The fastest sense to reach our attention facilities is sound. We react too slowly to light. Sound is physical-electrical. Waves hit eardrum, moving hammers, down cochlea from high to low frequency, physically buzzing sympathetic hairs, instantly converting to electrical signals. 50ms later (20 hertz – familiar? It should be), the ALR (auditory late response), then between 135-175 ms (a length of 40ms), the MMN (Mismatch Negativity) which gauges whether you’re hearing the same sound or something novel. All technically pre-attentive. But it’s a funny thing: Musicians can have attentive access even at the MMN stage of awareness, long before the P400 (400ms which is where the fully formed grammatical system is ready, where you can think, “Ew, I don’t like that”), and certainly by the P300 (300ms), which is either considered pre-attentive or attentive depending on how you look at it.

The fastest sense to [read full article]