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The uncertainty principle and human auditory acuity

Our PRL paper seems to have elicited unanticipated interpretations. We discuss here how we view our own study.

Rigorously quantifying the performance of a living being at a relevant, strenuous task can help us understand both the function as well as the selective pressures acting on that system. For example, humans are the only animals capable of running a marathon, and this gives us highly relevant information on our evolutionary origins.

We set out to quantify human performance in a highly relevant task (temporal-spectral acuity) and we found that successfully attacking this task was rather strenuous for our subjects, making us confident we taxed their neural hardware.

We make no claim that our psychological discrimination limens and are the quantities in the theorem; we just made sure that these quantities are measured in exactly the same units as the "uncertainties" and in the theorem, namely, they are both standard deviations.

Our claim is that the naivest possible models of hearing acuity would be bound by the uncertainty principle, and that the fact that our measured limens exceed the bounds of the theorem merely states that our hearing apparatus is not naive. More specifically, we're putting a lower bound on the complexity and sophistication of the analysis carried out by our auditory system.

 There is a technical sense in which the complexity is quantified by the order of the nonlinearity of the time-frequency distribution.

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