Festivals I - Shavout - Seeing Sound

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By leonaz on August 22, 2010 -- 7:52pm

This is in memory of the passing of Steven Harry Smith. After a long fight with heart disease, Steve left us on August 19, 2010.  He leaves behind 62 years of exceptional memories of travel, exploration and professionalism; He was a thought leader and a mentor. His is keen ability to assess business opportunities in technology and insightfulness as to positioning of products was astounding.  He was one of the first sales professionals for ADP and maintained a top performer status for over 15 years. He moved on to different products and services over his career.  Eventually, he finished his undergraduate degree at Queens College which lead him to Associate Professor Sales Programs at Russ Berry Institute, New Jersey. Our dear friend Steve leaves behind numerous dedicated friends and relatives (three sisters and two brothers).  He was a nature lover and found comfort in music every day.  May he rest in peace and may his family find comfort during this difficult time.


By Batya on April 4, 2013 -- 4:57pm

How can we understand that by Har Sinai, the Jews SAW SOUND, knowing that everything in the Torah has both a literal and deeper/spiritual meaning?

The difference between sound and sight is that through sight you see a full picture, whereas with sound, you hear one sound at a time, which then forms words, which form sentences and stories. One sound alone is just part of a bigger entity, while something we see with our eyes is a complete picture.

By the tower of Bavel, the world of speech was shattered; each person spoke a different language, there was no understanding, and therefore no unity. If you look in the Talmud that was written in Bavel, the Talmud Bavli, you will see that the way it is written is through separate pieces of information. First it proves why something could be considered right, then disproves it, then proves why another solution could be right, and then comes to a conclusion. The whole Talmud Bavli is a work that brings broken pieces of information together.

The word Shema not only means listen, but gather. When we say “Shema Yisrael…..Echad,” we are not saying “Hear, O’Israel,” but “Gather, Israel,” gather yourselves and the rest of the world to realize that Hashem is One, and that everything in this world that seems to be a unique entity is truly part of Hashem. If you take the two letter in this pasuk that are larger than the others, the ayin and daled, they spell the word Ayd, witness, because we, the Jewish people, were witnesses to Hashems oneness by Har Sinai, and our job is to testify to the fact and bring that truth to the world. If you take those two letters and flip them around, you spell the word Dah, know. Because we SAW, we KNOW with full knowledge that Hashem is true, because sight is the faculty that brings us to a full belief, and it is the only faculty with the power to prove the truth of a fact.

By Har Sinai, the Jews gathered “Like one man with one heart” (says Rashi on the Pasuk “Vayichan shum Yisrael neged Hahar, which is written in single tense instead of plural). At Har Sinai, the Upper Worlds met the Lower Worlds; G-d came down to earth. When Hashem spoke, the world not only heard the words, but they “saw” the words, meaning that when Hashem spoke, the world was given the clarity that Hashem controls and creates every aspect of the universe. This is the true meaning of sight; seeing something so clearly that you know that you can discern the truth of it.

Before Adam sinned, the world was ‘transparent.’ There was no coverings, no klippos (shells) blinding us from seeing hashems true role in the World. If one person looked at another then, they would not just see a body, but the essence, the neshama (soul), of that person. Each person was able to see the spark of G-dliness in the other.

Once Chava ate from the tree of knowledge, true knowledge was hidden from us; now we only see the hides, the shells, the coverings and skin, and not the inner and holy being we are made of. Onece we sinned, we could no longer see how the word of Hashem was the same thing as His creation. Before the sin, if Hashem said “Let there be a cow,” we would be able to see that the cow was created from the when Hashem said the word “cow,” and that the cow embodied Hashem’s word.

Our job now is to unify the world; to find the G-dliness where it is hidden and recognize that everything is truly from Hashem and a dimension of Him.

