In my narrative several people can hear a soft buzzing when it is very quiet. It's almost unintelligible, but discovered it is what's on the radio. The people aren't related, but they may be very distant relatives.

I'm thinking there's a trigger gene that, say, when they hit their head a certain way an eardrum could 'suddenly' receive and translate the waves. Or a genetic mutation (not likely in, about 1,000 people around the world). A bug?

Can a human naturally, in pseudo-science, or preferably real science, adapt to hearing what's on the radio? What would be required to be in the ear, and how did it get there?

  • Radio is light, not sound. Just in case that changes things for you – Aric Aug 12 at 0:44
  • Some sort of electromagnetic effect on sensory organs could come out as any sense. – David Thornley Nov 8 at 23:55
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Radio Is Never Heard, Only Seen

No ear can ever hear the radio, because it is transmitted with light waves. If you can see into the radio part of the light spectrum, you could "see" radio! Note that the visible part spectrum is far from the radio part of the spectrum; this would take some severe alterations to do this. Bees and other creatures do see different parts of the spectrum, but I'm not aware of any that go that far.

Look! Radio!

Picking Up Radio?

Now, if these people developed something in their ears which gets ionized by radio waves alone (which is very hard to do), they could then "hear" the radio. It seems it would be easier for eyes to adapt to this, since they pick up light already. An organism would need a new chemical in their eye, which reacts with radio waves, so they can see the radio. Alternatively, they need something that can change state when hit with a radio wave, which their neurons can then translate into a signal in the brain.

It should also be mentioned that FM and AM radio waves use different codes to carry sound information:

AM and FM Signals

So even if an organism was capable of detecting FM or AM radio, they would have to figure out how to de-code the message to understand it. Human brains have amazing processing powers, so I am confident a human could adapt to understand the input of a new sense. It is just that getting a new sense alone does not guarantee the ability to understand what is sensed.

  • Yeah this is what I'm struggling with - it's two parts: receiving and interpreting. And that's a big thing to happen naturally to a handful of people. – Mikey Jun 15 '16 at 5:26
  • Very good answer! (+1) Ah, about the last part of AM and FM, I don't think that a human (or any race) would be able to understand both "systems". They work by 2 complete different mechanics, AM increase the amplitude to comunicate information while FM modifies the frequency of the wave. Think about this: human comunicate changing the frequency of sound in order to make words (FM), ¿Would you be able to learn a language that comunicate only with louder or softer sound (AM)? – Ender Look Nov 16 '17 at 2:46
  • @EnderLook We humans have languages composed entirely of whistles, and we have developed codes that are binary. Understanding both systems is theoretically possible. In practice, however, I would expect such people to be much, much worse than radios, and would consider understanding even one system pretty unlikely. – PipperChip Nov 16 '17 at 2:58
  • 2
    We demodulate and understand AM and FM signals all the time. AM modulated light is one that gets brighter and dimmer. FM modulated light is one that changes colors. I guarantee that you are using both right now (unless you're colorblind). – user71659 Nov 16 '17 at 7:34
  • @PipperChip People communicate in Morse code, which is binary AM, all the time (see the ham SE), and tests show that it is more understandable in noise than speech. Humans can be better in decoding binary data, in hearing and also vision than machines. – user71659 Nov 16 '17 at 7:47

Yes, they can.

Electric current passed through the head might be perceived as sound - surprisingly, even by deaf people. It's called electrophonic hearing.

Here's one of the articles on auditory perception of radio frequencies. I don't know if that's a valid study, but at least it looks sciency enough for soft sci-fi. According to the article:

Microwave hearing is most easily explained by the mechanism of thermoelastic expansion, i.e., absorption of microwave energy produces nonuniform heating of the exposed head; a thermoelastic wave of pressure is then launched, presumably through bone conduction, to the cochlea where it is detected. After auditory-nerve excitation in the high-frequency portion of the cochlea, transmission of the microwave-induced neural response follows the same auditory pathways as do all of the acoustically induced responses through the brainstem and thalamus to the auditory cortex.

  • I'm quoting the same effect, but I like your answer better than mine. You go straight to the point, have my +1. – Renan Jun 14 '16 at 17:56
  • @Renan, oops, sorry. I'll refresh the page before posting next time ) – user8808 Jun 14 '16 at 17:59
  • No problem. In all the stacks I'm part of, posting your own answer is encouraged even when there is a similar one. You bring more useful information to the table :) – Renan Jun 14 '16 at 18:02
  • microwaves can heat water. radio waves, in the subject question, travel very far because they go through water and they don't react with practically anything except for metal/conductive bars longer than the wave. So you need a metal bar at least 1/2 inch for the smallest radio waves, which go up to 100-200 meters. – com.prehensible Nov 16 '17 at 8:59

You know how some of our own real world crackpots wear tinfoil hats, either makeshift, or real hats with a tinfoil layer inside?

If they used a regular mesh of wire instead of foil, they would stop hearing things that aren't there.

No, seriously!

Except that what they hear is not the greys trying to brainwash you into obeying the illuminati or whatever it is that conspiracy theorists are claiming these days. Humans can "hear" electromagnetic radiation, though it is on the microwave range rather than regular radio. I present you the Frey Effect.

Of course, you won't hear your router talking to your cell phone this way. You're more likely to experience the Frey effect if you work with radar, or with radio masts.

And the quote about how wire mesh blocks it:

In 1962, Allan H. Frey discovered that the microwave auditory effect, i.e., the reception of the induced sounds by radio-frequency electromagnetic signals heard as clicks and buzzes, can be blocked by a patch of wire mesh (rather than foil) placed above the temporal lobe.

Now of course, in the real world, we only hear noise. But now that you know this, it doesn't take a lot of handwaving nor suspension of disbelief to come up with a fictional way to enhance our natural capacity to hear electromagnetic radiation.

I don't know, maybe a mutation causes iron or tin to accumulate in high(er) contentration in human bones. This could cause the cranium (where the brain is located) to act like a resonance chamber, amplifying the signal and making it much louder and perceptible for those who have the gene. These people would be able to tell the best spots to place a wi-fi router in their home, by ear!

A little more handwaving and you can change the "audible" spectrum from microwave to regular AM/FM radio. That would be really cool too!

You can check out simple radio electronics, and design one using nanotechnology...

So, Graphene is used for the antenna, it's a tiny long graphene ribbon implanted somewhere rigid, because it has to be as long as a radio wave, i'd say an endoscopic implant in the top of the head. The capacitor would be a few microns, made of a futuristic ceramic perhaps, and the diode would be a few microns of germanium. describe a radio circuit in nanotechnology and connect it to the ear/the brain.

Radio-Waves travel far, because they interact very little with matter. If there was a radio wave signal on earth that helped survival, for example weather forecast or food that transmitted radio waves, I believe animals could have evolved to hear them, but it would be as complex as ocular apparatus.

It happened on Gilligan's Island.

It happened on the Partridge Family.

Lucille Ball claims to have done it in real life.

Generally, blame metal dental work, and people will find it beleivable. A crystal radio is quite easy to make, can even use a razor blade.

I don't think it ever really happened, but it's plausible to pick up AM radio on a piece of metal embedded in the head.

It's possible that an alien race would evolve to sense radio waves if it enabled them to survive and thrive in their environment. That is not any more outlandish than our race of beings being able to pick up the part of the EM spectrum we call "visible" with eyes. This is a good explanation of that:

But in your story you wish for it to be a human on earth, living amongst other humans? It'd have to be some crazy mutation, Marvel Comics territory, brought about by exposure to some radioactive material or something.

protected by Community Nov 8 at 20:47

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