Cymascope: a new form of pseudoscience?

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I have just learned of what is either a remarkable development with implications in many fields or, more likely, a new form of pseudoscience. It is a device called the Cymascope. Information about it may be had at the Cymascope web site. The Cymascope is a device for visualizing sound by causing a membrane to vibrate and shining lights on the membrane. It is claimed that this new method of visualizing sound has already led to marvelous new insights in fields ranging from Astrophysics and Biology to Egyptology and Musicology.

That a new method of visualization might lead to impressive advances is not in and of itself absurd: examples include the development of the microscope, the telescope, and the sound sonograph. What is peculiar about the literature on the Cymascope is that there is no discussion of how it compares to other methods of visualizing sound or of what is mathematical properties are. We are just presented with some admittedly quite pretty pictures and asked to gaze upon them.

One of the areas in which advances are claimed is Phonology, an area with which I have some familiarity. The sole example discussed is the characterization of the vowels, or more accurately, the five vowels of English that the investigators are aware of. The marvelous new result they claim to have obtained is the negation of the following remarkable claim:

Previously it had been assumed that each of the five vowels would have the same basic form for every person.

Something like this was true more than half a century ago, but anyone with even a modest acquaintance with acoustic phonetics should know that finding invariant acoustic properties that distinguish one vowel from another across speakers and phonological contexts has been one of the major problems in the field for decades. So far all I see are pretty pictures, no scientific results.


  1. Victor Mair said,

    March 25, 2016 @ 7:38 am

    I read around in several sections of their website, including "Egyptology" and "Ornithology", trying to locate evidence of published results showing the practical or scientific applications of the CymaScope. Even after I looked at "Scientific Links", I was still not convinced that I had found any. Finally I tried "Breaking News", and realized the nature of the whole enterprise by reading the entry for 10/26/15 (when Dr. Kenneth John Atchity, wearing glasses with thick, bright yellow rims, visited the CymaScope laboratory) about a "franchise" called "Dr. Fuddle and the Gold Baton":


    …a young person’s novel (now available) and forthcoming live action animated film in which the forces of good-versus-evil (cacophony versus euphony) play out through the transformational power of classical music. The concept was created by Dr. Warren L. Woodruff, musicologist and head of the Woodruff School of Arts in Roswell, Georgia. During Dr. Atchity's visit the creation of the Gold Baton app was discussed, based on the concepts used in the CymaScope Music Made Visible App, in addition to ideas for representing music in the film within a visual context. Atchity said," Because of the CymaScope instrument, the forthcoming Gold Baton App and finale of the film will introduce to the world the true shape and transformative power of sound.”


    For those who wish to study the intellectual underpinnings of the CymaScope movement, I recommend reading up on cymatics (from Greek κῦμα ["wave"]), "the science of visual sound". It was developed by Hans Jenny (1904-1972) and has its roots in anthroposophy.

  2. Keith M Ellis said,

    March 25, 2016 @ 3:11 pm

    It's very much crankery and, for me, this was most clear in a page about "physics". Bottom line, they believe that physicists don't understand sound waves because reasons. Also, naturally, they have a vibrational theory of everything. As in "particle physicists are wrong about QM" everything. That's a shibboleth.

    What is interesting to me — has always been interesting to me — is this not-uncommon level of crankery that shows a non-trivial degree of familiarity with a few relevant technical subjects combined with batshit crazy crank "science". I've never really understood how that works but it always leaves me feeling a bit freaked out.

  3. AntC said,

    March 26, 2016 @ 1:02 am

    I had a quick look around the site. Yes the (moving) pictures are quite pretty.

    Shouldn't any LL reader have smelt a rat at "the five vowels" of English? It would indeed be a marvelous new result if they'd shown there were only five — especially since even their couple of samples articulate more than that.

    Perhaps their research could have gone as far as reading wikipedia; or even (gasp!) talking to a phonologist?

  4. Mike Maxwell said,

    April 4, 2016 @ 9:46 pm

    This came up on Science Daily ( several years ago, in a story about an alleged breakthrough in understanding dolphin "language". Google "cymatics dolphin" and you'll find hits like this:, where someone asks the question “What if the sounds are not words to be listened to but pictures to be seen?” I suggested to the good folks at ScienceDaily that this was not science, and included a few links to other cymatics stories. To their credit (at least that's my take on it), ScienceDaily took down the story.

    (ScienceDaily largely posts science-related press releases, which in my experience are always much more contentful than the cymatic+dolphins one.)

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