There are many similarities in the ways the brain processes the sound signals and the visual images. But there are many differences too. The main difference relates to the attention we pay.

We have more control on what we want to see than what we want to hear. Why?

We can turn our head and look at the object of interest without any disturbances. But it is difficult to listen just to the sound that interests us. We always hear overlapping and conflicting sounds which cause chaos. But this problem is settled in a unique way!

We can mentally choose to focus on one sound and block out the other conflicting sounds. This ability is called ‘Selective listening’. When two different stories are read out, in the two ears of a person simultaneously, he can decide to hear any one of them fully and just skip the other willfully.

We communicate through languages which have both sound and meaning. We understand coherent and meaningful words but not disconnected and meaningless chatter. Even in a crowded room filled with multi-lingual-babble, we can hear our name being called out softly, by some one, somewhere in the crowd.

Selective listening is an everyday business for almost every one. A person immersed in a T.V show is virtually deaf to all the other sounds around him. Have you ever watched a person working on a P.C? He is in the deepest form of meditation—lost to the entire external world! Many domestic quarrels result from this kind of selective listening.

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It is amazing to watch students who use music as a barrier to all the other sounds. Have you watched a person studying hard for an upcoming exam, while music is played around him, round the clock? The music does not disturb his study but helps to keep off all the other unpleasant and disturbing sounds.

Diamond cuts a diamond. So too a pleasant sound cuts off an unpleasant sound!

Visalakshi Ramani