What do you know? You can hear yourself think.
Appearing in the current Nautilus issue on "nothingness," author Daniel Gross writes about the missing modern commodity of silence, and about how neuroscience can map the brain quietly at work during periods of silence, the corrosive effect that consistently high decibel levels have on our states of mind and Finnish efforts to market the quiescence of its legendary Birch expanse.
In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran and colleagues wrote the brain’s default mode network 'is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.' During this time when the brain rests quietly,' wrote Moran and colleagues, 'our brains integrate external and internal information into 'a conscious workspace.'
Freedom from noise and goal-directed tasks, it appears, unites the quiet without and within, allowing our conscious workspace to do its thing, to weave ourselves into the world, to discover where we fit in. That’s the power of silence.
It's a good reminder that we are not mere ordinators for whom more information is always good, but biologies that are always "weaving ourselves into the world," consciously or not. And despite the overwhelming visual nature of contemporary society, throughout history sound has guided creatures through life. Today, the decibel count, even in our own homes, has been raised to levels that would have been alarming just a few decades ago. This is quickly evident in the aftermath of ice storms and power outages, which produce a gulping silence that can be unnerving if you've ever experienced it. Still, it's no coincidence that faith-based traditions call on their adherents to practice quiet, that the benefits of meditation are now widely praised for giving us access to an ever-elusive inner world and quiet is a universal and ritualistic part of public commemorations. I liked how Gross says it "unites the quiet without and within," and elsewhere in his piece describes how silence can produce "thoughts and feelings that aren't audible... in daily life."
Read This is Your Brain on Silence for yourself. I hope to see you at IdeaFestival 2014!
Image: Geoff Oliver Bugbee