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Book Review: The Conscious Ear: My Life of Transformation Through Listening


My interest in finding out how yoga and science are reaching some similar conclusions led me to read this book.

The Conscious Ear book is an autobiography of Alfred A. Tomatis, a French physician, psychologist, and educator. He was one of the earliest pioneers in the field known as psychoacoustics.

Psychoacoustics is the branch of psychophysics involving the scientific study of sound perception and audiology and how humans perceive various sounds. (Wikipedia)

According to Dr. Jean Houston, ”it is the story of a man who pushed back the borders of human capacities in sound, learning and health and discovered gifts and talents in humans little known before him”. Alfred Tomatis found solutions to the problems of dyslexia, lack of coordination, stuttering and loss of tone in opera singers.

Universal Language

I found the An Acoustic Geography chapter appealing. In this chapter, A. Tomatis asserts that the main musical “instrument which gave to each language its intonation, its timbre, its particular register” is the geographical distribution of the various ethnic ears. “Music (language) only changes because the instrument (the air) is changed.” Air is not the same everywhere. The air around us varies in its role due to a great number of factors, especially climatic ones. “This makes it easier to speak English in England than in France, but easier in France than in Spain.”

He writes that, if the best way to learn a language is to stay in a foreign country (Sanskrit in India for instance), it is not only due to being immersed in a linguistic medium there, but also because of being immersed “in a particular listening atmosphere which, by modifying the way we listen, helps us to adapt the way we speak”.

As a result, the diversity of dialects within the same linguistic group may be understood as a simple inflection of the original language according to the local resistance. This is the reason it is not possible to create a universal language.

our body is the first to be affected by the sound it utters. Speaking and listening.

our body is the first to be affected by the sound it utters. Speaking and listening.

Sound Affects Body

The structure of our body changes when we speak, or rather when we speak to it since our body is the first to be affected by the sound it utters. Consistent with what we do in life, we center our activity in one part of our body, and it is to this part that we speak. For example, a regular cyclist speaks with a “hollow voice” because he is talking to the center of his activity, in this case his legs.

True sound comes from the whole body not only from the lips. As such, it would be ideal if we were able to touch the whole surface of the body in a consistent way. This was shown by some Tibetan yogis who dedicate time and psychic energy to this quest; they can talk to their back as much as to the palms of their hands.

Of special interest to yoga teachers is the point made that if you deprive people of their own way of listening, they will immediately get caught up in difficulties of expression and of thought.

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Skin Keyboard

Dr. Tomatis‘ treatments of people who stutter led him to claim that the ear is not a differentiated part of the skin, but rather that the skin was a differentiated piece of the ear.

In 1974, he advanced a theory that the ear preceded the nervous system. He carried research with some cutaneous audiograms (an audiogram measures hearing ability; cutaneous means relating to the skin) that led him to “beam sound over the skin to obtain reactions that would help him to distinguish the various types of cutaneous surfaces as well as zones of clearly distinct sound sensitivity within the same area of skin”.

He succeeded in setting up the geography of sensitivity to sounds. He proved that one of the most sound-receptive areas is between the thumb and index finger of the right hand (Jnana mudra); another one is the part of the forehead between the eyes (the third eye).

His research led him to believe in the interrelatedness of the sensitivity to a sensation produced by stimulating end organs in the skin and the quality of producing speech sounds.

If the skin lacks sensitivity, incorporation of the word is no longer possible. The skin must be able to transform itself into a skin “keyboard” so that the patient may “play on his body” to talk to someone else.

It is only God who speaks, and man exists to translate this message… into human language

— Alfred A. Tomatis


The author’s reference to the third eye led me to thinking of intuition. If intuition is the ability to listen to the environment and to capture information that other people may not see or sense or feel, at least not to the same degree, then having a high level of skin sensitivity can heighten our intuition.

For him, language differentiates humans from other creatures that can only utter sounds. Human beings, by their very structure, are to some extent like an antenna of a self-expressive universe that reveals its real presence. We are driven into this boundless environment, the true manifestation of an immeasurable presence.

My favorite reference is when A. Tomatis says, “it is only God who speaks, and man exists to translate this message… into human language.”

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Liliane Najm

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