May 1, 2017

Tomatis Talks

For nearly forty years, Dr. Alfred Tomatis has been travelling in the meanders of our auditory appendages. For him, it is in the hollow of the ear that man must seek the source of his equilibrium.  During this interview, we lent him our ears most attentively...

Psychologies: You have written about pregnancy and autism, dizziness and music, dyslexia and foreign language learning....at the center of all your work, the ear.  Is that so important?

Alfred Tomatis 
Dr. Tomatis: The ear deserves more attention than is currently given. This is not an organ made simply to cause otitis! Behind this little appendage there is nothing less than the brain. The ear appears even before the nervous system. As the evolution progressed, it progressed by leaps and brain followed the movement. The ear has two functions. First, it gives energy to the brain. It's a dynamo. And it works for all living beings, from fish to man. Then, it allows us to situate ourselves in space. Thanks to it, we can stand, climb, descend, walk ... The more mobility increases, the better the ear.

Is this parallel evolution of the ear and the brain always verified?

Nearly. There are animals like the snake, endowed with an important brain, but almost deaf. Conversely, bats have very fine hearing despite their very small brain. But these are exceptions. By perfecting, the ear is joined by additional organs: the vestibule, the saccule, the cochlea, ... They are the ones who assure man his verticality. But the most important thing is that the ear allows us to listen. Animals hear. Mammals have occasional moments of listening. To be able to listen, man needed his brain to grow in a fabulous way. I believe that man is made to listen. 

What is the difference between listening and hearing? 

Hearing is a passive phenomenon. We are inundated with sounds. But to take control of oneself in order to listen is a voluntary act which immediately determines verticality and engages communication. The traditional ascetics constantly repeat it: "Listen!" Probably because people do not listen. Traditions often say, "Listen and you will see." This formula is difficult for us to understand because we live in a world of vision starting with the Greeks and the Latins. We care for many autistic children who have phenomenal ears, but who see nothing since they do not listen.

Where does the importance of the ear come from?

This organ is more extensive than we think. The vestibule, which is the most archaic part, innervates absolutely all the muscles of the body. All our gestures leave the vestibule. In the course of its evolution, the ear has provided itself with an organ, the organ of Corti. It contains cells with an eyelash, such as protozoa. When these cells atrophy, the eyelashes that grow on them become more important, and this gives rise to the hair. The hair is a cutaneous destiny of the ear. Conversely, when Corti's cell loses its eyelash to develop its body, it is organized to give birth to all the sensitive organs of the skin. One can almost say that man is an ear in totality! One communicates not only with the ear, one communicates with one's body. To talk to the other is to play with one's body and the other's body. He who is not afraid of his body can make him vibrate when he speaks, and feel it inside. It is both a way of getting to know each other better and communicating better. In the same way, you can learn to make your body vibrate from within to avoid being afraid.

One immediately thinks of the sacred songs: the Gregorian chants, the "Om" of the Tibetans ... The elders knew this well! They sang to recharge the brain and to have control of this body that is underneath. Alas! The number of listeners is still extremely small. But I believe that man is on his way to becoming a listener.

For you, is this the next step in evolution?

It is an inevitable progression. The great listeners are those who hear the other. It's not nothing! We would have fewer social problems if everyone knew how to listen to the other. We live the world of the evil-listener, the dialogue of the deaf. But that's not all. The great listeners also know how to listen to their bodies. The tympanum is innervated by the parasympathetic nerves. If we knew how to listen to them from the inside, we would know how our heart, our breathing, our digestion ... All the somatizations are made along these two nerves. The psycho-somatic pathology is there! Knowing how to listen to your body, it would avoid quite a lot of pathologies.

But when one speaks of listening to one's body, one does not imagine that the ear participates in it. Rather, one is contemplating becoming aware of one's body.

Speaking of awareness, you touch the last level of listening. For he who knows how to listen to the fact beyond all that we have spoken of listens to the Universe. Listening becomes a very high level faculty. It is contact with consciousness.

What do you mean by consciousness?

Our ego is such that we would like to have awareness. No! It is the consciousness that takes us, which floods us. We are enveloped by it, and we spend our time refusing it. If one has the ear fully open, one can enter into a dialogue with the Universe. It is he alone who speaks. We are only transcribing, through a transistor called the brain, what the Universe wanted to express. We are very poor transducers! 

How do we learn to listen? 

One must first wake up the ear. For this we use filtered sounds and the electronic ear. The filtered sounds are sounds without memory, sounds that can not be associated with memories. This is why they are filtered so that the subject hears as he did in utero. With the children, the voice of the mother is used whenever possible. In other cases, it is mostly Mozart. But it is also necessary that the sounds really penetrate to the brain. We then use the electronic ear. It is a device that receives the sound exactly as a human ear should work perfectly. It is known today that 90% of the fibers of the auditory nerve are efferent: they leave the brain to go outside. When you receive a sound, it tickles the inner ear then the external ear. It is as if you were in a fortress: when a visitor comes in, you are looking for who he is, then you open the inner door before lowering the drawbridge. We listen to what we want to listen to! By forcing the doors to open, the tympanum is helped to stretch, the muscle of the stirrup to work, the ear to be formed.

Is it a re-education of the ear, as a limb is re-formed after being in a cast?

Exactly! The ear is re-educated in its listening function. For the brain to work, it needs four and a half hours of stimulation per day, at a rate of 3.5 billion stimuli per second. He can thus perceive all that surrounds him. There are no people with big ideas! Ideas are given to them. Intuition is that. Einstein said: "Genius is a spark once in life, and fifteen hours of work a day." Mozart was a great listener rather than a genius. But he received perfectly all that surrounded him.

Let's go to Mozart. In your opinion, his music is an instrument of personal development, even of therapy?

Music is an extraordinary instrument, which has been forsaken. We tried all sorts of music and we always go back to Mozart. When you listen to Mozart with the electronic ear, in filtered sounds, you have the pulse which immediately climbs to 120 pulses per minute. Like him! Mozart kept all his life a rapid pulse, a pulse of a child, it is probably why it was worn out very quickly and disappeared very young. But, to enjoy music, you have to have a good ear. Someone who hears Mozart with a distorted ear only perceives noise! Music therapy, for example, never takes into account the subject's ability to integrate. It is not enough to receive sounds, but they must be properly distributed throughout the brain. We have a primitive brain, the thalamus, which ensures the distribution of information. Unfortunately, this relay is also the receptor of our affective life. If it is overloaded, the distribution can no longer be carried out. The ear is at the crossroads of a multitude of universes. It has made me penetrate into many fields, from that of total non-listening, which belongs to psychiatry, to that of foreign languages.

This is the theme of the second book you just published.

I realized that all ears are the same at birth, in all corners of the world. It is the sound environment that changes. The variations are related to the atmosphere, climatic conditions, air quality ... The ear forms itself to receive the sounds corresponding to its native tongue. If he is allowed to hear differently, the subject can learn any language. We all have the ability to integrate all languages, provided we hear them.

Can you use your method as a simple tool for wellness and balance?

Yes! We are getting more and more people who do not have any particular problems, but who simply want to get to know each other better, to evolve. One does not need to have a serious problem to learn how to listen!

Interview with Dr Alfred Tomatis (Psychologies - Décembre 1991)

This post is a Google Translation of an April 17, 2017 post made by Olivier De Wulf—a Tomatis Practitioner based in San Francisco, California—and can be found here in the original French.

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