Global Resilience Solutions > Category:Senses

The Awesome Power of SOUND…

Continuing with our exposition into the power of the senses, this week we’ll be talking about sound. Right now, all the time, your ears are picking up and feeding you a constant stream of information. The sounds that you hear, and those you don’t, can have an astonishingly profound effect on you and on your personal resilience.

First of all, what is sound? Sound is energy. Our ears are so sensitive that they pick up on minute sources of this energy — when a mosquito flies, it produces about one quadrillionth of a watt of energy. By comparison, the average light bulb requires 60 watts. Our ability to sense these miniscule vibrations through space is actually an incredibly interesting gift.

You’re probably aware of the soothing effect sounds can have on you. The wild noises of birds and other animals, insects, wind rustling through trees and water are often used to soothe during times of stress or during meditation. But why? Most experts assume this is simply an evolutionary response. These are the sounds we would have evolved to recognize as home. In a world of sirens, traffic and the silence of an indoor setting, people begin to feel disconnected and even unsafe. Visiting places where birdsong is audible or even putting on a CD of ocean waves tends to make you feel reassured and secure.

Audio Ecologist Gordon Hempton researches and records sounds in the parts of the world that are totally free from human noise pollution. But he has quite a job tracking those places down first! You see, the parts of the world without human-made sounds such as traffic, industrial noise and passing jets are rapidly dwindling. Over the past twenty years, countless studies have also shown that noise levels in the city are increasing at a steady rate. What does this have to do with resilience? Well, high noise levels cause a rise in blood pressure, an increase in stress, hypertension, sleep disturbances and even tinnitus. Some recent research even indicates that the sound of your heartbeat has a calibrating effect on the rest of your metabolism.  Logically, that would suggest that loud, jarring sound could well interfere with this natural sonic calibration and lead to a great deal of stress.

It can be really helpful to get away from it all — try visiting a local protected park. Even a neighbourhood park can bring a certain peace. You can also simply visit his website: lie back and take in the bioacoustics at http://soundtracker.com/

Here you can watch Hempton in action!

On the other hand, how hard would it be to live in a world of complete silence? Scientists at Orfield Labs have created something called the Anechoic Chamber in Minneapolis, Minn. Its walls and floors are covered in fiberglass wedges and insulating material to capture every sound wave. Inside, the rooms is measured as being at -9 decibels – “dead” quiet!

Those who have ventured inside have found the experience intensely unsettling. After you settle in there, the ear adjusts until all you can here are the organic noises of your own body as your heart beats, you breathe and you digest food. The cessation of the flow of signals and cues that inform your body subconsciously of where you are and what is going on around you doesn’t register immediately. But when it does, people become extremely disoriented.

Company founder Steven Orfield explains: “The quieter the room, the more things you hear. You’ll hear your heart beating, sometimes you can hear your lungs, hear your stomach gurgling loudly… In the anechoic chamber, you become the sound.” Of the visitors to the chamber, the longest that anyone has been able to hold out was only 45 minutes!

Silence is also one of the most effective tools of communication there is — it can be punitive – to show anger, disappointment, discomfort, etc. – or, conversely, it can be a gesture of intimacy.

But of course, we can learn a lot from speech as well. In multiple studies, listening to audio recordings of loved ones could tell participants a great deal of information when they were really listening. There was a great deal hidden within the tones of the voices recorded. After listening, study participants were able to guess how tired the speakers were, if they were happy, sad or angry, and if they were stressed, with a surprising level of accuracy.

This information surrounds you every day. But it’s so easy to tune out sound. If you really pay attention to the timbre of a person’s voice, you can tell a lot about them. The same goes for your surroundings: becoming aware of the sounds that do you good will lead you to appreciate them more often.

This week, to reduce stress, take off your headphones and listen to the world around you. Appreciate the natural beauty of birdsong and wonder at silence. Grow closer to your friends and family. Remember: all you have to do is listen 🙂

Here is a fascinating talk about the power of sound, and the want that is can impact your health and productivity, and ultimately your personal success:




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