By Sam on June 18, 2014 -- 11:54pm

1.) It seems to be implied that hearing and vision operate on a higher spiritual plane than olfaction. However, I was under the impression that smell is the highest of the senses-for instance, the Arizal says that the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge distorted all senses except that of smell. It says in Bereishit regarding Hashem’s insertion of a soul into Adam: ‘Vayipach B’Apav Nishmat Chaim’; indicating that the soul entered man through the nose. Similarly, Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer teaches that prior to the time of Yaakov Avinu people would die by sneezing, such that the soul left along the path that it entered. The Gemorrah (Brachot 43b) states that the pleasure of smell is the only modality that benefits the soul and not the body and that Moshiach will judge people by their smell (Sanhedrin 93b) etc.
Indeed, the olfactory nerve projects directly to the olfactory bulb without having to be relayed via the thalamus (as is the case for the auditory and visual modalities; Shipley & Reyes, 1991), and reduced olfactory sensitivity is associated with heightened risk for hallucinations and delusory thought (Mohr et al., 2001).
How is it, then, that the Kabbalistic sources cited appear to state that sight and hearing are more elevated than smell?
References 1
Mohr, C., Röhrenbach, C. M., Laska, M., & Brugger, P. (2001). Unilateral olfactory perception and magical ideation. Schizophrenia Research, 47(2), 255-264.

Shipley, M.T. and Reyes, P. (1991) Anatomical of the human olfactory bulb and central olfactory pathways. In Laing, D.G., Doty, R.L. and Breipohl, W. (eds), The Human Sense of Smell. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, pp. 29–60.


By Sam on June 18, 2014 -- 11:56pm

2.) I struggle with the idea that, relative to hearing, the faculty of vision is both objective and involves simultaneous processing of all inputs. There are numerous places in Torah where we see the visual percept being distorted by biased interpretation. For example, the Gemorrah (Sanhedrin 104b) asks why the positions of the verses in Eicha that start with the letters Ayin and Peh are reversed (the psukim in Eicha are arranged acrostically). The answer given is that the M’Raglim (whose sin occurred on Tish B’Av, when Eicha is read) ‘said with the mouth (peh) what they did not see with the eye (ayin)’. Based on the interpretation in Sotah (35) of the words ‘Vayeilchu Vayavou’, in which it states that the M’Raglim began their mission with an Eitza Raah, many later commentators (including Rav Moshe Shapiro) understand the Gemorrah in Sanhedrin to mean that what the M’Raglim saw was biased by their prior negative expectations (i.e. what they said to themselves). Similarly, it says in Bereishit of Chava ‘VaTeireh HaIsha Ki Tov Haeitz L’Maachel’. Since one cannot see taste, this implies that her faculty of sight was in some way distorted. Likewise, Cesar’s daughter was surprised to see that the beauty of Torah could be held in a vessel as ugly as Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Chananya (Taanit 7a), indicating that she was misled by visual appearance.
There is also strong empirical evidence to contradict the view that vision is totally objective. A famous experiment by Hastorf and Cantril (1954) demonstrated that football fans were highly biased in their evaluation of the number of fouls committed by the two teams in a football game - fans of each side tended to interpret their own teams’ behaviour much more favourably, even though all fans viewed exactly the same video of the game. Asch (1951) showed that people’s ability to make very easy length discrimination judgements of viewed lines was distorted when they witnessed the inaccurate judgements made by groups of confederates prior to their own decision. Simons and Chabriss (1999) have found that people often fail to notice highly visible and unusual events (e.g. a man in a gorilla suit interrupting a game of basketball) when their attention is directed away from these events (which are quickly noticed when attention is not diverted). Hugenburg and Bodenhausen (2004) showed that people who scored highly on a measure of racial bias were more likely to perceive ambiguous facial expressions as evincing anger when the face was black as opposed to white. Finally, the fact that some optical illusions can give rise to one of two totally different precepts for different people or at different times (e.g. Andrews et al., 2002) demonstrates that vision is not totally objective. It is clear, therefore, that the visual percept experienced by a person is not simply a result of the light impinging upon their retinas. Rather, visual precepts arise through an interaction of prior expectations, attention, motivation and visual input, such that two people experiencing the same input can perceive different things.
The seemingly self-evident claim that inputs are processed simultaneously in the visual modality (without the need to compare inputs across different temporal windows) is also subject to both scriptural and empirical challenge. For instance, one of the deepest displays of inner feeling was the dance performed by David HaMelech as the Aron returned to Yerushalayim. Clearly, perception of a dance cannot occur in a single instant because the movements of a dance unfold with the passage of time-viewing a series of still images of the successive postural stages would remove much of the emotional content of the moving percept.
There is also an empirical problem with the view of vision as involving purely instantaneous processing. For instance, motion information is important in facial recognition (O’Toole et al., 2002), and this motion can only be processed by comparing inputs received at different points in time. Please explain how these difficulties can be resolved?

