On the primacy of hearing

In an essay titled, ‘On the Primacy of Hearing,’ (first published, 1976) Moshe Feldenkrais writes:

“In the darkness of human fetal existence, there is little likelihood that seeing takes place. But even though there is no seeing, there is hearing. The fetus hears the heartbeats of the mother, the noises of her digestive tract, the noises of her breathing, the bubbling of gases, emphysematic disturbances in the breathing tract, or coughing, sneezing, and other noises connected with the digestive tract. There is little doubt that the fetus is stimulated by these many sounds, but we cannot assert that he “hears” them in the way we do: simple response to organic stimulation is very different from the hearing that takes place after personal experience and growth.
This innervation of the ear is a stimulation coming to the fetus from the “outside,” just as it later is the case when the baby “sees” the world. But we know that the neonate does not actually see the outside world when he comes into it. Unlike the ears, the eyes have not had any prior stimulation and learning. Indeed, it is generally understood that there is no seeing at all for the first few weeks, even though there is some response to light.”

An infant is, then, predominantly a hearing animal; the first experience of the world around us is initially sensory and then auditory, even though this slight priority is likely not significant. The first years of a baby’s life are passed, not so much in seeing, but in learning to walk and to speak – i.e., the infant is largely sensory and auditory in orientation. A child’s memory, its ability to imitate everything it hears, its ability to learn a first language depend on this orientation; later, however, the possibility of learning a second language reflects a greater role played by seeing.
Many people grow up without directly relating their seeing to the outside world; their internal security is based more on their hearing. Such people are especially sensitive to the inflections of the voice. The emotional content of the heard word means more to them than its meaning. In a similar way, most of us prefer to hear a teacher say something rather than read it. Even though the latter way is more exact, hearing makes seeing more concrete and easier to remember and, therefore, to understand. …
As the child first begins to be trained in reading and writing, his hearing is gradually withdrawn from most of the space around him. He learns to pay increasing attention, sometimes exclusively, to that sector of space which he sees. In general, it is the case that we see only a small part of the space around us, even though in hearing we hear from all around us.
We see here a particular instance of something very general and fundamental: in learning to direct his attention to what his eyes see, the child withdraws his general watchfulness and becomes oblivious to the greater part of the space around him.

When we arrive in the outside world we have no inkling of what it is. This is because, at first, the stimulation of the senses carries no information other than the fact that the senses are being stimulated. The beginning of our acquaintance with the outside world is not only sensory but is entirely subjective. For a long time we know only a sensorial subjective reality. We are not, however, alone: always we are in communication with other human beings – parents, teachers, etc. Without ever stopping to think about it, we behave as if all these others share the same subjective reality as we.”

NB I’m not sure how recent science confirms/ challenges any of this, but I find the thrust of it incredibly interesting…

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) (I need to check pagination) Moshe Feldenkrais ‘On the Primacy of Hearing,’ pp. ? in Ed. Elizabeth Beringer (2010) Embodied Wisdom: The Collected papers of Moshe Feldenkrais. Somatic Resources: San Diego.

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About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
This entry was posted in differently abled learners, early years education, Literate Contexts and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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