Friday, July 30, 2010

My theory on Noise for Thought

Have you ever said to yourself that you need some "quiet" time to think things out?  Have you desired some solitude to get your thoughts straight, to get in tune with yourself?  Away from the noise and distractions of the city, into the peace and calm of some country cottage or under the solitary tree on a lonely hill? :)

I used to think of these things quite often.  I felt that if i went someplace where there was a peaceful silence, i would be able to write, to ideate.  Well, i went to places like that a few times, and it just didn't work!  It never worked.  It was like I'd suddenly let a hundred monkeys into my brain.  It was alright till i was thinking everyday nonsensical thoughts, but the moment i tried to focus on something particular, a hundred different thoughts came pouring in, pushing through, clambering over each other.

Our stressful jobs and fast paced lives ensure that our minds are constantly analyzing, comparing, processing, remembering, and generally juggling stuff around.  In fact studies show that a rapidly increasing number of people are having sleep disorders because their minds just refuse to shut down even for a while.  Perhaps our minds are so damn used to this immense amount of activity and all this multi-tasking, that they cant handle thoughts in isolation any more.

Now that's a problem if you want to ideate or think creatively for any reason.

There are basically two kinds of noise around us.  One which immediately affects you, like someone or the other coming and talking to you, your phone ringing, somebody at the door, an sms or an email.  And then there's the background noise, like the murmur of traffic outside, the jabber of people talking around you, sounds of things being moved, etc etc.

The first kind is the real distraction, breaking your train of thought, directly affecting concentration and productivity.  On the other hand, we have adapted and learnt to work well despite the second.  We have got no choice!

My theory is, it goes deeper than that.  We now need some background noise.  Something for our brain to continuously chew on and process so that we can use the remaining bandwidth to focus and really get something good done.  Something to keep the extra naughty mind power busy, so that we don't drift away towards more engaging that hot chick in office or the hot aunty next door or the hot.....well, you got the drift.

So i decided to find that ideal level of background noise.  Music works for some, but for me, it either isn't enough, or then the songs get too interesting by themselves.  Strangely, travel worked wonders!  Buses were good, but long distance trains were the best!  The constant rocking motion, the rhythmic clickety-clack of the wheels, and the fast streaming visuals outside really worked.

Now i really don't know how its gonna affect my family life if i need to jump into a train every time, but the point is, maybe the next time you need to think/create/plan, it might be a good idea to find the right noise to accompany you...


I wonder if thats the reason why so many great ideas come when you are taking a dump.  Possibly a large part of our mind gets totally involved into the all-important activity of coaxing all that stuff out...that it makes eureka moments possible!  Also, archimedes-style, there is again the presence of water...and immersion...hahaha!


Unknown said...

Interesting theory, and some nice observation in the end to support it ;)

But yes, for me, sometimes it is necessary to have something in the background (mostly Music) to even read something. So I seem to have quite understood and experienced your theory. :)

Nice post.

quasibaba said...

Nice read. yes, some nice observations. Any sounds we dont need to pay attention to and which is has patterns generally provides good background for thoughts. I think we are so used to this non-stop 'white noise' around us that silence scares us. It makes us anxious as if we have come to some strange place. We strain to hear - something. It takes our complete attention.

I have a different experience about the 'peaceful silence' experiment. Yes if you go to some such place or spot you mind races with arbitrary thoughts. But only in the start. It is the location, the lack of distractions and the silence you have to get comfortable with. When this happens - and it may take some time - then you are 'on'. To contemplate. To explore the mind. For any significant introspection I feel one need to give time. It is not something one does over a weekend. But if you just want to concentrate on a specific problem (writing or otherwise) the time investment to go and get used to some arbitrary location may be too much. I guess at such times things like trains, busses, balconies, nearby known public locations etc. might be useful. I guess we have to find what works to relax our minds and helps us concentrate on the problem at hand...

Ashish said...

Interesting points.

I for one can't function without having some music to listen to. Complete silence and solitude will work only for a day or two, but I still won't be able to get anything done. The mind goes on overdrive. Worst case scenario, the makings of an anxiety attack. And boy, you don't want those.

So you're bang-on. A little bit of background noise brings a sense of 'order'. Keeps sh*t grounded.

Thank goodness I've found my right noise.

"let a hundred monkeys into my brain" :-)

Rashmi said...

true... the moment you have complete silence, your brain jerks itself to work at maximum power...

but train sound is amazing.. u can tune out the sound to a background buzz and concentrate well..

very nicely written.. :-)

trupz said...

extremely interesting and intriguing post, makes me wonder now whether the noises in my head are really something to get rid off or to get used too .... But be it silent or noiseful once the focus is lost it will only take will power to get it back on track .... so no matter if you seek solitude or adapt to white noise till it gets to the depth of your innards nothing will make it happen ...... if your lucky eureka moments drop in every morning or it may take you a long time to clean out the dust from your closets .... but it is a very well written piece ..... kudos

Archana Rao said...

nice post!

I totally relate to the feeling of not being able to think when there is too much of peace and solitude around!

I guess we all hav just got used to so much of noise around us! In the absense of noise we feel lost!

I guess noise is cool and a very imp part of our life now :)

Minal said...

Rao, excellent post!Fantastic observations.

For me it has always been music - as a Kid I needed my walkman on to solve my maths sums, and I always had it for company in college. In MBA I graduated to a disc player and now an Ipod - even need it at work! It just soothes my mind and helps me focus! If there is silence around - I cannot think. Yeah and during the study days - the sound of howzatt coming from my television screen helped me too:-)LOL

Nona said...

For quite a good number of people, music in the background helps. I have heard about surgeons using music in the operating theater while they are at work to relax and concentrate!

Vivek Rao said...

thanks, all!!

seems like music works for most of you! lucky b@#$%!ds :-)