I imagine that the answer may make reference to the idea that vision as we currently know it is in a fallen state as a consequence of the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge and the subsequent continuous decline in mankind’s spiritual standing. However, if it is the case that vision as we currently experience it is distorted by bias, how can the observation of the functioning of this same visual system lead to the conclusion that vision is totally objective?

By Sam on June 18, 2014 -- 11:57pm

References 2
Andrews, T. J., Schluppeck, D., Homfray, D., Matthews, P., & Blakemore, C. (2002). Activity in the fusiform gyrus predicts conscious perception of Rubin’s vase–face illusion. Neuroimage, 17(2), 890-901
Asch, S. E. (1951). Effects of group pressure upon the modification and distortion of judgments. Groups, leadership, and men, 222-236.
Hastorf, A. H., & Cantril, H. (1954). They saw a game; a case study. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 49(1), 129.
Hugenberg, K., & Bodenhausen, G. V. (2004). Ambiguity in social categorization the role of prejudice and facial affect in race categorization. Psychological Science, 15(5), 342-345
O’Toole, A. J., Roark, D. A., & Abdi, H. (2002). Recognizing moving faces: A psychological and neural synthesis. Trends in cognitive sciences, 6(6), 261-266
Simons, D. J., & Chabris, C. F. (1999). Gorillas in our midst: Sustained inattentional blindness for dynamic events. Perception-London, 28(9), 1059-1074.

By Sam on June 18, 2014 -- 11:59pm

3.) Given that we have a principle that examination of a part or faculty of the body can be used to infer the nature of the associated higher source (as described in e.g. Shomer Emunin Hakadmon, among numerous others), are we permitted to use findings from modern biology to further inform our mystical understanding? If so, I offer the following suggestion:
Vast regions of the brain are devoted to both visual and auditory processing (Rosenzweig et al., 1999). There is strong evidence (and a general scientific consensus) that in both the auditory and visual domains, processing occurs through two different streams (the term ‘stream’ denoting the flow of neural activity up a hierarchy of brain regions that process progressively more complex properties of the input). These are referred to as the dorsal stream and ventral stream (Milner & Goodale, 2008). In the visual domain, the dorsal stream is devoted to the processing of the properties of a viewed stimulus that are relevant for action. For example, brain cells in dorsal stream regions often activate differentially as a function of the type of grasping motion that would be appropriate for picking up a viewed object (Murata et al., 2000). Brain imaging studies show that performing grasping actions produces activity in dorsal but not ventral regions (Culham et al., 2003). Damage to brain regions in dorsal stream areas produces deficits in producing visually-guided actions but does not impair object recognition or verbal judgements of visual features such as orientation (Himmelbach & Karnach, 2005). Conversely, ventral stream regions are involved in processing identity information about viewed stimuli as opposed to the actions that they afford. Lesions to ventral stream brain areas impair object recognition abilities but do not cause decrements in visually-guided actions directed towards the objects that can no longer be recognised (James et al., 2003). Brain imaging studies show that object recognition tasks give rise to activity in ventral but not dorsal areas (Bar et al., 2001). Thus, there is extensive evidence to support the view of a divergence of function between the dorsal and ventral streams.
Indeed, there are some optical illusions whose influence is specific to one stream. For example, in the Ebbinghaus illusion people’s estimates of the relative size of two circles are biased by the interfering effects of the items surrounding the circles (type ‘Ebbinghaus illusion’ into google images for a demonstration). Agliotti et al. (1995) have shown that, whilst this illusion influences people’s stated size judgements, it does NOT affect the size of the grip aperture that they produce when attempting to grab the circles-this means that only the ventral stream is fooled by the illusion.

