The Perception of Silence

In different areas of study, like science and psychology, more and more experts agree that loud noises can really hurt our health and thinking. They also think that quietness, or silence, is super important, especially for our brains.

Noises cause stress, especially if we have little or no control over them. The body will excrete stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that lead to changes in the composition of our blood—and of our blood vessels, which actually have been shown to be stiffer after a single night of noise exposure.

– Mathias Basner, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania(source: Time Magazine)

People have argued for a long time about whether we can “hear” silence like we do sound. Some say yes, others say no; we just know it’s there. According to the “since illusions” study published in a prestigious journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), silence can trick our brains just like sound can, making time seem different. So, it seems like we really do “hear” silence, not just know it’s there. This helps settle the big argument about silence!

Lead author of the PNAS study, Rui Zhe Goh, a Johns Hopkins University graduate student in philosophy and psychology, says “We typically think of our sense of hearing as being concerned with sounds. But silence, whatever it is, is not a sound—it’s the absence of sound. Surprisingly, what our work suggests is that nothing is also something you can hear.”

Chaz Firestone, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins, and co-author of the PNAS study, says “Silence, whatever it is, is not a sound. It’s the absence of sound. And yet it often feels like we can hear it. If silence isn’t really a sound, and yet it turns out that we can hear it, then hearing is more than just sound.”

In an age of so much noise, silence deserves our attention.

– Justin Zorn and Leigh Marz, on Time Magazine

According to the journal Science, “Our brains may process silence and sounds the same way. Experiments with auditory illusions begin to answer a philosophical puzzle about whether we perceive when there is nothing there”.

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