judge that silence has occurred? Philosophical accounts of audition have long held that our encounter with silence is cognitive, not perceptual, hewing to a traditional view that we can only perceive "positivities", and not "negative" objects like silences and other absences. Yet, silence perception has not been subject to direct empirical investigation. Here, I introduce an empirical approach to the hypothesis that silence is genuinely perceived. Across multiple case studies, I'll show (both through experimental data and subjectively appreciable demonstrations) that silences can "substitute" for sounds in illusions of auditory eventhood -- and thus that silences can serve as the objects of auditory perception. This work also paves the way for empirical approaches to absence perception more generally, with consequences for broader questions about the objects of perception, representations of negative properties, and other foundational issues at the intersection of the philosophy and psychology of perception.

Bio: Chaz Firestone
Dr. Chaz Firestone is Assistant Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences and Director of the Hopkins Perception & Mind Laboratory. His research explores how perception -- our means of contact with the external world -- interacts with the rest of the mind.