The beauty of the natural soundscape
This article came about as I sat listening and savoring the sounds of the natural environment.
The river washed harmoniously through its banks gradually changing tempo as it widened rattling the many rocks with its flow.
The birds and the bugs created a symphony that was sweet to the ears.
The branches of the trees creaked and the leaves rustled as a gentle breeze traveled past.
These types of natural sounds are extremely therapeutic. We evolved over tens of thousands of years to become accustomed to these sounds.
After I returned to my not so natural environment I was curious as to how all the artificial sounds we are exposed to on a daily basis effect us.
The man-made zoo and its many sounds
Unlike any other known species before us we have been able to drastically alter and control our environment.
In the time of tribe humans would have only contributed a small portion to the soundscape.
In modern human settlements anthropogenic, or human caused sound usually far outweighs that of any element or non-human species.
Depending on where you live you may hear a continuous hum of vehicles, road workers smashing through concrete, and the not so occasional siren screeching as an emergency vehicle launches past.
Even many once-quiet areas have been polluted with noise. Homes in quiet areas are still usually filled with modern noisy appliances.
With the exception of a few natural havens or a sensory deprivation tank, our ears are continuously exposed to a range of human generated sounds.
How loud is loud?
The shear volume of some of the sounds produced in the human built environment far exceed anything that we would have previously encountered in nature.
To offer some comparison even in the noisiest of natural environments (think rain-forest), ambient sound rarely exceeds 40db.
Contrast that with a New York subway (106dB) or the average Boston city restaurant (92dB) and it is clear how much noise people and their machines actually make.
Everyday items such as dishwashers (80dB), blenders (88dB), and music which sometimes exceed (100dB) provide a stream of continuous loud noise.
In nature the leaves rustle at (20dB) and birds sing at (40dB). This means that the birds outside are 16x quieter than the dishwasher in your house.
Yes certain species such a the howler monkey are capable of producing sounds up to 130dB. A thunder clap may boom at 120dB, but these sounds contribute little to the natural environment as a whole.
In fact loud sounds in the natural environment such as earthquakes or flash floods usually signaled danger. This is part of the reason why exposure to loud sounds can impact human health.
Acoustic over-stimulation – Effect of noise on Human Health
Prior to the onset of agriculture all noise was produced by the natural environment.
It was important for humans to pay attention to the many sounds of their environment as they gave all sorts of indicators that aided their survival.
Today however we are exposed to sounds that are louder, unnatural, and at a frequency that is not seen in nature. Sounds that generally don’t provide cues to surviving the modern world.
In short, we are unapologetically provided with acoustic over-stimulation.
This has resulted in us paying less attention to one of our fundamental senses.
A necessary negligence in the new human environment least we be distracted by every sound we hear.
Although we may not consciously pay as much attention to the sounds of our environment, they still render a range of adverse effects as far as our health is concerned.
Biological effect of noise on Human Health
Most people are aware that unnatural and loud noises can negatively impact the health of captive animals.
Anthropogenic noise can make captive animals exhibit distressed behavior and even result in their refusal to eat and mate.
How about the noise produced in the human zoo. How does it effect the intelligent bipeds it contains?
When the human animal is exposed to loud noise it responds much the same as any other animal. Eye blinking, tension of the muscles, and increased levels of stress.
We may no longer respond with a noticeable reaction every time we hear a loud noise but our inner biological systems are still reacting.
The effect of noise on human health is negative. Noise pollution increases our stress levels, causes hearing loss and reduces our ability to sleep.
The stress caused from noise exposure increases our heart rates and blood pressure. This can lead to heart attacks and strokes in certain individuals.
Airports and roads are the biggest culprits.
Long term exposure to traffic noise may account for about 210,000 coronary heart disease deaths in Europe every year.
Environmental noise also reduces reading comprehension and memory in children.
Although for most of us it takes sounds above 120dB to cause physical pain. Long term exposure to noise below this can cause hearing loss.
According to the World Health Organization during our sleeping hours noise levels above 40dB can have adverse health effects.
Dam noise ruining our shut eye!
Cut out the noise – Re-establish a connection with natural sounds
We have established the detrimental effect of noise on human health. How can we prevent the negative effects of noise pollution when we are surrounded by it?
Anyone living near an airport or busy road would probably do well to move location. Easier said than done though right? Failing that ear plugs at night time are your best bet.
Rid yourselves of any unnecessary appliances such as dishwashers.
It is also important that we re-establish our connection with natural sounds so that we can use our sense of hearing as it was intended.
Although natural environments are becoming less and less immune to the sounds of the human zoo, they are the only place to get the therapy we need.
Regularly allow your ancient genes the taste of the sounds produced in the natural world. It works better than classical music at reducing muscle tension. I kid you not!
Make the sounds of the elements and non-human species a part of your life. Your mind and your body will thank you 🙂