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The Objectivist vs. Subjectivist Debate (Long)


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#1 of 57 OFFLINE   Rick_Brown

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Posted February 18 2003 - 04:21 AM

I've read many threads on this website, especially in the Audio/Video Sources page, where debates get into objective vs. subjective points of view. The most common debate centers around golden-ear subjectivists who hear things that scientific objectivists can't measure.

I think many of you would find the following quote interesting. In a book written by Leonard Peikoff, "Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand" the following passage is taken from a chapter titled "Sense, Perception and Volition":

"The function of the senses, Ayn Rand holds, is to sum up a vast range of facts, to condense a complex body of information - which reaches our conciousness in the form of a relatively few sensations. We percieve a bunch of roses, for example, as red, cool, fragrant, and yielding to the touch. Such sensations are not causeless. They are produced by a complex body of physico-chemical facts, including the lengths of the light waves the roses relect and absorb, the thermal conductivity of the petals, and the chemical makeup of their molecules, and the type of bonding between them; these facts in turn reflect the underlying atomic structures, their electronic and nuclear features, and many other aspects. Our sensations, of course, do not identify any of these facts, but they do constitute our first form of grasping them and our first lead to their later scientific discovery. Science, indeed, is nothing more than the conceptual unravelling of sensory data; it has no other primary evidence from which to proceed." (bolding is mine)

To me, this means that science should be able to explain the things that we hear when listening. If scientific measurements do not explain satisfactorily, then the science needs more work.

#2 of 57 OFFLINE   John Royster

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Posted February 18 2003 - 04:48 AM

Quote:
then the science needs more work

I couldn't agree more. And that is stilly why I use my ears to listen to music and not some other technical instrument.

#3 of 57 OFFLINE   Angelo.M

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Posted February 19 2003 - 01:29 AM

Not sure that this thread belongs in the Audio/Video Sources forum, but, I'll bite...

What exactly are you asking science to explain? Do you want a formula that tells you that a particular speaker will 'sound' better than another, or an equation that compares receivers or amplifiers? Would you like a calculus that demonstrates that SACD player #1 is superior to SACD player #2?

Your biochemical-bioeletrical-psychoacoustic interaction with sound will, in my estimation, never yield to a purely subjective, purely scientific description. You, and your non-quantifiable, non-categorizable, non-objectifiable senses are alone in this one. So, just sit back and let your ears decide.

#4 of 57 OFFLINE   george kaplan

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Posted February 19 2003 - 01:59 AM

Taking a deep breath... Posted Image

Well if you really want to be purely objective you'd have to ask science to figure out not just everything about the incoming sensory input, but also everything about the receiver, all the neural connections from ear to brain and how the brain organized it all. I do believe if you had a perfect model of everything coming in, and a perfect model of everything going on in the brain, you could come up with a perfectly objective scientific explanation.

But,

a) everyone's brain would still be wired differently, and so you and I still might perceive something different, even with the same input.

b) the real advantage of such a model would be being able to see objectively if you hear an improvement from those cables because of something different in the input, or a purely brain-induced distortion of that input to match your preconceived notions.

c) this kind of science is still a hell of a long way off.

d) however, science has already made progress in understanding perception and things like Placebo effects, which is why we have double-blind studies in the first place.
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#5 of 57 OFFLINE   Rick_Brown

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Posted February 19 2003 - 02:24 AM

Angelo, I put this thread in the Sources section as much of the objectivist/subjectivist discussions I've read often revolves around analog vs. digital, jitter, 16-bit vs. 24-bit, etc.

What do I want from science? Firstly, a series of measurements which correlates very closely to what listeners can hear. Secondly, more research into whether different people hear differently and if so, why.

#6 of 57 OFFLINE   John Royster

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Posted February 19 2003 - 02:31 AM

People do indeed hear differently, just like taste, smell, vision, etc.