By Sam on June 19, 2014 -- 12:01am

It thus emerges that the brain possesses separate pathways for processing the visual inputs necessary for action and for explicit judgements-the visual stream is often referred to as the ‘what’ pathway and the dorsal stream is termed the ‘how’ pathway. It is not difficult to see that the functions of the two streams correspond strongly to the duality in the declaration of ‘Naaseh V’Nishma’. Naaseh ,  which relates to action, corresponds to the dorsal ‘how’ pathway, whereas Nishmah, which relates to understanding, corresponds to the ‘what’ pathway.

The dorsal stream is formed of occipito-parietal regions and is therefore closer to the top of the head than the ventral stream, alluding to the importance of action over comprehension. Similarly, it has been shown that the dorsal stream operates with temporal primacy in comparison to the ventral stream (Jeannerod, 2006). For example, Goodale et al. (1986) asks participants in their experiment to point to an object on a screen as soon as they saw it appear. On some trials, the object moved a short distance shortly after its appearance. Participants did not notice this movement, but awareness of it was nevertheless evident from an examination of their pointing trajectories. This indicates that information becomes available to dorsal stream processing earlier than it becomes available to the ventral stream.

A similar dorsal/ventral divide is seen in the processing of speech. Here, the dorsal stream is involved in the reproduction of heard sounds (i.e. mapping sound to action) whilst the ventral stream identifies the semantic and syntactic properties of words or other meaningful sounds (i.e. mapping sound to meaning; see Hickok & Poeppel, 2007 for a comprehensive review). However, in the auditory domain, the dorsal stream is not located at a higher anatomical position than the ventral stream and there is no evidence for a dorsal temporal primacy.
We see, therefore, that in vision the characteristics of the Nasseh and Nishmah streams allude to the primacy of Naaseh, whereas this is not the case for auditory processing. This is highly consistent with the Kabbalistic principle that vision is subject to less perceptual distortion as a consequence of processing biases than the auditory modality. Specifically, in the battle against Amalek (embodying the notion of doubt and inaccurate perception) detailed in Parshat B’Shalach, it is recounted that Bnei Yisroel’s military supremacy was contingent on the relative positions of Moshe’s hands and head. When the hands were held above the head, Bne Yisroel prevailed. Rabbi Akiva Tatz notes that the hands (representing action) being held above the head (representing comprehension) links to the idea of Naaseh coming before Nishmah, meaning that the perceptual distortions introduced by Amalek can be countered by prioritising performance of the Mitzvot over their comprehension. Thus, the primacy of the dorsal stream in the visual, but not auditory, pathway can be seen as an allusion to the fact that vision has a higher natural immunity to the potential for biased perception created by Amalek. Similarly, the fact that the dorsal stream is less vulnerable to the influence of optical illusions is consistent with the view that the primacy of Naaseh can counteract Amalek.
Interestingly, it has been shown that actions become more dependent on ventral stream processing, and less dependent on dorsal stream processing, in the seconds following the presentation of an object. Specifically, patients with dorsal stream lesions are highly impaired in making grasping movements directed towards viewed objects. However, the accuracy of their grasping movements increases if the object is removed from sight for a few seconds (such that the grasping movement must be guided by memory rather than current visual input). This increased accuracy shows a positive linear relationship with the amount of time for which the object has been removed from sight (Himmelbach & Karnach, 2005). It therefore appears that the information contained in the ventral stream can be used to accurately guide action, but only after a relatively long period of time following visual input. This is consistent with the view that a child must first be taught to perform the Mitzvot without having to understand the Hashgafa behind them (Naaseh), with deep understanding able to guide the manner of Mitzvot performance at a later age (Nishmah; Rav Weiss). 

By Sam on June 19, 2014 -- 12:01am

References 3
Aglioti, S., DeSouza, J. F., & Goodale, M. A. (1995). Size-contrast illusions deceive the eye but not the hand. Current Biology, 5(6), 679-685.
Bar, M., Tootell, R. B., Schacter, D. L., Greve, D. N., Fischl, B., Mendola, J. D. & Dale, A. M. (2001). Cortical mechanisms specific to explicit visual object recognition. Neuron, 29(2), 529-535.

