Noise and sound are not the same thing… really, they aren’t! So, what exactly is noise?

SeekerPublished: July 10, 2018Updated: July 11, 2018
Published: July 10, 2018Updated: July 11, 2018

Noise has real effects. It can be damaging; it can be drowning or distracting. Noise can be visual, auditory, electronic, signal-scrambling, musical, or just describe something we don’t like. But what is noise? And what’s the difference between noise and not-noise?

It is difficult to pinpoint where the word noise came. In Latin the word nausea, meaning sickness, is connected to noise, as is the Latin word sonus. In Old French noisome means to annoy. Etymology fails us in trying to explain the word. The dictionary offers this definition: “a sound, especially one that is loud or unpleasant or that causes disturbance.” This poses another set of problems. Who decides what is loud, unpleasant, or disturbing?

Noise can be sounds that we don’t like — loud music, jackhammers, or screaming kids. Noise is also, wind in the trees, or rainfall, or birds or bees. Noise could be a very pleasant violin playing at 2am. Or the most soothing voice in the world, trying to talk to you in the middle of a metal concert. It is all subjective.

To move into the objective, what is sound? The literal definition is “pressure waves traveling through a medium.” It’s molecules hitting each other and passing the energy from one person to another. Like the molecular version of the wave in a baseball stadium. But instead of a wave going around every couple of minutes, it’s multiple waves per second. 

 

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