There was an excellent piece this Sunday in the New York Times about the importance of silence:
I'm Thinking. Please. Be Quiet
SLAMMING doors, banging walls, bellowing strangers and whistling neighbors were the bane of the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer’s existence. But it was only in later middle age, after he had moved with his beloved poodle to the commercial hub of Frankfurt, that his sense of being tortured by loud, often superfluous blasts of sound ripened into a philosophical diatribe. Then, around 1850, Schopenhauer pronounced noise to be the supreme archenemy of any serious thinker.
His argument against noise was simple: A great mind can have great thoughts only if all its powers of concentration are brought to bear on one subject, in the same way that a concave mirror focuses light on one point. Just as a mighty army becomes useless if its soldiers are scattered helter-skelter, a great mind becomes ordinary the moment its energies are dispersed.
And nothing disrupts thought the way noise does, Schopenhauer declared, adding that even people who are not philosophers lose whatever ideas their brains can carry in consequence of brutish jolts of sound.
As I write this post, a helicopter is circling over my house, dogs are barking outside, cars are rumbling down the street. It's not the same intensity of noise that people in big cities often experience on a daily basis, but it's damn distracting nonetheless.
Most people I know, don't seem to mind the constant noise and bustle around them. They may even feel comforted by it--a sign that they are not all alone in the universe. In fact, they probably feel strangely unsettled by the experience of silence, because they are so unused to it. Perhaps this is why we willingly choose to inflict ourselves with unnecessary noise from the moment we enter our homes to the moment we drop into sleep at night. I even know people who need to keep the TV going all night long just to be able to fall asleep.
Our inability to appreciate and enjoy quite, doesn't bode well, I'm afraid, for a discipline like philosophy. Philosophy demands that we have ample quite time to ponder the big questions of life in an environment free of distractions. No great ideas, I would argue, could ever spring from a mind that is inflicted with incessant noise.
No silence, no wisdom; no wisdom, no progress; no progress....Well, I'll leave it to you to finish the rest of this thought. I'm afraid that I'm far to distracted by all the noise all around me to continue.