Tag Archive: MIT

There is value in the sudden quiet

MIT’s Infinite Corridor — Photo credit: Kunal Mukherjee licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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

“With more quiet time, more privacy, more stillness, we have an opportunity to think about who we are, as individuals and as a society,” writes Alan Lightman.  Lightman is a physicist at MIT—easily one of the most frenetic, mentally stimulating environments on planet earth. You feel the vibration when you step into the huge domed entry and stroll down the “infinite corridor.” So much energy!

But this physicist relishes the sudden quiet of a pandemic to wonder about how quiet and isolation can — and often have — stimulated innovation. More than that, they stimulate reflection and insight. The opposite of what Henry David Thoreau deplored: our desperate pace.

If you’re looking for some peace amidst the sudden quiet and enforced social isolation, this essay is a good place to start!

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 new insight into hearing

This image from “Comparative Anatomy” (1936) has no known copyright restrictions.

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Stephen Mraz, MachineDesign, writes about a new findings by MIT researchers that is providing insight into hearing, specifically how a very thin layer in the cochlea helps humans pick out one voice among many in a crowd. Mraz notes that the new findings could lead to better hearing aids.

I’m not sure I understand the research, and it probably has to be confirmed by other studies, but the inability to understand speech in a noisy environment is a problem for many older adults. One thing I do know for sure, though, is that loud noise damages the auditory system.

So while I am happy to hear that research is continuing to uncover how human hearing works and how noise damages it, I wish every article and report on the latest research would add a statement telling readers that noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable.

And remember: If it sounds too loud, it IS too loud!

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.

It’s time to change our definition of “old”

Annual National Veterans Golden Age Games | Defense Department photo/Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

According to Joseph Coughlin, director of the AgeLab at MIT and author of “The Longevity Economy,” a new book about marketing to aging baby boomers, it’s time to change our definition of “old.”

Coughlin claims that old age is a made-up social construct invented 150 years ago.

I’m not sure I agree with him completely, but he’s right about something. Much of what we think of as normal aging–obesity, hypertension, diabetes, weakness, disability, and early demise–isn’t normal aging but pathological aging.

I’d add hearing loss to that list.

Pathological aging stems from four factors:

  1. Abnormal exposures, e.g., sun, cigarette smoke, or noise;
  2. Poor quality nutrition, i.e. too much of the wrong nutrients (including calories) and not enough of the right nutrients;
  3. Disuse atrophy, especially for the musculoskeletal system; and
  4. Medical care based on inadequate knowledge about the best treatments for common conditions.

The treatment of hypertension is one example of the fourth factor. In the 1970s, it was thought that a normal systolic blood pressure was 100 plus the patient’s age, and that treating hypertension in the elderly was dangerous. Then a randomized trial–the Systolic Hypertension in the Elderly Program–showed that treatment of high blood pressure in older people prevented stroke. Two more recent examples are studies showing that treatment of cardiac risk factors prevents what was once thought to be inevitable heart disease as people age and then was found to reduce dementia risk, too.

Hearing loss in old age is very common. It’s called presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss. But the world’s literature–which I reviewed for a presentation I gave at the 12th Congress of the International Commission on the Biological Effects of Noise in Zürich, on June 20, 2017–shows that it isn’t normal. Without exposure to loud noise, good hearing is preserved well into old age.

In his book Coughlin discusses “transcendent design”–not just accessible design, or universal design, but:

[A]nother, even higher level of accessibility that I believe has been mistakenly lumped in with universal design: transcendent design. It’s essentially universal design that has been dialed up to 11 on a 10-point scale, with accessibility attributes so useful that they turn out to be highly desirable—even aspirational—for people with and without disabilities. If the defining, narrative-shaping forces in our older future will be those that make it easy for older adults to achieve their jobs as consumers, transcendent products and design features will be at the vanguard of this process.

Coughlin highlights, as an example of transcendent design, the OXO line of kitchen utensils, initially designed by entrepreneur Sam Farber because his wife couldn’t grip standard utensils due to arthritis. People buy OXO utensils not necessarily because they have arthritis or other grip issues, but because OXO utensils they are so good-looking and easy to use. The iPhone and Apple watch are other examples.

People with mobility, musculoskeletal, or auditory disorders don’t need special designs. They and everybody need well-designed utensils, tools, garments, furniture, and spaces that meet needs as people age and suffer inevitable temporary or sometimes permanent impairments.

Perhaps one day architects and interior designers can come up with transcendent designs for quiet restaurants, to make it possible to carry on normal conversations without straining to speak or to be heard, while enjoying the food and the company of our dining companions.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.

Once you teach a computer to see,

Shhhh.  It can hear you.

Shhhh. It can hear you.

it can teach itself to hear.  MIT’s computer science department, “using software image-recognition to automate sound recognition,” found that “once software can use video analysis to decide what’s going on in a clip, it can then use that understanding to label the sounds in the clip, and thus accumulate a model for understanding sound, without a human having to label videos first for training purposes.”  And humans are rendered even more useless than before.

Link via @BoingBoing.