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The human mind is a time machine. It can go back into your past and tap into experiences from your distant self. It can then combine those thoughts into ideas that have never before existed. These ideas, when acted upon, become your future. We call this phenomenon creativity.

One of the requisites for accessing this machine may be silence. By silence, I mean the absence of ambient audible sound. Those moments when other stimuli are not distracting us from the past and future. Humans today rarely have those occasions.

Let’s quickly examine a 21st-century human’s typical day. One awakens and immediately plugs into their phone to see what’s happened while they were sleeping. They review emails, messages, and other information that’s been sent to them. They plug into various media outlets to review what the rest of the world has been doing.

They next get into some form of transportation to take them to their workplace. While traveling they are bombarded with information, entertainment, or interactions with friends and workmates. Upon arriving at their place of work they often spend the rest of their day interacting with others either in person or through social media.

As they return home the bombardment continues via either radio entertainment or texting and talking with others. (Of the 50,000 Americans who die on the road each year, a staggering percentage of those killed are a result of the momentary distraction of these drivers from being able to pay attention to road safety because of their usage of their media.) Finally, when they get home, they interact with those whom they live with, or, more often, turn on some form of entertainment or other social media to amuse themselves.

At the end of the day they climb into bed, take one last perusal of their phone, turn it off, and then have about five minutes of silence before falling asleep. This lack of silence in all our lives is having a profound effect on our world.

There are various kinds of silence in the human experience. The most familiar to us is found in our spirituality. This inner stillness, however, is not really silence because the practitioner is trying to find some kind of contact with the divine.

Every religion has a construct to do this. In Christianity, it’s contemplative prayer. Islam Sufis insist on finding silence within to be closer to their God. One cannot find enlightenment in Buddhism without allowing the mind to become silent. Hindus’ path to inner growth is predicated on silence. The Torah tells Jews that “the only language able to express the whole truth is silence.” And we all know how quiet Quaker prayer meetings are.

The word creativity comes from the Latin, creare, “to create or make.” Our modern usage of creativity, however, didn’t really emerge until after the Enlightenment. Before that, throughout the world, the phenomenon by which something new and valuable was formed was thought of as a discovery, not as a creation. Ancient Greece had no term which meant “to create.” Plato scoffed at art being something creative. In The Republic, he asked, “Will we say of the painter that he makes something? Certainly not, he merely imitates.”

Plato was wrong. We do create. Our brain has evolved to be adaptively modeled for increased efficiency by the inclusion of the cerebellum. It is part of our brain that allows us to experience emotions, and most importantly, language. It has more neurons in it (over a hundred billion) than all the rest of the brain combined.

 The problem for humans today is that this part of the brain is bombarded all day by external stimuli. The result is that it has become more and more reactive in forming ideas. It doesn’t have the time or conditioning to silently reason stimuli out and come up with new and creative ideas.

 I’d like to ask our Independent readers to try a simple thought experiment. Tomorrow, try and pay attention to how much time you actually get to be truly silent. I think the results will startle you.

Make some time for yourself to just sit and think and you’ll soon agree that silence is, indeed, golden.


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