Silence

Is there any good that may come from this pandemic?

Photo credit: Agung Pandit Wiguna from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Is there anything at all good about the COVID-19 pandemic? There’s an old saying that every cloud has a silver lining, but it’s hard to find one in this global health and financial storm.

But as people self-quarantine or shelter in place, and road traffic and aircraft traffic decreases, the streets, highways, and skies are noticeably quieter. The air is cleaner, too. And that’s good, even if it reflects a problem.

In these moments of quiet, perhaps we can rediscover the simple pleasures of reading a book, or gardening, or walking in a park (at least 6 feet away from others, to be sure), and think of earlier times when quiet was the norm.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

A boom in books on the search for silence in a noisy world

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Sure you’d like less noise in your life, but is silence what you’re seeking? According to Bilal Qureshi in The Washington Post, there’s a boom in books about the search for silence in our noisy world.

Qureshi writes about Erling Kagge’s surprising best seller, “Silence In The Age Of Noise,” and several other recent books on the subject, musing:

I’m tempted to dismiss my growing obsession with books about silence as a frivolous longing for “chicken soup for an angsty soul.” But the rise of this family of books speaks to a real need—and void—in contemporary life. Silence is more than the absence of noise. It is the cumulative experience of personal space and a mind at rest, with room to think and contemplate.

Well said!

I have just finished reading—for the second time since it was published in late October (2019)–New Yorker writer David Owen’s excellent new book, “Volume Control, Hearing In A Deafening World.”

Owen’s book reminded me of several other books in this increasingly popular genre, like Garret Keizer’s 2012 book “The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want: A Book About Noise,” and George Prochnik’s 2011 book “In Pursuit of Silence.” Film director Patrick Shen turned Prochnik’s book into an excellent documentary film with the same name that did well at film festivals upon it’s release in 2017.

Personally, I recommend them all! If you’re in the market for some peace and quiet, start with any of these excellent works!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

A charming story about community and silence

Photo credit: trolvag licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Dr. Daniel Fink wrote this post about a recording project in Cremona, Italy that required the cooperation and participation of all the residents, and how they all rose to the occasion:

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This delightful article by Max Paradiso in the New York Times describes an ambitious recording project in Cremona, Italy. Paradiso writes that the project aims to digitally record the violins crafted there centuries ago, preserving “the sounds of the Stradivarius instruments for posterity, as well as others by Amati and Guarneri del Gesù, two other famous Cremona craftsmen.” And to do this, the streets surrounding the auditorium where the recording is taking place must be quiet.

One wishes all cities could make similar efforts.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

On being silent in a noisy world

Photo credit: Robert Aakerman

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I thought that Gal Beckerman’s essay, “The Case for Covering Your Ears in Noisy Times,” would be about the medical and scientific evidence for using hearing protection devices to prevent noise-induced hearing loss. But fortunately I was wrong. The wonderful essay and book review in the New York Times discusses the importance of being silent and of hearing silence in a noisy world.

Not speaking is part of many meditative religious and philosophical traditions, as is enforced silence.

But me? I’m not so extreme.  All I want is a little more quiet!

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

The sound of winter

Photo credit: Valdemaras D. from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This delightful essay by Jennifer Finney Boylan in the New York Times discusses the differences between winter in Maine and winter in New York City.

Boylan writes that when she ventures out “on a subzero morning in Maine, it’s the silence that strikes me first.” No doubt it is a sharp contrast with the sound of the city in winter. In fact, Boylan adds, “[t]he most dramatic sound up north is the one that I almost never hear in New York City: the sound of nothing at all.”

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

For the love of sound, a whole city must keep quiet

Photo credit: trolvag licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This delightful article by Max Paradiso in the New York Times describes an ambitious recording project in Cremona, Italy. Paradiso writes that the project aims to digitally record the violins crafted there centuries ago, preserving “the sounds of the Stradivarius instruments for posterity, as well as others by Amati and Guarneri del Gesù, two other famous Cremona craftsmen.” And to do this, the streets surrounding the auditorium where the recording is taking place must be quiet.

One wishes all cities could make similar efforts.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

The sound of silence

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Penelope Green, The New York Times, writes about using a sound machine to mask nighttime noise for better sleep. In her article she cites a definition of noise that I like and will probably use it again. “Noise,” writes Green, “is defined as unwanted sounds that could have negative psychological and physiological effects.

Green discusses using white noise to mask unwanted sounds that might disrupt sleep. But while that might help with sleep, it’s not clear that white noise is without health consequences itself.

Humans and our primate and vertebrate ancestors evolved in quiet. As Green notes, the perception of sound is a warning mechanism. It allowed us to detect predators or a hungry baby.

I have measured nighttime noise levels near 30 A-weighted decibels (dBA) in remote areas of Wales and Sri Lanka. (A-weighting adjusts measured sound for the frequencies heard in human speech.) That’s at the low end of the noise range from 30-35 dBA where sounds begin to disrupt sleep.

Sadly, it’s impossible to avoid nighttime noise in urban settings, but, as mentioned in the article, even natural sounds from frogs and other animals in rural settings can disturb the listener. Which is unfortunate, because achieving quiet to allow sleep, rather than relying on sound masking devices or apps, is probably better for our health.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Embracing stillness

NBC Left Field interviews Steve Orfield, owner/operator of an anechoic chamber that the Guinness Book of World Records once named as “the quietest place on earth.”  Orfield talks about the importance of silence, noting that “the more perceptual stimulus you have, the less you are able to think clearly.” In the end, Orfield observes that we spend most of our energy trying to entertain ourselves until we go to bed, and concludes “if you look at all the things we spend money on and all the things we think we need, what’s the cost of peace?”

It’s a fascinating interview and well worth your time:

Sometimes you just need to find time for quiet

Father Michael Rennier writes about the Carthusians, a religious order started over 1,000 years ago by a young priest named Bruno. Bruno, according to Fr. Rennier, wanted to spend time in silence, but found his work interfered.  So he left his old life behind for the wilderness, and imposed one rule on those few friends who followed him–no talking.

Obviously Bruno’s life style choice is a bit difficult for most people to contemplate much less copied. Instead, Fr. Michael describes five ways that we can protect  moments of silence in our lives, noting that at his death Bruno’s friends “remarked that in place of words, his mouth was always smiling.”