The physiology of the cochlea (part of the inner ear) is briefly examined in conjunction with a description of the ‘place’ theory of hearing. The role played fluid motions is seen to be of importance, and some attempts to bring fluid mechanics into a theory of hearing are reviewed. Following some general fluid-mechanical considerations a potential flow model of the cochlea is examined in some detail. A basic difference between this and previous investigations is that here we treat an enclosed two-dimensional cavity as opposed to one-dimensional and open two-dimensional models studied earlier. Also the two time-scale aspect of the problem, as a possible explanation for nonlinear effects in hearing, has not previously been considered. Thus observations on mechanical models indicate that potential flow models are applicable for times of the same scale as the frequency of the driving acoustic inputs. For larger time scales mechanical models show streaming motions which dominate the qualitative flow picture. The analytical study of these effects is left for a future paper.
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