Article ID: CBB277780137

Purkyně’s Opistophone: the hearing ‘Deaf’, auditory attention and organic subjectivity in Prague psychophysical experiments, ca 1850s (2022)


The paper examines the little-known experiments in audition performed by the prominent experimental physiologist Jan Purkyně in Prague in the 1850s. Purkyně’s original research on spatial hearing and auditory attention is studied against the backdrop of the nineteenth century research on binaural audition and the nascent field of psychophysics. The article revolves around an acoustic research instrument of Purkyně’s own making, the opistophone, in which hearing became both an object of investigation and an instrument of scientific inquiry. It argues that Purkyně’s understanding of auditory attention, which combined acoustic stimulation, physiological conditions, and sensory training, preceded a similar approach to hearing in psychophysical debates in the second half of the nineteenth century. Purkyně was the first scholar to experimentally investigate intracranial sounds, which he studied in his experiments with the inmates of the Prague Institute of Deaf-Mutes. This research on intracranial hearing was part of Purkyně’s study of so-called organic subjectivity, in which subjective hearing experience was interpreted as the result of the interaction between individual perception and objective acoustic phenomena.

Citation URI

Similar Citations

Chapter Danielle Coriale; (2017)
Reading through Deafness: Francis Galton and the Strange Science of Psychophysics (/isis/citation/CBB391179433/)

Thesis Steege, Benjamin Adam; (2007)
Material Ears: Hermann von Helmholtz, Attention, and Modern Aurality (/isis/citation/CBB001560571/)

Article Kursell, Julia; (2008)
Hermann von Helmholtz und Carl Stumpf über Konsonanz und Dissonanz (/isis/citation/CBB000930026/)

Article Ruben E. Verwaal; (2021)
Fluid deafness: earwax and hardness of hearing in early modern Europe (/isis/citation/CBB379468510/)

Book Blume, Stuart S.; (2010)
The Artificial Ear: Cochlear Implants and the Culture of Deafness (/isis/citation/CBB001031571/)

Article Blume, Stuart; (1997)
The rhetoric and counter-rhetoric of a “Bionic” technology (/isis/citation/CBB001181165/)

Book Jaipreet Virdi; (2020)
Hearing Happiness: Deafness Cures in History (/isis/citation/CBB945172024/)

Book Blume, Stuart S.; (2010)
The artificial ear: Cochlear implants and the culture of deafness (/isis/citation/CBB001181168/)

Thesis Mills, Mara C.; (2008)
The Dead Room: Deafness and Communication Engineering (/isis/citation/CBB001560646/)

Article Blume, Stuart; (2000)
Land of hope and glory: Exploring cochlear implantation in the Netherlands (/isis/citation/CBB001181166/)

Article Kim Sune Jepsen; T. Margareta Bertilsson; (2015)
Wired to Freedom: Life Science, Public Politics, and the Case of Cochlear Implantation (/isis/citation/CBB380160269/)

Book Josh Doty; (2020)
The Perfecting of Nature: Reforming Bodies in Antebellum Literature (/isis/citation/CBB390733948/)

Article Agustí Nieto-Galan; (2020)
Useful charlatans: Giovanni Succi and Stefano Merlatti’s fasting contest in Paris, 1886 (/isis/citation/CBB339479544/)

Book Claire L. Shaw; (2017)
Deaf in the USSR: Marginality, Community, and Soviet Identity, 1917-1991 (/isis/citation/CBB205072501/)

Book Adin E. Lears; (2020)
World of Echo: Noise and Knowing in Late Medieval England (/isis/citation/CBB394368465/)

Thesis Kahle, Shannon A.; (2010)
Visualizing the Chaotic Body in Popular Culture (/isis/citation/CBB001567170/)

Authors & Contributors
Blume, Stuart S.
Jepsen, Kim Sune
Danielle Coriale
Ruben E. Verwaal
Adin E. Lears
B. Josh Doty
Social Studies of Science
Science, Technology, and Human Values
Science in Context
Public Understanding of Science
Medical History
History of Science
Rutgers University Press
Cornell University Press
Harvard University
The University of North Carolina Press
University of Chicago Press
Chronos Verlag
Auditory perception
Human physiology
Human body
Hearing aids
Medical technology
Helmholtz, Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von
Succi, Giovanni
Stumpf, Carl
Mach, Ernst
Galton, Francis
Time Periods
19th century
20th century, early
20th century
21st century
United States
American Telephone and Telegraph Company

Be the first to comment!

{{ comment.created_by.username }} on {{ comment.created_on | date:'medium' }}

Log in or register to comment