The sounds I hear around me – the chatter, the laughter, everything is just ‘background noise’. Like the low frequency microwave radiation that permeates the whole of creation and is the echo of the big bang itself. After a month of being surrounded by this ‘background noise’, something weird begins to happen to the human brain. It begins to ignore these sounds, in fact the human brain no longer expends effort or energy in trying to understand or hear what is being said. Resources are diverted elsewhere where they will be better used. One might as well be deaf!
But there is a peculiar side-affect of this diversion of resources away from active hearing:
The other day I was introduced to a guy who was told in Spanish that I speak English. The guy (who was American) said something to me but it didn’t register. I couldn’t understand him. He repeated again what he was saying and to my shock I realised he was speaking to me in English. Why hadn’t I picked up the English straight away? The sentence and words he had uttered were loud and clear and had reached my ears so why the initial inability to interpret what he was saying? Because my brain had decided, after a month of hearing nothing but unintelligible ‘spanish background noise’, that there was no point in listening. Or actively listening. So that, when suddenly, I was confronted with an English speaker, it didn’t register – the ears were ‘on’ but the brain was someplace else.
I suppose this underlies an important fact. We don’t listen or see with our eyes and ears. We listen and see with our brains.