As children, many of us feared the dark. We feared what was unknown, what might be waiting just beyond the limits of our vision, and we feared the isolation that darkness often brought. We grow out of this fear of the dark, of course, but perhaps not our fear of the unknown.
Our generation is constantly occupied. At first only a side-effect, it has grown into a crippling condition. Technology made us faster, more productive versions of ourselves, but we have become excessively dependent on it. Now, even when we have accomplished all that we must, we feel the need to be engaged by some other task. We find any possible means to fill what little downtime we have, drowning out the silence with speakers and earbuds. We have become so unaccustomed to quiet and calm that we now fear it as we once did the dark; we fear the unknown horrors that it might hold.
But I believe that quiet is a necessity, one that should be cherished rather than endured. Just as the dark lends itself to rest and recovery after the long light of day, quiet is what allows us to process, analyze, and ultimately understand all of the noise. Each day, we are bombarded by an exorbitant number of stimuli, all screaming for our attention. If we never allow ourselves a moment without having to take in new information, it becomes impossible to reflect on anything that we have taken in. Without quiet, a wealth of knowledge simply remains an incomprehensible mess, and is ultimately forgotten.
This notion may seem abstract, it may even seem to defy convention, but it is supported by the law of diminishing returns. It has been proven that for each additional unit of time spent studying a given topic, successful learning begins to decrease. At a certain point, new information is no longer the answer to understanding something. Only contemplating what has already been learned can lead to pronounced increases in comprehension; for this, quiet is paramount.
And just as quiet nurtures new understanding, it also brings forth new ideas. Consider Sir Isaac Newton, the infamous Englishman who first developed the concept of gravity. He worked tirelessly on numerous experiments to support his hypothesis. Nevertheless, Newton became aware of gravitation as he was simply strolling through an orchard, his mind unoccupied and undisturbed.
We often have similar, albeit less profound, experiences. Most of what I’m including in this podcast was thought of in the shower, or while walking between classes. Obviously sitting in silence is not the solution to every problem, and it would be far from productive, but we could all benefit from making the effort to free ourselves from distractions, whether it be by setting time aside to clear our minds or simply leaving our headphones at home once in awhile. It may seem inconvenient, but quiet can be unexpectedly powerful, and should not be underestimated.