A guide to how we hear the things we hear

By Martin Jurek


You’ve done it again.

You’ve done something completely ridiculous that you didn’t even realize was ridiculous until your spouse pointed it out, making you wonder how you managed to survive all those years without his or her watchful eye.

Words are spoken – sometimes heated words. Those words travel menacingly toward your ear in the form of sound waves, which are scooped up by your treasonous outer ear (or “pinna”) and ruthlessly amplified as they’re funneled about 2.5 centimeters down your ear canal toward your eardrum.

Your eardrum (or “tympanic membrane”) vibrates and transmits the sound waves to your ossicular chain, comprised of a hammer (“malleus”), anvil (“incus”) and stirrup (“stapes”). These, the three smallest bones in your body, further amplify the sound and transmit it to the cochlea – a pea-sized, fluid-filled cavity in your inner ear.

The cochlea is where the magic happens. Nestled within its fluid are about 15,000 microscopic hair cells, each tuned to a different frequency. (In Canadians, a full 78% are specifically tuned to conversations about hockey and the weather.) These hair cells are connected to the cochlea nerve, which sends your spouse’s colourful adjectives to be interpreted – and, in the case of most relationships, subsequently ignored – by your brain.

And that’s how you hear.

Though I may be biased, I firmly believe hearing is the most amazing of our five senses. The smallest perceptible sound moves your eardrum only four atomic diameters; the loudest is a trillion times more powerful. If your eyesight had the same range, on a dark night you’d be able to see a candle flickering 48 trillion kilometres away!

What’s the take-away? Effective communication depends on your hearing. And while perfect hearing doesn’t guarantee you’ll be a good listener, I can guarantee you won’t be if your hearing is compromised.

Martin Jurek is a Registered Hearing Instrument Practitioner and co-owner of Campbell River Hearing Clinic with his wife Jana. To learn more, visit or call 250-914-3200.

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