18 May 2009

Noise vs. Silence

As part of my freshman literature class I was required to respond to the following quotation and questions in a timed essay (SAT preparation). My instructor found my musings quite interesting. Maybe you will too.

Soon silence will have passed into legend. Man has turned his back on silence. Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation.... Tooting, howling, screeching, booming, crashing, whistling, grinding, and trilling bolster his ego. His anxiety subsides. His inhuman void spreads monstrously like a gray vegetation. (Jean Arp)

Are "tooting, howling, screeching, booming, crashing . . ." the sounds of human progress? Does modern humankind find comfort in such cacophony? Why does "man" become anxious when faced with silence?

Why does modern man find “noise” comforting? There are several reasons, one- the sound of technology boosts confidence in the ability of human-kind to withstand many trials and to keep inventing better ways of transportation and energy. Two, it marks the presence of other people around to help, and to talk to. Humans are creatures of a social nature and one of the scariest things would be a world where there is no one to interact with. There is a great deal of reassurance to be found in “noise”. This is why people listen to music, watch television and generally plan their lives around loud and boisterous activities.

One of the reasons that people find noise so comforting is the fact that with the sound of success (progress in technology, and science) booming their ears they are convinced that humanity is moving forward. This is however, not the most predominant reason as to why people do not worry (have anxiety) when surrounded by a loud sounds. Men cannot think clearly with the din of life pounding into their eardrums and when he cannot think, he cannot worry about the state of things. Sound in this quote suggests “a constant state of hectic-ness” a constant motion, no time to sit still and just “be” without the interference of the ever present noise and confusion.

The second reason that humans as a whole find sound comforting is that it marks the presence of others here with them. They know from the sounds of those around them in the workplace and everywhere else that they are not alone. Not having someone to talk to and share their experiences with is one of the most horrifying things people can imagine. This is shown through modern media in various ways. Motion pictures and television are the best examples. Television shows such as Jericho give life to the terror we all find at the fact that we could be faced with the horror of being the “last man alive”.
Earth Abides, the novel, showed this very clearly by the way that the author followed one man’s travels through an earth, alone and destitute. Silence makes us realize our own flaws, it makes us see who we really are, and that is terrifying indeed. People are distracted, taken away from their anxious thoughts and worrying ways by the constant motion, the relentless sound that is found throughout the world today.

In conclusion, humans are creatures of thought and reason which is what distinguishes them from the rest of the animal kingdom. “Noise” or the- “Tooting, howling, screaming, booming...” of life has made humans think less and act rashly, they have no time to worry, they are constantly in motion, moving towards the day of their death and not ever stopping to “smell the roses” or look at the greater scheme of life and realize that they are in fact just a small part of it.


Hal Brunson said...


Thank you so much for this well written post; silence, and the absence thereof, is one of my favorite topics, and you have addressed it thoughtfully.

J.R. Parker said...

Yes, intriguing thoughts. I've certainly found silence uncomfortable. And I definitely think there's a link between the feeling silence creates and loneliness. But when I embrace the silence, I find myself feeling closer to God. "Be still and know that I am God." Perhaps what is so troubling to man about silence is that when, as you said, the sounds of his achievement disappear, he's left with only the realization of his own smallness. Just a thought. :)