Can we hear the silence? Scientists settle a centuries-old controversy

Can we really hear the sound of silence? Over the past several centuries, this has sparked widespread debate, and philosophers have reported that humans do not “hear” silence.

However, a new study revealed a surprise. It suggested that a person can perceive that there is silence, just as he can perceive that there is at least a sound. Where he can say that he did not hear any noise, that is, he realized that he was in a silent place, according to the British Daily Mail.

What’s new in the study is that the researchers were able to find evidence that the brain effectively processes silence itself, which they say could explain why humans pay so much attention to “an awkward pause in a conversation, an interesting gap between thunderclaps, or the silence at the end of a musical performance.”

7 magic experiments and tricks

The hypothesis is based on 7 experiments involving 1,000 people, which showed mind tricks that work with sound and silence as well.

As happens in some amateur magic tricks, if someone listens to one continuous electronic note or two separate electronic notes of the same total duration, their brain will trick them into thinking that one note lasts longer.

(expressive from iStock)

In the new study, participants also believed that continuous silence was longer than two separate periods of silence, indicating that the brain processes absolute calm in a similar way to sound.

Chase Firestone, the study’s lead author from Johns Hopkins University in the US, said, “One of the reasons the phrase the sound of silence is so convincing is that it is paradoxical, as silence is the absence of sound.”

Single and double silence

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, played participants’ single and paired silences against the background noise of either a train, a crowded restaurant, a bustling market, a playground, or random noise. Participants estimated that a single silence was longer than two separate silences when asked to compare, just as they do with sounds.

The illusion also worked when participants were asked to press a key to see how long the silence lasted, as well as when they simply compared it.

(expressive from iStock)

(expressive from iStock)

The researchers demonstrated that it was not surprising that the two silences were broken by noise affecting the judgment of the participants by repeating the experiment with the noise of a chirping bird during the long silence.

They also repeatedly detected two electronic tones that were judged to have a larger gap between them when played silently than when played between other sounds, indicating that the participants’ brains actively perceive silence.

The expected disappearance of the sound

Because everyday sounds in real life are a cacophony and there is seldom complete silence, the researchers judged how participants reacted when individual noises were silent.

When a high-pitched organ and a low growling engine are played at the same time, one of these sounds will quiet down several times. When the sound that had not previously stopped was removed, the participants perceived it to be silent for a longer period of time than when the expected sound had disappeared.

audio illusions

The researchers concluded that the group of audio illusions shows how stable the human brain is in perceiving silence.

“The kinds of illusions and effects that seem to be unique to auditory processing of sound are also obtained with silence, which suggests that we really do hear the absence of sound,” said co-author Ian Phillips, from Johns Hopkins University.

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