Sound, Ears, & Hearing: What's Really Going On?

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Vote up the most interesting facts about how hearing, sound, and ears work.

What is sound? Most people are barely conscious of the noises that surround them every day, but your brain is actually putting a lot of effort into hearing and processing the world around you. How do you recognize and respond to your environment? How can you tell that you're listening to music when the radio is on, and not just random noise? How does your ear pick up sounds in the first place?

All of these details go a long way toward helping you understand the physical nature of the world and keep you aware of potential risks, but a lot of this process happens on a subconscious level and is easily taken for granted. This list of sound facts breaks down the world of sound to find out what's really going on and explains just how it works.

  • 1
    10 VOTES

    Sound Is All in the Vibrations

    The physical phenomenon of sound is a vibration of molecules as a mechanical wave through a medium, like air or water. Sounds are created when objects vibrate enough to cause these waves at a frequency your ear can detect, such as beating a drum or strumming a guitar string. The characteristics of the sound - whether it is uniform or distorted - depend on the oscillation of particles in the medium. 
    10 votes
  • 2
    5 VOTES

    The Three Smallest Bones in the Human Body Are Ear Bones

    The Three Smallest Bones in the Human Body Are Ear Bones
    Photo: / Wikimedia Commons
    In the middle ear, which unsurprisingly lies between the outer ear and the inner ear, are the ossicles - three tiny bones that vibrate to transfer sound from the eardrum to the cochlea. They are called the malleus, the incus, and the stapes, which are Latin for the hammer, the anvil, and the stirrup, respectively.
    5 votes
  • 3
    7 VOTES

    Ears' Asymmetrical Shapes Tell You Where a Sound Comes From

    Ears' Asymmetrical Shapes Tell You Where a Sound Comes From
    Photo: Bartleby / Wikimedia Commons
    The weirdly shaped fleshy outside part of the ear is called the auricle, or the pinna as it's commonly known with mammals. Because of its asymmetry, the auricle allows us detect the origin of sounds vertically, so we can tell if it's coming from above or below us.
    7 votes
  • 4
    11 VOTES

    We Perceive Sound with Neural Impulses

    We Perceive Sound with Neural Impulses
    Photo: Morten Bisgaard / Wikimedia Commons
    Basically, our ears detect the mechanical vibrations of sounds and transform them into neural impulses perceived by the brain. When the sound wave reaches the ear, it makes the eardrum vibrate following the waveform of the sound, allowing us to identify it.
    11 votes
  • 5
    4 VOTES

    Your Voice Sounds Different to You Because of Bone Conduction

    If you've ever heard a recording of your voice and had trouble believing it was you, there's actually a scientific reason for it. It's because of bone conduction, which is the conduction of sound through the skull to the inner ear. Because the skull conducts lower frequencies of sound better than air, your own voice tends to sound deeper and fuller to you than to other people. In other words, "It's not you, it's me!"
    4 votes
  • 6
    8 VOTES

    There Are Fluids and Lots of Tiny Hairs in Your Inner Ear

    There Are Fluids and Lots of Tiny Hairs in Your Inner Ear
    Photo: Oarih / Wikimedia Commons
    The cochlea is a spiral-shaped organ in the inner ear, shown in cross-section in the image above. This is where the neural impulses from sound are generated. It is filled with a fluid that vibrates in response to the sound waves coming into the ear, stimulating thousands of tiny hair cells that produce the neurotransmission of sound to the brain.
    8 votes