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In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise

by George Prochnik

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2018111,369 (3.44)11
Listening to doctors, neuroscientists, acoustical engineers, monks, activists, educators, marketers, and aggrieved citizens, George Prochnik examines why we began to be so loud as a society, what it is that gets lost when we can no longer find quiet, and what are the benefits of decluttering our sonic world.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Hearing, Silence, Meaning, Emotion, The Senses
  FrankJLucatelli | Mar 12, 2017 |
Prochnik does an ok job of balancing science, narrative, and journalism. i like, too, the fact that he seamlessly blends the human psyche's desire for calming, life-affirming, deeply meaningful experiences that can be obtained through silence without referring to them in New Agey woo terminology or even overtly calling them "mystical" or "religious." the science behind how silence and noise affect human behavior inside and out is the topic here and it does include valid discussion of what happens when we unplug ourselves from the everyday cacophony that is the reality for most modern humans.

only one part of the book did i skip: that about "boom cars." they are vehicles that have been transformed by their owners into rolling subwoofers that can generate up to 180dB of sound. this part of the book seemed to drag on and on because he wanted to tell stories and give dialogue to every character he met when he was researching this. he did make some good points about perception of noise pollution and that not every boom car owner was disrespectful with their use of extreme volume. it also allowed him to discuss the legislative aspect of noise control: how far do we go in curbing other people's sound habits?

i appreciated the book because of what he said about there being a reason that monks and ascetics of all kinds throughout history have trudged off into the desert -for the quiet: they "come for a radical confrontation with ourselves. Silence is for bumping into yourself. That's why monks pursue it. And that's also why people can't get into a car without turning the radio on, or walk into a room without switching on a television. They seek to avoid that confrontation."

the book is obviously a work of journalism but Prochnik does provide source citations and some notes in the back but he does not, however, provide number notation directly to those end notes. there's also an index which is one of the marks of a decently crafted piece of scholarship.

well worth the read and even if, like me, you've done lots of research into this kind of thing, the breadth of Prochnik's research reveals quite a bit of insight into aspects of sound and silence not usually thought of. ( )
1 vote keebrook | Mar 10, 2015 |
The author sets out to look for silence in a world that is getting increasingly noisier. The premise is interesting, and the idea of silence is appealing, but the book really doesn't satisfy. It is a mix of science, evolutionary just-so-stories with no evidence, new age thought, personal anecdotes, and historical research. Such a mish-mash is bound to have some weak spots. I find his exploration of noise more interesting (in spite of how disheartening it was for one who values quiet) than his exploration of science, which seemed to focus on monasteries, zen gardens, and sound proofing companies, which seems to be a somewhat narrow focus. The exploration of the history of anti-noise groups also had some moments of interest, and I would have like to see a bit more detailed examination of these groups. Overall, not a bad read, but not really all that good either. ( )
  Devil_llama | Jul 22, 2014 |
George Prochnik’s exquisite book "In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise" finds the author writing eloquently about his own quest for silence in a world he finds overwhelmingly noisy. That journey leads us with him through visits with Trappist monks in the New Melleray Abbey in Dubuque, Iowa; students who, "when they wanted quiet," found it by "closing themselves inside their rooms and playing a computer game or turning on the television" (p. 286); an architect's client who wanted the perfectly silent home but found there was no way to achieve the levels of silence he craved; people involved with Deaf Architecture at Gallaudet University; Tommy, the King of Bass, and his boom cars with sound systems producing sounds loud enough to turn the author’s brain to Jell-O; and many other memorable characters. "Our aural diet is miserable," Prochnik tells us toward the end of the book. "It's full of over-rich, non-nutritious sounds served in inflated portions--and we don't consume nearly enough silence. A poor diet kills; but it kills as much because of what it does not contain as from what it includes" (p. 283). The book, on the other hand, offers the most nourishing of diets, and leaves us quietly and reflectively wishing for more. ( )
  paulsignorelli | Jul 9, 2013 |
The book is more about fleeing noise than pursuing silence, at least until its end, when Prochnik makes peace with the stronger emotions that fueled his sonic quest early on.

That quest is a remarkable one. He's a curious and active reporter -- visiting a school for the deaf, a boom-car rally, a soundproof-technology convention, a monastery, a Quaker meeting room, a Japanese garden, and numerous other places, as well as speaking with astronauts, police officers, urban planners, and architects, all toward his cause of reducing the noise that blinds us (sonically) to the word and each other.

However, the conflict between noise and silence is not as summarily contained as the book's concluding paragraphs might suggest, and the book's founding thesis -- that the world is louder than ever, a state Prochnik dubs "the new noisiness" -- is not supported by enough data to make it fully convincing.
  Disquiet | Mar 30, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
There is a difference between mere noise control and genuine silence, and Prochnik makes an eloquent case for the latter, whether in the form of personal contemplation or communal spaces of tranquility.
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Listening to doctors, neuroscientists, acoustical engineers, monks, activists, educators, marketers, and aggrieved citizens, George Prochnik examines why we began to be so loud as a society, what it is that gets lost when we can no longer find quiet, and what are the benefits of decluttering our sonic world.

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