by Jim Bruce
Today’s Tuesday Reading is the essay “I’m Thinking. Please. Be Quiet.” which appeared in the August 24, 2013 issue of The New York Times. George Prochink, the essay’s author, is also author of the forthcoming book, “The Impossible Exile.”
Around 1850, philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, who felt that he had been tortured by noise all his life, pronounced noise to be the supreme archenemy of any serious thinker.
His argument was simple: “A great mind can have great thoughts only if all of its powers of concentration are brought to bear on one subject, in the same way that a concave mirror focuses light on one point. Just as a mighty army becomes useless if its soldiers are scattered helter-skelter, a great mind becomes ordinary the moment its energies are dispersed.”
Skip forward from Schopenhauer’s day to the present. Most people have a sense that they are drowning in noise. Yet we have ears designed to hear faint sounds made by approaching danger – both animal and humanoid. This is why we can hear a pin drop in a quiet room. This sensitivity to sound has itself become a threat. True, we can tune out certain sounds – the traffic noise from a nearby street or, in my case, the ticking and chime of my office clock.
Research, unfortunately, has demonstrated that while the brain doesn’t bring these sounds to our mind’s attention, these “tuned-out-sounds” impact the body as much as when we are aware of them. A 2009 study on hypertension and exposure to noise near airports (HYENA) demonstrated that ”even when people stayed asleep, the noise of the planes taking off and landing caused blood pressure spikes, increased pulse rates, and set off vasoconstriction and the release of stress hormones.“
Dr. Wolfgang Babisch, Senior Research Officer in the German Federal Environment Agency and a lead researcher in this field, has observed that there is no habituation to noise. We are affected psychologically even when we don’t consciously register the noise. Further, among environmental hazards, only air pollution can cause more damage.
During the writing of the Constitution of the United States, the cobblestone street outside Independence Hall was covered with earth to reduce the noise from the steel-rimmed wagon wheels and the horses hooves so that the deliberations might not be disturbed.
Perhaps we all need to consider how we can dampen the noise in our personal and group environments so we are better able to hear ourselves think.
. . . . jim
NOTE: You can find good information on the impact of noise on your health in Babisch’s Guest Editorial ”Noise and Health“ which appeared in Environmental Health Perspectives. It’s worth reading and acting on what you learn.