Can You Tell An Ear For Music By Looking At It?

For a minute in 2007, the blogosphere was abuzz about a Hungarian plastic surgeon named Dr. Lajos Nagy who claimed that making your ears pointy would allow you to better appreciate music. He said this craze was huge in New York, and would soon be sweeping the globe.

On his website, he explains scientifically why pointed ears are more sensitive to sound:

One of its reasons is rather simple: pointed ears focus sounds in a better way, which, in the case of animals, is supplemented by the fact that they can orientate themselves towards the source of sounds without turning their heads, by moving only their ears.

The other reason is the own frequency of the pinnae, as being solid objects themselves, which changes together with their shape. Pointed ears resonate with sounds at the frequency of around 8 kHz, thus they amplify sharp sounds instead of the intermediate frequencies. This is the reason why, amongst other things, dogs are sensitive to ultrasonic sounds, which are imperceptible for human ears.

Although turning the pinnae still remains impossible for human beings according to its anatomic features, the advantages of pointed ears can be enjoyed once again with the help of a simple, routine operation.

Of course all of this is ridiculous, and it doesn’t take much poking around on his site to realize that it’s a big joke (see this discussion for more information).

If the hoaxter had seen this 1910 article, perhaps his fictional doctor could have marketed his craft differently. This article claims that ear shape determined not your ability to appreciate music, but to be musical yourself. As one doctor quoted in the article says:

“It is commonly thought that persons who have the musical ‘gift’ have a peculiarity of the auditory tract, which distinguishes them from ordinary folk. There seem to be an actual physical quality in the hearing of musicians whereby they differentiate tones with subtlety, and this quality is congenital…

[There is] a peculiar conformation of the external ear in musicians, first observed by Dr. J. J. Kinyoun of Washington, but never published, which is constant and readily perceptible.”

I’d go on to quote the description of the peculiar conformation, but it makes about as much sense as Dr. Nagy’s explanation for his procedure, so I’ll spare you the details. But the conclusions at the end of the article are still worth a look if you want to know how to tell if your own kids are musical by looking at their ears. And if they’re not, I suppose they can always get plastic surgery.

CAN YOU TELL AN EAR FOR MUSIC BY LOOKING AT IT? If Dr. J. J. Kinyoun’s Theory Is True the External Ear Dicsloses Whether You Have the Musical Gift or Not (PDF)

From June 19, 1910

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