name for auditory phenomenon?

This is something that happens to me in crowded public places where I’m surrounded by people engaged in not-particularly-quiet chatter, e.g. in a very busy diner or in an audience before a concert begins. Periodically, my spatial perception of the sound field around me falters; it’s almost like the sound “turns inside out”. This peculiar sensation persists for 5-10 seconds, and then my sense of spatial perception returns. If I linger in that environment, this phenomenon seems to repeat every few minutes.

This is not something that happens when the sources of sounds are distinct and few, e.g. if I’m in a room with just a few people chatting. It also seems uniquely associated with human conversation; I don’t think I’ve ever experienced it in a situation with non-human sounds, as when listening to a turbulent river or a busy factory floor.

Anyone else ever experienced this? Is there a name for it?

Sensory Gating?

If I understand your description, are you describing how your brain will filter out all the little sounds around you so its just kind of one noise, like in a loud public place with lots of noise, but then every so often if you start paying attention, this will begin to lapse and all the little individual noises will come back in, I’ll notice sometimes this will happen repeatedly throughout the time you are in that place.

I also found this:

Fascinating topic, the brain and neurology of the perceptual apparatus.

Which is a truly cold thing to say in a conversation with you, Machine, and I’m sorry to hear of your misfortune.

ETA: And I didn’t even realize a pun was there, which would’ve been truly truly cold if I had meant it. :slight_smile:

Not a misfortune, really. I don’t get dizzy or nauseous or disoriented, and it doesn’t seem to happen when I’m actively engaged in a conversation. Mostly it’s just this interesting thing that happens, and it makes me wonder how my brain works.

Pool’s links may touch on touch on neurological issues that factor into what I’m experiencing. It’s hard to tell for sure, because it’s hard to describe very clearly what I’m experiencing.

I have felt odd in the reverse situation, a noise absorption area. See the link to the acoustical muffler for NASA’s 8x6 transonic wind tunnel:

Those muffler chambers were designed by MIT in the late 1940s in response to the high noise levels of the 8x6, called by the press an “87,000 hp bugle pointed at the heart of Cleveland”. The walls, floors and ceilings are perforated metal covering various sizes of small chambers which are filled with acoustic dampening material. There are also unfilled chambers of varying sizes you can see. It is extremely effective.

We had to walk through there every day on tunnel check. The instant you cross the threshold into a chamber it is another world. No echoes at all. No outside sounds. It is hard to hear someone a few feet away speaking and their voice is flat and ends abruptly after each word. It actually made me feel like I couldn’t breath!

You proceed soundlessly to the far end, illuminated only by the cone of light from your flashlight. I sometimes turned off the light and it felt like you were floating. Then you enter a different kind of chamber. This one had acoustic panels on all the walls but none (deliberately) on the floor or ceiling. Wow, what a difference! Now, every sound you make lasts a very long time with no disrupting sounds bouncing back from the sides. Snap your fingers and the sound echoes for several seconds and slowly fades away. I always thought Duane Eddy would have had a field day recording in there.


mixdenny that’s fascinating. It helps explain a book scene I’ve struggled with. Very helpful - thank you!

Ditto mixdenny. Great description of environment very very few people have ever experienced. (Walking through echoing chambers and churches is filly well-known.)