Brain protects ears from flashback explosions


Last night as I sat here preparing to calm my mind from the concerns and demands of the day, I closed my eyes for what seemed like just a few seconds.

And suddenly I heard a tremendous bang. There had been some sort of explosion, or some other type of loud, sharp blast. And I knew immediately that it was all in my head. But what happened a split second later is what fascinated me.

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski

You know that tinnitus-like ringing you hear immediately after experiencing a sudden loud noise? Well, I heard it. And after a little research, I found that what I experienced was a natural reflex designed to protect the ears from further damaging noises. Apparently, when such a noise occurs, signals are sent between the brain and ears, which in effect let the ears know they can sort of shut down for a few seconds, just in case more dangerous noises might be coming.

But what happens when the noise isn’t real? Well, it turns out, the brain might still send that signal. Even though the explosion itself was some kind of non-existent manifestation — perhaps a flashback of some kind — my brain and ears responded as though it had actually happened. Somewhere between my ears and brain, the explosion was real enough.