Culham, J. C., Danckert, S. L., De Souza, J. F., Gati, J. S., Menon, R. S., & Goodale, M. A. (2003). Visually guided grasping produces fMRI activation in dorsal but not ventral stream brain areas. Experimental Brain Research, 153(2), 180-189.
Hickok, G., & Poeppel, D. (2007). The cortical organization of speech processing. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 8(5), 393-402.
Himmelbach, M., & Karnath, H. O. (2005). Dorsal and ventral stream interaction: contributions from optic ataxia. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 17(4), 632-640.
James, T. W., Culham, J., Humphrey, G. K., Milner, A. D., & Goodale, M. A. (2003). Ventral occipital lesions impair object recognition but not object‐directed grasping: an fMRI study. Brain, 126(11), 2463-2475.

Jeannerod, M. (2006). Motor cognition: What actions tell the self (No. 42). Oxford University Press.

Murata, A., Gallese, V., Luppino, G., Kaseda, M., & Sakata, H. (2000). Selectivity for the shape, size, and orientation of objects for grasping in neurons of monkey parietal area AIP. Journal of neurophysiology, 83(5), 2580-2601.

Milner, A. D., & Goodale, M. A. (2008). Two visual systems re-viewed. Neuropsychologia, 46(3), 774-785.
Rosenzweig, M. R., Leiman, A. L., & Breedlove, S. M. (1999). Biological psychology: An introduction to behavioral, cognitive, and clinical neuroscience, Sunderland (MA).

4.) It is stated that one of the functions of the ears is to regulate balance. It is indeed correct that the semi-circular canals, utricle and saccule of the inner ear provide inputs to the vestibular system that are involved in the maintenance of balance (Hudspeth, 1983). However, there is clear evidence that visual input is also crucial for balance. For instance, it is more difficult to stand on one leg (Bohannon et al., 1984) or to avoid tilting whilst walking (Bauby & Kuo, 2000) when the eyes are closed. Similarly, manipulations of visual motion in the surrounding environment can cause infants to fall over (Aronson & Lee, 1974) and disturb the postural stability of adults (Lee & Lishman, 1975). Since we see that vision is no less involved in the balance system as are the ears, how can one justify the claim that there must be an overlap between balance and hearing that does not also extend to the visual modality?
References 4
Bauby, C. E., & Kuo, A. D. (2000). Active control of lateral balance in human walking. Journal of biomechanics, 33(11), 1433-1440.
Bohannon, R. W., Larkin, P. A., Cook, A. C., Gear, J., & Singer, J. (1984). Decrease in timed balance test scores with aging. Physical Therapy, 64(7), 1067-1070.
Hudspeth, A. J. (1983). The hair cells of the inner ear. Scientific American.
Lee, D. N., & Aronson, E. (1974). Visual proprioceptive control of standing in human infants. Perception & Psychophysics, 15(3), 529-532.
Lee, D. N., & Lishman, J. R. (1975). Visual proprioceptive control of stance. Journal of Human Movement Studies.

5.) It is claimed that there are numerous scientifically verifiable overlaps between the auditory and visual modalities. I have tried to find a reliable that can substantiate this claim but have been largely unsuccessful. The only similarity that I could find (Caivano, 1994) is the fact that the upper end of the colour spectrum in terms of wavelength (red) has double the wavelength of the lower end of the visible section of the electromagnetic spectrum (violet; these values are 760nm and 380nm respectively), which parallels the fact that doubling the frequency of a musical note equates to raising it by one octave. The same article, however, stated that the seven colours of the visible spectrum are arbitrary and have no distinct physical properties that delineate their associated points on the continuum. If possible, please could you supply a source (preferably an article in a peer-reviewed journal) for this latter claim? I also tried to find some information on the relationship between the primary colours and the dominant, sub-dominant and tonic chords, but everything I came across was inscrutable to me. Please could you supply a reliable source that either talks specifically about this relationship or provides enough comprehensible information (from a lay person’s perspective) for the relationship to be inferred?
References 5
Caivano, J. L. (1994). Color and Sound: Physical and Psychophysical Relations. Color Research & Application, 19(2), 126-133.

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