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What Is the Sound of Thought?

The MIT Press Reader: “…At least since the pioneering work of Nobel Prize-winning electrophysiologist Lord Edgar Adrian we have known that no physical signal is ever completely lost when it reaches the brain. What we’ve more recently discovered is surprising: Apparently electric waves preserve the shape of their corresponding sound waves in non-acoustic areas of the brain, such as in the Broca’s area, the part of the brain responsible for speech production. These findings shed important light on the relationship between sound waves and electric waves in the brain, but almost all of them rely on one aspect of the neuropsychological processes related to language: namely, sound emission decoding. Yet we know that language can also be present in the absence of sound, when we read (as what we are most probably experiencing at this very moment) or when we use words while thinking — in technical terms, when we engage in endophasic activity. This simple fact immediately raises the following crucial question: What happens to the electric waves in our brain when we generate a linguistic expression without emitting any sound? In 2014, my colleagues and I set out in search of answers. We compared the shape of the electric waves characterizing the activity in the Broca’s area with the shape of the sound waves — not just when speakers were hearing sound, but also when they were reading linguistic expressions in absolute silence; that is, when the input was not acoustic at all…”

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