Centuries ago, a philosopher (they were the scientists of the day) was thinking about hearing. He listened at the beach. And loved the lulling, beautiful roar of the surf and came to understand something about too much information.
When our ear is assaulted by the thousands, the millions of noises at a beach: each wave crashing every few inches; the bubbles popping on the beach as surf retreats, each grain of sand tumbling over another grain, each shell of each tiny organism bumbling, the wind, the waves going back out, fish jumping, children shouting as they play in the safety of the shallows.
One, long, continuous slightly falling and rising roar.
We average the infinite, innumerable individual sounds into a hypnotic, restive roar.
The city gives off another, sonorous roar. All the cars idling, running, and passing trucks when not locked into traffic jamming street after street. Heat exchange units on the top of buildings, gigantic fans and pumps rumbling in the basements over which we walk on grating after grating, peering down into concrete abysses that keep air, water, electricity and more esoteric elements into skyscrapers that grow up explosively, and fall to earth infinitesimally for decades.
The city, unlike the ocean, punctuates its roar with sirens, jack hammers, rumbling subways, crashes, guns, helicopters, and up close, emerging from the dark or the roar – voices.
Unmistakably, voices that are busy, concerned, in love, minding children, playing chess, and looking for the next opportunity.
And of all the averaged noises comprising the roar, these voices overshadow us, shake us, whisper to us that our brief tenure here is important, is relevant — to someone.
When one of our voices is drowned, either at the beach or in the city, it shakes us, stuns us, makes all the world taste like sand for a while.