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.

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Authors & Contributors
Blume, Stuart S.
Davis, Dennis
Brownie, Stephen H
Jordan, Matt
Orland, Barbara
Kursell, Julia
Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte
East Asian Science, Technology, and Medicine
Annals of Science: The History of Science and Technology
Social Studies of Science
Science, Technology and Human Values
História, Ciências, Saúde---Manguinhos
Rutgers University Press
Harvard University
Cornell University Press
Chronos Verlag
Pennsylvania State University
University of Chicago Press
Auditory perception
Human body
Human physiology
Senses and sensation; perception
Hearing aids
Helmholtz, Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von
Stumpf, Carl
Mach, Ernst
Succi, Giovanni
Galton, Francis
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
20th century, early
21st century
18th century
United States
Soviet Union
American Telephone and Telegraph Company

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