Only Human | Podcast Review | December 7, 2015 | By

Only Human: “Your Brain On Sound”

Just think of all of the chemical reactions that occur in your body—about how many things need to go right, how many things could go wrong.

In my last review of the show, I was nothing short of a naysayer. Happily, I am now able to report that this week’s episode brought me back to being a full-fledged Only Human fan.

My major complaint with the last episode was that it didn’t do much to speak to personal experiences with health, as per the mission of the show. This episode, however, did a great job of introducing listeners with yet another reason to be incredibly thankful for our health.

I’d like to start off with praises that are the most surface-level. First, one more than one occasion, I was quite impressed with the sound effects. I don’t remember ever even noticing before, so that was a pleasant surprise. Second, while the structure was quite simple (only two women who were interviewed), the presentation of the content matter was very well organized.

Now, the fun stuff.

I think that at this point in the show, I am starting to realize the sheer volume of chemical reactions that need to go 100% correctly in order for people to function at ‘normal’ levels. Sure, everyone is a little different – but this show has provided me with a humbling realization of just how many things could go wrong.

This episode discusses an extremely peculiar case; so peculiar, in fact, that less than 3 decades ago, there wasn’t even a name for the malady. Two parents were a bit concerned about their daughter’s seemingly difficult time hearing. She could hear things, but sometimes it just seemed as if she wasn’t paying attention. They brought her in several times for hearing tests, only to be told that their daughter had perfect hearing. So, they chalked it up to selective listening.

Eventually, it got incredibly difficult for the child (Rose, a pseudonym for the purposes of the show) to hear anything that sounded as if she were not surrounded by a bubble. Everything seemed just a little fuzzy. Additionally, it was easy for her to hear the little noises in a busy setting (say, a classroom) but difficult to hear other noises that ought to be more prominent.

As it turns out, Rose has auditory neuropathy. Sound is not fully transmitted from her ears to her brain. In other words, her brain has a difficult time making sense out of the various, scattered, and random neurons that that are fired when sound is registered. Her ears function terrifically; she just can’t quite process sounds the same way that others can.

Rose admits that her dream is to have the ability to walk down a busy street and have a conversation with a companion.

While this is not the first time that I’ve felt truly grateful when listening to the show, this could be the most overwhelming gratitude I have felt. 1 Just think of all of the chemical reactions that occur in your body from the moment you are conceived—think about how many things need to go right, about how many things could go wrong.

For the sake of sparing you from my ability to babble incessantly as I explain exactly why, I will simply recommend that you listen to this episode.

  1. Editor’s Note: In last week’s episode of Start Up‘s mini-season, Alex Blumberg talked about audio being the best medium for the creation of empathy. That struck me as true, but hard to think about from a perspective other than a radio superfan. What are your thoughts? Tweet at us or leave a note in the comments below. ^

About the Author

Annie Ungrady is a writer at Audiologue, where she writes a weekly column called Podcast Perusal with her impressions of classic podcast and radio episodesYou can email her at

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