There is a popular misconception that sound can travel through space. Since space is a vacuum, this isn't possible.

Confusingly this scientific video describes "the sound two black holes make when colliding".

Since it's impossible to make sounds in space, this video is actually a transcription of sorts from one human sense to another (audio). I want to underscore that this is a false transcription, and merely:

  • Only a mapping of the unseen to what our senses can appreciate
  • Constrained by the limits of technology in conveying this information. Video was used to show a chart. Audio was used to help understand this.

I'm hoping there is a cognitive word to describe the concept of

  • an accurate mapping of information (such as sheet music)


  • a simulation/flawed representation that requires context. (e.g. "What does gravity taste like?" is no different than asking "what does gravity sound like?")
  • Note to self: encoding with a loss of fidelity/resolution might be one way of explaining this, but doesn't seem to fit with everyday English. Oct 11 '16 at 16:34
  • Not an answer, but... NB first sentence: "Gravitational waves sent out from a pair of colliding black holes have been converted to sound waves..." and that this site works with CalTech and MIT. That's a bit like arguing with Shakespeare about English. If the gravitational waves were close enough to affect our atmosphere, we might well hear them. Also, sounds are picked up from space (presumably a vacuum) all the time, hence SETI. Oct 11 '16 at 16:48
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    This sounds like conversion/translation vs metaphor (all with their broader senses). Oct 11 '16 at 16:49
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    The usual term for this is visualisation. Whether it is used when making things audible, I couldn't say.
    – Mick
    Oct 11 '16 at 17:32
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    @LamonteCristo given what you've just posted in comments, perhaps you should go to the philosophy SE site. You've described a classic issue in epistemology (the theory of knowledge)
    – John Feltz
    Oct 11 '16 at 18:49

The accepted term for transforming information (usually in the form of a signal - such as video or audio) from one medium to another is transcode.

transcode - convert (language or information) from one form of coded representation to another.

Transcoding implies that the waveform of the original signal is preserved (possibly with some distortions) during the transfer to the target medium.

Note that it is not possible to map information as perceived by one human sense (e.g. vision) to a format that will by perceived by another sense (e.g. hearing) without taking some very extensive creative license.

You can only sense one sound wave at any given moment (or two, if we take into account both ears), and the frequency of that wave cannot exceed 20 kHz. Your eyes, on the other hand, can sense many colors simultaneously and the wave frequencies required to express this information are several orders of magnitude higher.


What you are describing is the concept of "OVERLAY" or "SUPERIMPOSE"

For instance you take a natural light picture of the Mona Lisa and then take a near-infrared and lay one over the other to look for changes or anamolies.

Great techniques to find differences that the human eye cannot process.


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    Trolls everywhere these days. Great that you don't like my answer, too bad you don't take the time to explain why you disagree.
    – Dave
    Oct 11 '16 at 19:51
  • I don’t think this is correct. OP is asking about a transfer function that maps “the unseen” to “the seen” for the purposes of visualization but does not suggest doing any kind of superposition.
    – Jim
    Nov 12 '16 at 18:28

I remember in a philosophy of mind class, we used to use the word/concept "isomorphism." The idea in philosophy comes from the mathematical definition, which (roughly speaking) requires a two-way mapping between models.

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    (+1) isomorphism is used in information theory, too. But it describes a quality of the transformation, not the transformation process itself. Oct 11 '16 at 19:44

You could apply the term transmux (transcode-multiplexing) to this case.

Transmux (Transcode-Multiplexing) is a process that changes the format of an audio or video while keeping some or all of the streams containing information from the original. Transmuxing converts to a different container format without changing the contents.

This article on LIGO in Nature notes:

Although the two black holes had probably been orbiting each other for millions of years, LIGO began to pick up their waves only when they reached a frequency of 35 cycles per second (hertz). The frequency rapidly increased to 250 hertz.

Those frequencies (35 Hz to 250 Hz) are well within the nominal range of human hearing (20 Hz to 20 kHz). If there had been a medium present to conduct these vibrations of spacetime to our ears (e.g., Earth's atmosphere, as @medica noted), we could have heard them.

For the LIGO video, the Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab

  • took the signals produced by the vibration of spacetime, and converted to electrical impulses by LIGO's detectors, and
  • played back those same electrical impulses to vibrate the diaphragms in your earphones or speakers.

(If you're talking about shifting UV or infrared light to the visible spectrum, that involves spectral shifting, which was not necessary in the case of the LIGO data.)

Based on the preceding, I disagree with the assertion that the video was a false transcription; it was, in fact, a direct transcription -- same notes, different instruments.

  • I believe transcribe implies writing. You write notes (hence your Bach example is apt), but you do not write sounds. Oct 12 '16 at 18:44
  • @michael.hor257k That's probably a bit narrow, since transcribe also means record. But I found what I think might be a better word.
    – Gnawme
    Oct 12 '16 at 21:51
  • Transcribe means record only in the sense that the information is transformed into a written form. For example, a court transcript is a written record of the oral proceedings. -- WRT to transmux, I believe the term is only applicable to multiplexed signals and not here. Oct 12 '16 at 22:01

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