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See Inside February/March 2007

The Case of the Loud Eyeballs

In which a mystery is solved through a chance encounter

SO THESE TWO GUYS walk into a bar. No—this is a true story! One is a neuroscientist (yours truly), and the other is a writer for Scientific American Mind. (We'll call him Bill.) We are at the recent meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Atlanta. A gentle bear of a man comes over, licking suds from his lips and praising the local brew with an authoritative German accent. As he raises his glass to the light to inspect the beer's clarity, I think to myself, “This is my chance.” So I tell him about a bizarre thing my eyes do.

“My eyeballs make this horrid grating noise when they move,” I say. (This sound effect may be amusing in cartoons, but it's a real pain in the neck when I am trying to fall asleep.) Now usually when I make a public confession about my noisy eyeballs, my audience gets a queer look on their faces, as if I am sprouting fur under a full moon. But Josef Rauschecker of Georgetown University, one of the world's authorities on the auditory cortex as well as on local brews, listens intently.

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