Musings on Subjectivity and Stoners in Audio and Medicine

It’s mostly subjective at this level of audio quality, right?

I mean, you can argue all you want about angels dancing on the head of a pin in this hobby but it doesn’t matter a bit if it doesn’t sound “good.” Arguments about technical superiority fall flat unless the end product delivers. What sounds good to you might not sound good to me, anyway. “Too analytical” might be “just right” for me. Reproduced sound really does not sound anything like live no matter how you slice it. At the Yonder Mountain String Band show the other night I pondered that even “live” didn’t sound like “live.” It sounded good, but acoustic bass at 100dB+ is NOT “live” in the purist sense. Despite knowing this, I was still able to enjoy the concert.

Sure, there is plenty of room for theory and standards. Without theoretical guidance and critical thinking designers just take shots in the dark and waste their time and money. One can surely make the argument that one path may have greater potential than another and should be pursued but no guarantees are implicit with this approach. Perhaps one day, if stereos do come scarily close to sounding real AND measurement catches up, then more concrete agreement on standards might be feasible. In the meantime, I, for one, do not care for pseudo-science explanations of phenomena in audio but heartily respect a statement like, “It sounds good but I dun’no why (yet).” I mean, what’s wrong with that? If you come across something that works, do you have to explain it for it to be of value?

Our conceit is that all is known and that if it cannot CURRENTLY be described or measured then it has no value or relevance. The world was once inarguably and irrevocably flat. All the science and knowledge of the time pointed toward this conclusion yet, with years of further study and a (subjective) look at it from outer space, this notion now seems laughable. People were willing to kill to keep the truth of God’s terra firma pancake alive. At least we are a little less zealous…

Take for instance one of the miracles of medicine, general anesthesia. Actually a phenomenon stumbled across by stoners of an earlier era, it is considered by some to be the greatest tool of modern medicine. Much is known about it but no one knows specifically how it works. Is it a valid tool? Like our enjoyment of recorded music (stretch a bit with me) it is also an entirely subjective experience. Only the patient knows whether it is working or not. Doctors merely guess, albeit with a reasonable amount of success. Many parameters are monitored during the event yet we cannot directly measure it’s main effect. The whole proof is in whether the patient “liked” it or not. “Doc, that really hurt!” “Nonsense, your vital signs were normal. You cannot have had this experience and were just dreaming. I know everything that is known about medicine and therefore you must be mistaken and your argument invalid.”

Mmm… not so much. What do you think?

wglenn said: "It sounds good but I dun'no why (yet)." I mean, what's wrong with that?

Nothing whatsoever. In fact, it has great value.

First, we found something that sounds good. This is wonderful.

Second, we have found something new to explore. All knowledge begins with an observation, coupled with the curiosity to determine why.