I am reading a thrilling book at the moment on one man’s quest for silence in the modern world. George Prochnik argues that more than money, power and even happiness, silence has become the most precious commodity of the modern world. Fascinatingly he traces the etymology of the English word silence – to a Gothic verb anasilan, which is a verb that describes the experience of the wind dying down. This is a very evocative verb, you can almost imagine the Gothic tribes standing outside their wind battered huts in Germany or around the Black Sea, savouring the respite in the biting wind.  The noise of the wind for them has almost become a relentless buffeting of wind for us in the age of TV, IPod, and urban life.  But paradoxically it is in the cessation of noise that we come to appreciate noise. Neuroscientists at Stanford University have demonstrated that when we listen to music it is the silent intervals in what we are listening to that triggers the most intense and pleasurable brain activity.

Prochnik  argues that a lack of silence is actually harming us.  Spending time with a police officer in New York on night shift, he discovers that the majority of domestic disputes that the cop is called out to are actually noise complaints.  When the cop arrives he goes into rooms where the television is blaring, with a radio on top of that and maybe a game station going on too.  The first thing the cop does is tells them to turn everything down and get them to sit down for a minute and listen.  The stress decreases, the tension abates, muscles relax, the heart beats more slowly and the cop says ‘that feels different doesn’t it! – maybe the reason you were fighting is how loud it is inside of the apartment’ According to the cop  most of the cases end there and then. I have only just starting reading  his book,  ‘A pursuit of Silence‘ embarks on a fascinating quest and I’m looking forward to accompanying him on it!