Business, Finance & Economics

Searching for impossible silence

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Image of a subway (Image by Flickr user paul_fujimoto (cc:by-nc-sa))

This story was originally reported by Here and Now. For more, listen to the audio above.

Too much noise can cause serious emotional and health problems. It can raise stress levels, suppress people's immune systems and even raise the chances of heart attacks. But noise is also nearly impossible to escape.

Standing on a New York City subway platform, with four trains entering the station at the same time and his kids not making the experience any easier, George Michelsen Foy decided that he'd had enough. Foy found digital audio meter and went out in search of actual, scientific silence.

The search for silence took Foy to meditation centers, the Sahara desert, and to a lab 7000 feet below ground. It's documented in the new book "Zero Decibels: The Quest for Absolute Silence." In nearly every city he visited, Foy found what he called "monster breath," the cacophony of tires, air conditioners, heaters, and other sounds that permeate every city. He told PRI's Here and Now:

Even if you go out at 3:00 am in the morning and listen and expect silence, you're hearing this hum. It sounds to me, emotionally, as if the city were a living thing, and it's actually breathing in and out.

He also visited an anechoic chamber at Orfield Labs in Minnesota. At negative 9.4 decibels, far below what is perceivable by normal human beings, the chamber has been certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the quietest place on earth. Even there, however, Foy could hear his own heart beat and the coursing of blood through his veins.

Throughout the course of writing the book, Foy became intensely aware of the sounds that surround people every day. Considering the emotional and health consequences of too much noise, Foy believes other people should pay more attention to the sounds, too.

You can watch a video with Foy below:

"Here and Now" is an essential midday news magazine for those who want the latest news and expanded conversation on today's hot-button topics: public affairs, foreign policy, science and technology, the arts and more. 

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