"Noise is not only an interruption but also a disruption of thought" —Arthur Schopenhauer
Pic: Wikimedia Commons
I. Geniuses Despise Noise
To argue with success is to debate with the past about the existence of yesterday. And so, given that most of history's geniuses have embraced what Schopenhauer once called "the eleventh commandment"—thou shalt not interrupt—I feel compelled to write on behalf of lofty aspirations.
"Wolfie hated the trumpet!" recalled Leopold, Mozart's father. “He [would] turn pale and begin to collapse at the mere sound of it." After all, Mozart was extremely sensitive to loud noises.
But Mozart was by no means the lone genius that despised noise. After all, Steve Jobs's disdain for noise borders on infamous.
Jobs's meetings were minimalistic long before "minimalism" became trendy. He preferred small and quiet meetings because, he reasoned, too many minds chatting in one room violated the law of simplicity. In fact, Jobs disliked noise so much that he ordered the Apple III to have no fans or air vents whatsoever, so as to ensure the computer ran quietly.
"Noise is a torture to intellectual people," Schopenhauer wrote. In fact, he dedicated an entire essay to what he suggested served as a sort of kryptonite to every "super" intellect.
The power to concentrate undisturbed for prolonged periods explains why when Sir Isaac Newton was asked how he discovered the law of gravity, he replied simply: "By thinking about it all the time."
Newton, arguably the greatest scientist in history, was notoriously antisocial. He hated noise.
In short, perhaps Schopenhauer's following passage best wraps up this section:
Noisy interruption is a hindrance to concentration. That is why distinguished minds have always shown such an extreme dislike to disturbance in any form, as something that breaks in upon and distracts their thoughts. Above all have they been averse to that violent interruption that comes from noise.
II. Oh, the Noise!
"Oh, the noise! Oh, the noise, noise, noise, noise! There's one thing I hate: oh the noise, noise, noise!" The Grinch's famed lament has become my theme music on many a day.
Living in the "City That Never Sleeps" means, for better or worse, I frequently have to endure the arch-enemy to sustained creativity—loud music. Oh, the noise!
Oh, the noise! Oh, the blare of some gravel-voiced rapper babbling over a thumping beat—from some stranger's parked car outside of my window—is enough to disturb even the Dalai Lama's peace of mind. As for that peace, which is the very life force of creativity, to have it ripped to a piece just as the Muse is about to whisper in my third ear, should be against the law.
On some level, I agree with Schopenhauer that the mere fact "such infamy should be tolerated in a town is a piece of barbarity and iniquity, all the more as it could easily be remedied by a police-notice."
Of course, as only Schopenhauer could, he goes off the deep end with his Draconian suggestion:
[The violator] deserves there and then to stand down and receive five really good blows with a stick!
Okay, dishing out blows with a stick as punishment for disturbing the handful of writers or intellectuals in a given region is a bit excessive. But Schopenhauer's point is well taken.
For those of us who make our livings exclusively by the tilling of abstract soil in the mind, silence serves as fertilizer during working hours. What makes silence so golden to the artist is it allows her to hear that oh-so-delicate voice within.
Perhaps for the above reasons, friends and family often complain of how my phone stays on silent-mode or how I'm prone to go silent for days, even weeks or months. “For non-conformity," said Emerson in Self-Reliance, "the world whips you with its displeasure.”
Ahhh, but isn't it impossible to shame someone who is indifferent to the world’s opinions?
Besides, it’s hard to hear yourself think when competing with loud speakers/loudspeakers of various sort. And so, silence is my best friend! As for friends pestering me to chat and thereby bend to their wills, ahem, I suppose the Oracle of Omaha answered best:
[I] just follow the facts and the reasoning. That’s tough for a lot of people. But that part, I was just lucky with. I was born that way.
I didn’t learn it in school or anything. It never bothered me if people disagreed with what I thought, as long as I felt I knew the facts.
In short, if the gods insist on forcing me to endure the blare of music from just outside the window pane, well, by golly—please let it be some Ol' Blue Eyes softly singing "I did it my way."
Oh, the noise!
III. The Takeaway
"If you cut up a large diamond into little bits, it will entirely lose the value it had as a whole," said Schopenhauer; "and an army divided up into small bodies of soldiers, loses all its strength."
Indeed, noise is to concentration what bacon is to a Muslim’s diet! For this reason, during working hours, I prefer ghostly silence. After all, the higher any artist climbs up the creativity ladder, the more it'll become apparent why Jesus of Nazareth attributed all of his "miraculous" powers to a Holy Spirit of some sort.
"The words I speak are not my own," Jesus confessed, "but my Father who lives in me does the work." Given that the Nazarene defined this cryptic "Father" as being "spirit," it's apparent why for ages the religions of the world have championed silence over noise.
Does not life teach us all that the best things in life always go unseen and unheard?
Do we not close our eyes before eating to mumble a silent prayer? Close our eyes to dream in silence? Close our eyes to kiss in silence?
In short, for the above reason, I daily strive to cultivate a work environment that best reflects a good night's sleep: silence, peace and stillness.
Perhaps this explains why—the smarter you become, the more you hate noise.