Journal of Sonic Studies, volume 4, nr. 1 (May 2013)Axel Volmar: SONIC FACTS FOR SOUND ARGUMENTS: MEDICINE, EXPERIMENTAL PHYSIOLOGY, AND THE AUDITORY CONSTRUCTION OF KNOWLEDGE IN THE 19TH CENTURY
This article addresses the auditory culture of science and problematizes sonic practices as epistemological practices. In order to deepen our understanding about how scientific knowledge is acquired, represented, and constructed through sound, I discuss case studies from the history of medicine and the life sciences in which sound and listening do not form the objects of scientific observation and reasoning but epistemic tools employed by scientists to produce “sound” scientific facts. First I reassess the question why physicians began to listen to the sounds of the human body in order to diagnose diseases around 1800. After that, I follow late nineteenth-century neurophysiologists who used the electric telephone to study the nervous system by transforming bioelectric currents into sounds. I argue that such acoustemic practices and technologies favorably emerge in the presence of in-visibilities, i.e. situations in which a direct visual observation or representation of the object of study is hindered or impossible. I also show that the success of these practices largely depends on whether or not it is possible to develop the sounds of science into stable frameworks of sonic facts.