Changeable Ears: Ernst Mach’s and Max Planck’s Studies of Accommodation in Hearing
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This article offers an examination of the psychophysical studies of accommodation in hearing by Ernst Mach and Max Planck, natural scientists better known for their accomplishments in physics and philosophy. Early in his career, Mach sought to experimentally locate the possible mechanism of accommodation in hearing, the phenomenon in which individuals can alter their experience of sound by changing their attention. Planck, employing a microtonal harmonium, studied the role of attention in vocalists’ abilities to hear tempered intervals—what he termed accommodation in hearing. Both mobilized music as a means of argument and experiment. This article shows how each physicist’s conception of accommodation in hearing drew on music and, in turn, informed his ideas about the historicity of hearing, the universality of the nineteenth- century Western musical aesthetic, and the nature of knowledge itself.