Corks, Ears, and Eyes, Oh My!

I recently read this question, I’m curious to hear what you think!

Someone (maybe Helmholtz) suggested the following way of thinking about how our eyes and ears interpret light and sound. Imagine that you are standing at the edge of a lake. If you use your eyes, you can get an enormous amount of detailed information about the lake and its surroundings: trees on the shore, birds on the lake, cars and trucks traveling on a road nearby…. However, suppose you could only look at two corks floating side by side near you on the surface of the lake. How much could you deduce about the lake and surroundings by simply observing and interpreting the movements of the two corks? In fact, that is what your ears (and brain) do if you think of your eardrums as the corks!

Explain and evaluate the validity of the contrast between seeing and hearing described above. What characteristics and properties of light and sound does it depend upon? What is (or are) the key difference(s) between the behavior of light and sound, and between the operation of our eyes and ears, that give rise to the dramatic contrast between seeing and hearing described in the above paragraph.

Please leave your comments!

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