While we use white noise to conduct sensory-deprivation experiments and even to enhance our EVP sessions, it makes me wonder. Is it actually helping? Is white noise masking potential EVPS? Is white noise causing a person to feel something 'paranormal'? What does white noise do to the brain? Does it help or hinder our senses?
White noise is that annoying, static, fuzzy sound that you hear when your radio or tv has no signal. It is defined as a combination of all the different frequencies that a human ear can hear. The human ear can hear between 20 and 20000HZ with 1000 - 4000HZ being the most common and easiest frequency to hear. This means that you are hearing approximately 20000 tones of sound at the same time. The easiest way to understand it is to think of a quiet little café. You go to have a coffee and while you are sitting and enjoying your coffee, you can hear all the different conversations. You can differentiate the different voices. Now imagine you are in a busy shopping centre in the food court at lunchtime on the school holidays. Everyone is talking at the same time and you cannot hear the individual voices. It is now just a mess of loud chatter. White noise works in a similar way. You are hearing so many different tones at the same time that it all just blends into the static sound that you recognise as white noise.
White noise is used for a very large variety of reasons. Mothers use it as a way to calm their babies while others use white noise generators to help them sleep or reach a meditative state. The theory behind it is that your brain loves to be stimulated and will also seek to be active which is why the tiniest of noises may bother you when you are trying to sleep. If you have this constant static noise playing, your brain will be happy and won’t get overexcited over a tiny sound allowing you to fall asleep with ease. It also works well for people with tinnitus. It means they can have a constant ringing in their ear and sometimes the only relief they are able to get from this is to mask the sound with white noise. It seems to have a lot of uses within the paranormal field as well.
Spirit boxes come to mind with what is now the recognisable sound of the white noise of radio stations being skipped through at different sweep rates.
You can read more about spirit boxes in my article Evolution of the spirit box
Most recently people have used the noise from the spirit boxes to induce a form of sensory deprivation in what has been dubbed the Estes Method. Sitters use a blindfold and noise-cancelling headphones while listening to a feed from a spirit box and speaking any words they hear. It is a more modern take on the Ganzfeld experiment which was a famous parapsychology experiment used as a way to test telepathy. It was thought that by shutting off certain senses, people could more easily access their psychic abilities - in this trial, it specifically focused on telepathy.
You can read more about the Ganzfeld experiment in my article The Ganzfeld Experiment
Some people like to use white noise on a television screen with the assumption that spirits can visually manifest through the white noise. It is a similar technique to Video ITC where you use a continuous loop on your screen, but in this case, you would use white noise. Have you seen the movie white noise with Michael Keaton? Think this.
To read more about Video ITC check out my article Video ITC
Some people will play white noise during an EVP session as they believe it helps the spirits to communicate. As white noise is made up of tonnes of frequencies, they believe that the spirits can manipulate and use this to talk to us. The downfall of course to this is trying to eliminate the sound of the white noise when reviewing your EVPS. Some people believe that the EVP’s themselves are embedded in the white noise and with enough enhancement, you can find an EVP. I personally don’t work this way because I don’t believe we should really be editing our sound files – especially to the point that you would have to do extensive work like removing the background. It is likely by this point you would just be getting random sounds and audio pareidolia would trick you into thinking you have a voice (but that is just me). Other people use white noise to help them listen for EVP’s when reviewing evidence. By playing white noise while you are reviewing your EVP, you can cut out all background interference and it may help you to focus better.
The most obvious thing we know that it does is induce auditory illusions. When the brain hears a phantom sound, it tries to make sense of it - much in the same way as pareidolia works. The word pareidolia is defined as a psychological phenomenon involving a stimulus (an image or a sound) where our mind interprets a familiar pattern of something where it doesn’t really exist. If you understand the visual version, basically it is exactly the same, but with sound. Our brain is constantly looking for patterns so it can make sense of what is happening. If there is a break or disruption to this pattern, our brain is forced to fill in the blanks. This is why we will see faces in clouds. It also means we can often hear things that are not really there. A dripping tap for example can confuse our brain and make us think we are hearing a voice. While the conditions we are looking at below are more exclusive to a person only hearing something, an auditory hallucination can be heard by a whole group of people. so just because it is something that is heard by more than one person, doesn't make it paranormal. If you hear a noise, investigate where it could be coming from. Sound can travel far, especially in old buildings. Look for dripping taps, open windows, outside noise, humming fans, or anything that can potentially make you think you are hearing something else. The same thing happens with white noise.
