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Through A Portal to the Mind

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Authors Robert Caldwell
Length 30 minutes
Price $195.00
Dr. Rose

The creators of "Through a Portal to the Mind" have provided a phenomenal resource for teaching the anatomy and physiology of the middle ear and inner ear. Students have a better sense of the inner ear mechanism after watching the 45 minute DVD, than they do after reading several chapters in a text. The combination of the narrative with the background music and visual effects captures students' attention and keeps them interested throughout. This is a valuable resource that I hope to use in the classroom for many years to come.

organ of corti still from 3D movie

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  • organ of corti still from 3D movie

(For previews, see  the main site.)

Through a Portal to the Mind aims to inspire fascination with the intricate workings of our bodies, highlighting the intimate, yet out-of-conscious relationship between our nervous system and the unseen world of sound—opening us to larger concepts of the unknown relations between us and the world around us. Using startling 3D imagery and motion drawn from actual computational neuroscience, viewers zoom down to microscopic air particles, fly into the ear canal, hover over the workings of the middle ear, glide along the cells within the inner ear, and soar up the auditory pathway to the brain. During every scene, all parts are moving in response to the complex motions of the sound waves, a continuous ballet in the microscopic world of our hearing system.


At the opening, writer/director Caldwell focuses viewers on a variety of sounds—a train, footsteps, children in a park, the wind, a child’s cry—illustrating how we can listen for certain sounds while ignoring others. The imagery is blurred and slowed, heightening the sound with special effects, orienting the viewers to the otherworldliness of sound.


After this brief montage, Caldwell poses the main thesis: sound means motion. We see leaves moving, water dripping, and a tuning fork ringing, at which point the camera zooms in as the tuning fork’s tine glides into slow-motion, and, now up close, we see air particles fading in, moving in sync with the tine, appearing like millions of tiny bubbles, just as the original score begins to paint the scene with eerie, evocative music. The camera pans along the moving air particles before gliding up and further away, where we see the air particles turn into waves in an elegant transition from the microscopic to the macroscopic world of sound. We follow the sound waves to the head, and into the ear canal, into the middle ear, deep into the inner ear, and finally up to the brain.


After this soaring introduction, we zoom back down to the microscopic level for a tour of sound itself, emphasizing the different motions our hearing detects. We see among the air particles changes in frequency, amplitude, and patterns, which give rise to our sensations of pitch, loudness, and timbre.

Along the way, we understand how the speed of sound is independent of frequency and how frequency relates to wavelength. We emerge from the microscopic world, buoyed up by the music, back to the world of sound waves.


With sound waves reflecting off a woman’s head, Caldwell poses a question: “What if we were to design our own hearing?” From this point forward, he tells the story with alternating scenes of thought experiments, showing simple solutions to challenges we would face while designing a hearing system, with scenes that show how hearing actually solves those challenges. The contrasts help reveal the elegance of our hearing system, heightening our appreciation of it.


With rich tone painting, motific development, and repetition, the original music underscores the motion and helps guide the viewer through scenes of the air particles, thought experiments, and actual illustrations of the hearing system. As the ideas develop, the music develops; as they conclude, the music concludes. Just as the wide range of sounds are combinations of a few, basic variations in motion, the rich, expansive musical ideas are combinations of a few musical themes, mutating through a wide range of tone qualities, highlighting how the motions transform through our hearing system.


The film crosses a wide range of audiences, having been shown to neuroscientists and 6th graders, and many people in-between, offering a satisfying experience at many levels.

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