The only good analogy I have is those 3d pictures (the ones that look like nothing more than random images repeated over and over) that if you stare at them long enough you'll see a 3d image. As much as I stare at them I have NEVER seen any 3d image, while the wife is assuring me that there is one. I assure her quite firmly that "no, there is not" Posted Image

#7 of 57 OFFLINE   Patrick Sun

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Posted February 19 2003 - 03:15 AM

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#8 of 57 OFFLINE   Philip Hamm

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Posted February 19 2003 - 03:47 AM

Subjective audiophiles are a peculiar lot. It takes scientists to engineer the gear they listen to, yet they ignore those very same scientists if any of their findings don't mesh with their golden eared subjectivist audiophile sensibilities.
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#9 of 57 OFFLINE   John Royster

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Posted February 19 2003 - 04:33 AM

Philip,

As an electrical engineer I build complex systems everyday. I also don't assume that science has every answer because there are so many things in the natural world that science cannot explain.

#10 of 57 OFFLINE   randy bessinger

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Posted February 19 2003 - 04:34 AM

To me the question is hear or think they hear? To explain "think they hear" means science needs to develope further in the science of psychology.

If I think I hear something but in a controlled study I can't prove it-did I really hear it?

#11 of 57 OFFLINE   Jack Briggs

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Posted February 19 2003 - 04:42 AM

What Mr. Philip Hamm said.

Firstly, a series of measurements which correlates very closely to what listeners can hear. Secondly, more research into whether different people hear differently and if so, why.


Human hearing is not infallible, and human psychology influences much of what people think they hear. There is no circuit design to enhance "front-to-back depth" or to provide a "less-veiled upper midrange."

Once a double-blind test ends up in results that aren't explained by mere chance, then the Abso!ute Sound credo might prove to be more than sheer myth (and a lucrative one at that).

#12 of 57 OFFLINE   RaulR

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Posted February 19 2003 - 06:48 AM

This sort of debate pops up in forums like these with unfailing regularity, and in the end, the only thing that isn't up for debate is the notion that

What looks and sounds the best to you is the best for you.

To which I would like to add

Just don't expect anyone else to agree with you.

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#13 of 57 OFFLINE   george king

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Posted February 19 2003 - 06:58 AM

God, I hate these threads in a way, largely because the question is almost always framed wrong. The questions are not about "hearing" - every normal individual hears the same way. The sensory physiology of audition is reasonably well understood. Any intro psych textbook will give you the basics.

The questions really revolve around the question of perception, and perception is not a simple mapping of inputs (soundwaves) to perceptions. At best, you can have Weber's and Fechner's Laws which describe simple perceptions such as loudness, but more complex perceptions (e.g., Beethoveen's 5th) are a different matter. Anyone who has looked at ambiguous figures knows the truth of this.

Preceptual psychology has a long way to go, but as the Gestalt Psychologists pointed out long ago, emergent properties in perception are rampant, and not easily amenable to quantification. Hence, a mathematical model may not be possible in this case.

Just my 2 cents.

#14 of 57 OFFLINE   ManW_TheUncool

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Posted February 19 2003 - 07:27 AM

Quote:
If I think I hear something but in a controlled study I can't prove it-did I really hear it?

OR is the study valid (or good enough)?

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#15 of 57 OFFLINE   Brent Hutto

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Posted February 19 2003 - 08:10 AM

If I think I hear something but in a controlled study I can't prove it-did I really hear it?


Whether you really heard it or not, it doesn't matter to anyone but you. A controlled study's purpose is to determine that the perception is reproducable and, if so, not simply due to chance. Meeting both of those criteria admits the possibility that it might matter to someone other than the original perceiver. And yes, I'm assuming the study was valid for its intended purpose.

#16 of 57 OFFLINE   Brent Hutto

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Posted February 19 2003 - 08:23 AM

To me, this means that science should be able to explain the things that we hear when listening. If scientific measurements do not explain satisfactorily, then the science needs more work.


In a way, you're asking to eat your cake and have it too. If "science" (which I assume to mean some particular testing method and protocol) confirms your subjective impression, then "science" has performed a service for you and you'll not only appreciate it you will also accept the validity and value of "science". OTOH, if "science" fails to confirm your subjective impression then by your definition there's some flaw in the "science".