I wanted to finish the article with some information about what white noise can physically do to a person - especially after prolonged periods of time. Often paranormal investigators will tell me that the more they sit and listen to spirit boxes and white noise, the easier they find it is to hear voices. It seems that there is a scientific explanation for this is yes you are in some ways training your brain, but to what effect?
However, being exposed to white noise over the long term might not be a great idea for brain function, because of the brain's tendency to adapt to what it hears. "Studies have shown that exposure to information-rich signals such as speech or music shapes the brain," Dr. Attarha tells Bustle. "Individual cells become more specialized, for instance, by responding selectively to only a narrow range of sound frequencies. On the other hand, long-term exposure to signals that lack information — such as random white noise — influences the brain in a maladaptive direction." The issue, she tells Bustle, is that white noise exposure can tell our cells to respond to almost anything, which can alter our ability to process speech and music.
Research from 2003 found that long-term exposure to white noise damaged the auditory organization of rat brains, making them less capable of healthy development. Dr. Attarha's own research has shown that white noise usage for long periods, used for sleep or for managing tinnitus, can impair the central auditory system in the brain, and potentially contribute to brain aging. The key to this long-term damage, she tells Bustle, is in the excitatory and inhibitory cells in the nervous system. "Just as the gas and brake pedals in a car are used to 'go' and 'stop' in response to different roadway signals, excitatory and inhibitory cells in the nervous system influence other cells to 'go' or 'stop' in response to different sensory signals," she says.
While noises with lots of complexity and information, like music, encourage these cells to specialize, only sending a "go" signal in response to a particular noise, white noise makes them much less sensitive. "White noise exposure gradually decreases levels of inhibition, resulting in cells that are unable to 'stop' responses to a broad range of sound frequencies," Dr. Attarha tells Bustle. That disruption, she says, can cause problems with memory and decision-making down the line. The more white noise you hear, according to this theory, the less capable you'll be of blocking out irrelevant noises or focusing on sounds in a noisy environment.
We also have to think about how something like inattentional blindness could be related here. Even just by listening to a spirit box session, for example, you are so focused on waiting for a voice that it can be very easy to become fixated or even sort of hypnotized by the sound of the white noise. You could in fact be missing something coming through. A lot of investigators will tell you that they often record their sessions to listen back later and they can often miss things. I will be honest, in the past, I thought that there wasn't a lot of point in doing that because it is almost like saying well if you didn't hear it while you were there it didn't happen. I was of the belief that if we didn't hear it at the time and instead we heard it at home on the recording, it was likely audio pareidolia from us wanting to hear a voice. I have changed my view on this a little. Regardless of what you believe when it comes to things like ghost boxes and if the voices are radio noise or something else, you do tend to notice more during playback because you are not so focused on the noise itself as you are during an investigation. Perhaps the inattentional blindness is holding us back from really hearing what is happening at that particular time?
Check out my article Inattentional blindness
So what does all this mean? While many people find using white noise useful, like anything when it comes to paranormal research, it is important to understand what you are working with. You may like to look into using pink noise which sounds similar to white noise and has a lot of different frequencies but the lower frequencies are louder and more intense than the higher ones. People also theorise that the different kinds of noise can influence the kind of 'paranormal experience' you have when using it for sensory deprivation techniques. Pink noise is considered a 'safer' option for those with sensitive ears and people tend to get a better sleep when using pink noise for sleeping. I feel like maybe pink noise is not spoken about enough in the paranormal field. In fact, a lot of natural sounds are also made up of pink noise and they may surprise you!
Image Source Yogasleep
So how do we differentiate a spiritual reaction from a physical one caused by the sound itself? Are they one and the same? I suppose like anything in the paranormal that isn’t exactly an easy question to answer. A person experiencing something as a result of white noise is going to feel that the experience is genuine. That is what the noise does. This is what frequency does. Could the white noise mask out the outside world to allow a person to have some sort of paranormal experience? If white noise can help us relax, focus and even meditate, why couldn’t it then unlock that part of our brain that may be blocking a connection to something else? Perhaps Nikola Tesla said it best ....
Image Source Quora
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