Scientists like to investigate a lot of things that the rest of us take for granted. Like whispers?how do we hear them, anyway?

Robert Roy Britt writes in that there’s a tiny organ inside your ear call the cochlea, which looks like a snail shell. It transforms sounds into nerve impulses that then travel to the hairs deep inside your ear, then on to your brain, allowing you to hear. But why is it twisted so tightly?

Scientists used to think that the cochlea’s shape was a way to pack everything necessary for it to function into the tiny space deep inside your ear, but a new study shows that the spiral shape actually enhances the sounds in the frequency range of human speech, which is why we can hear whispers. The hair cells at the large end of the cochlear detect high-pitched sounds, while the hair cells deep down at the narrow end detect low-frequency sounds.

Current hearing aids merely amplify sound. While researchers are now working to deign spiral-shaped cochlear implants for deaf people, the real key to allowing the deaf to hear again is discovering a way to replace those ear hairs. However, not all the deaf want to be “cured,” since many of them consider that their sign language makes them part of a separate and equally viable culture.

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