The Five Senses
Our Sense of Hearing

Our Sense of Hearing
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 6 to 8
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   6.71

     challenging words:    incus, malleus, pinna, stapes, helping, hearing, best, communication, semicircular, survival, writing, principle, various, medium, environment, outer
     content words:    Marco Polo

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Our Sense of Hearing
By Sharon Fabian

1     We use our senses to learn what is going on in the world around us. In ancient times, a person's survival depended upon being able to hear and see dangers in the environment. The other senses of taste, touch, and smell also helped people survive. Many people think that sight is the most important sense. Early humans would have run right into danger without their sense of sight. Even today, it is hard for most of us to imagine living without our sense of sight. However, today's survival skills are different than the survival skills that the cave man used. Today, communication is one of man's most important skills, and communication depends on the sense of hearing. Even when we communicate by visual means, such as writing or typing, we are still using the language that most of us first learned by listening.
2     Hearing is a complicated process, as you can see by all of the tiny parts of the ear that are involved. The outer part of the ear, the part that we usually see, is called the pinna. The pinna is the curved outside part of the ear that collects sound waves which travel to our ear through the air. The sound waves next travel into the middle part of the ear through a tube called the auditory canal. Our eardrum is at the end of the auditory canal. It is stretched tight, like the head of a music drum, and it vibrates when it is hit by sound waves. When the eardrum vibrates, it causes three small bones to vibrate. These are called the malleus, or hammer, the incus, or anvil, and the stapes, or stirrup. (Look at a picture of the parts of the ear, and you will see that these tiny bones are named for their shapes.) From there, the sound passes into the inner part of the ear, where the vibration is carried through fluid in parts called the cochlea, which is curled up like a snail, and the three semicircular canals. The fluids in these parts shift as we change position, and so they are also involved in helping us keep our sense of balance. Finally the sound arrives at the auditory nerve, which carries the message to the brain.
3     Sound doesn't only travel through air, but it always has to have something to travel through. Light can travel even through a vacuum, like outer space, but not sound. Sound always needs a medium to travel through. As a matter of fact, air is not even the best medium for sound to travel through. It travels better through solid materials. If you've ever made a string telephone, you know that this is true. There is another experiment that you can do to prove that sound travels better through a solid. You do still need a piece of string, and you also need a metal spoon. Tie the spoon in the middle of the string. Wrap one end of the string around a fingertip of your right hand, and the other end around a fingertip of your left hand. Hold your fingers with the string wrapped around them against your ears. Let the spoon hang down in front of you, and let it swing and hit various objects, a table for instance. You will see that sound travels through the string to your ears, loud and clear.

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