Unfortunately, what you ask for violates the most important principle of science as it is generally agreed upon. That principle is that you have to agree or not agree with the hypothesis and the proposed means of testing it before you get to see the results!

#17 of 57 OFFLINE   Lee Scoggins

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Posted February 19 2003 - 10:11 AM

Quote:
d) however, science has already made progress in understanding perception and things like Placebo effects, which is why we have double-blind studies in the first place.


DBTs have not proven useful in distinguishing subtle effects and are very hard to implement. That is why there are few full-blown DBT studies on the AES paper archive for instance.

Audio is a highly complex experience. It takes some subjectivity to really understand what is going on.

Quote:
It takes scientists to engineer the gear they listen to, yet they ignore those very same scientists if any of their findings don't mesh with their golden eared subjectivist audiophile sensibilities.


Philip,

Even your assumption is wrong here. Most high end companies also listen to their equipment subjectively. Many audiophiles recognize this and do the same. On some topics, science is helpful. For instance, see the recent thread on jitter (pages 4+5):

http://www.hometheat....hreadid=122301

Here science can measure the effect very well, even lay a theoretical basis for audibility to 20 picoseconds, but it takes an audiophile to know that it correlates well with a smearing of individual instruments.

Quote:
Human hearing is not infallible, and human psychology influences much of what people think they hear.


While there are some psychological impacts, no one has established that these effects completely swamp valid subjective judgments.

Quote:
There is no circuit design to enhance "front-to-back depth" or to provide a "less-veiled upper midrange."


I totally disagree. High end designers have found certain designs and implementations that allow for better quality soundstage depth and enhanced midrange. What is lacking is a single measure or two that objectively measures the existance of such. Here's another example from my work on audiophile records: instrument tonality. How do measure that? You don't. You listen for it and you make adjustments by trial and error.

Is it so bad that audio is art and science? that life is?

No, I think it is awesome that science can't measure everything.
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#18 of 57 OFFLINE   John Royster

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Posted February 19 2003 - 10:42 AM

Lee to your point about tone.

If two guitars are tuned to exactly a440 then why do they sound different? Can we measure that?

#19 of 57 OFFLINE   Lee Scoggins

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Posted February 19 2003 - 10:44 AM

Quote:
Our sensations, of course, do not identify any of these facts, but they do constitute our first form of grasping them and our first lead to their later scientific discovery. Science, indeed, is nothing more than the conceptual unravelling of sensory data; it has no other primary evidence from which to proceed." (bolding is mine)


Rick,

As I reread the quote with interest, a couple of things strike me. Objectivism as Ayn Rand practices it is very different than the definition of objectivist in audio (that science explains everything). Second, why is this quote inconsistent with science eplaining part of the audio event but not all of it?

In other words, science can unravel some of the sensory data but not necessarily all of it...

Take jitter, my example of the week Posted Image Jitter is easily explained by audio engineers and subjectivists see a big correlation with several audio phenomena. But it took subjectivist audiophiles to discover jitter audibility. This happend around 91-92, science did not explain transport differences until someone looked into it after audiophiles noted the subtle differences....

The question becomes: what else is science missing today?

The goal is not to beat up on science, which I have a favorable opinion of, but to recognize real limitations.
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#20 of 57 OFFLINE   george kaplan

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Posted February 19 2003 - 11:19 AM

DBTs have not proven useful in distinguishing subtle effects and are very hard to implement.
Well I'm not sure what you're referring to. Well implemented double-blind studies have been used in science for a long time now. They are not particularly difficult to implement. As far as their being able to distinguish 'subtle' effects, if by 'subtle' you mean ones that are cannot be consistently noticed because they are beneath the limen, then I hardly think they would be of great interest to a listener.

On the other hand, if by 'subtle', you mean a small, but real and supraliminal effect, then I don't see why a double-blind study couldn't consistently find it.
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