The sound of one shoe dropping

John Cage observed that the subjective experience of silence is not a consequence of acoustic phenomena, since psychoacoustic silence is impossible under any circumstance; even in the sound-free environment of an anechoic chamber, the brain generates its own internal electrical noise. Silence is instead a psychological state, a surrender of attention and control, a leap into freedom that allows phenomena (acoustic and otherwise) to follow their own unimpeded course. As an urban dweller whose apartment fronts a busy street, I can attest that it is sometimes possible to achieve virtual silence, i.e. to simultaneously hear and not hear the aural onslaught of the world below, while consciousness is otherwise engaged. That silence, that degree of absorption in the moment, is as ecstatic a state as I'm ever likely to achieve, but ecstasy has its hazards, especially at street level in Manhattan, where surrender of attention and control is not advised.

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