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FEATURE ARTICLE

Quietest Places in the World

The author’s search for extreme silence leads to remote deserts, secluded forests, and into an artificial environment so noise-free it is unbearable.

Trevor Cox

Theories of tinnitus abound, but most experts agree that it is caused by some sort of neural reorganization triggered 2014-09CoxF1.jpgClick to Enlarge Imageby diminished input from outside sounds. Hair cells within the inner ear turn vibrations into electrical signals, which then travel up the auditory nerve into the brain, but this is not a one-way street; electrical pulses flow in both directions, with the brain sending signals back down to change how the inner ear responds. In a silent place, or when hearing is damaged, auditory neurons in the brain stem increase the amplification of the signals from the auditory nerve to compensate for the lack of external sound. As an unwanted side effect, spontaneous activity in the auditory nerve fibers increases, leading to neural noise, which is perceived as a whistle, hiss, or hum.


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