Re: pitch (Al Bregman )

Subject: Re: pitch
From:    Al Bregman  <bregman(at)HEBB.PSYCH.MCGILL.CA>
Date:    Fri, 28 Aug 1998 15:19:09 -0400

On Thu, 27 Aug 1998 HARTMANN(at)PA.MSU.EDU wrote: > The discussion to date has not distinguished between prothetic and > metathetic quantities. Prothetic is associated with amount; metathetic > is a point on a scale. Loudness is prothetic, we say, "More loudness." > Pitch is metathetic, we say, "Higher pitch." We don't say, "More pitch." > > Therefore, it is not appropriate to compare pitch (metathetic) with the > mass of animals (prothetic). Dear Bill (and list), Your provocative statement got me to dig out my old philosopher's cap from University of Toronto days, shake off the dust, and put it on. My understanding is that "prothetic" and "nomothetic" refer to dimensions of experience, not to dimensions of the physical world. A dimension of experience, such as pitch, can be either prothetic or metathetic (metathetic, in the case of pitch). The mass of an animal is physical, so it can't be either prothetic or metathetic. It occurred to me that if we're not allowed to link quantitative physical variables such as wavelength or repetition rate with metathetic variables of experience, such as color or pitch, psychophysics (i.e., Psycho <-- physics) becomes impossible. The argument about the big animal/low sound consists actually of two statements, one physical and one psychophysical, neither of which link a metathetic to a prothetic assertion. 1. Physical: The size of an animal is correlated with the frequencies it produces. (maps physical to physical) 2. Psychophysical: Frequencies that are "low" (LOW1) in a physical sense give rise to pitch that is "low" (LOW2) in an experiential sense. (maps psychological to physical) We use the same English word "low" for LOW1 and LOW2. This leads to some confusion. "LOW2 varies with LOW1" is an empirically determined, psychophysical statement. Sorry to be so pedantic but it's your fault, Bill, for switching me into philosophy mode. Whenever I wear my philosopher's cap, I develop a compulsion to try to get folks to distinguish between physical and psychological terms, so that clear psycho-physical statements can be made. This issue also comes up in talking about timbre. The waveform generated by an instrument has no timbre (if one reserves the word "timbre" for describing experience) but can be described by a number of physical variables. I think of timbre as a dimension of the experience of "sound" (SOUND2) that results from the physical "sound" (SOUND1). It would be helpful if we had a different word for SOUND1 and SOUND2, but we don't. If we did, the old philosophical question, "Does a tree falling in the woods make a sound if there is no one to hear it?", would never have been thought to be a puzzle. Best, Al McGill is running a new version of LISTSERV (1.8c on Windows NT). Information is available on the WEB at

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