Thursday, February 13, 2014

Why is 3D Binaural Sound So Damn Relaxing?

Sometimes when I'm having trouble sleeping, I listen to 3D binaural sound (also known as holophonic sound) to help clear my mind of racing thoughts and finally fall asleep. Binaural sound is a special type of audio recording that uses two microphones embedded in the locations of the ears in a dummy head. When listening to this holophonic recording through a pair of earbuds or headphones, the result is a compelling illusion that the recorded sounds are located in 3D space around your own head. Listening to the recording without earphones doesn't work and ruins the auditory illusion. These types of audio recordings elicit an ASMR response in many people: a pleasant tingling sensation in the scalp and neck. After listening to many of these recordings of rain storms, of a virtual barbershop, of a woman crumpling pieces of paper, and most recently of a guy slowly opening a box containing bubble wrap and a bag of sand...I wondered. Why is lying in the dark with my eyes closed, listening to a guy slowly opening a cardboard box, such an utterly relaxing experience? Why does it help me sleep and clear my mind?

Am I a crazy person?

 Binaural recording of a cardboard box being slowly unwrapped

I think the reason listening to these binaural recordings is so relaxing is because it closely approximates the practice of mindfulness meditation. As I understand it, mindfulness is essentially training your mind to let your present sensory experience wash over you, without judging it or interrogating it with chattering thoughts. One of the payoffs of this attentiveness to the present moment is that it allows you to escape, if only for a short while, from your anxiety about past mistakes, and from your worries about the uncertain future. It is very difficult to be envious of your neighbor, to be angry at your spouse, to be stressed about your job, or to agonize about money while lying in a dark and silent room just listening to a guy...slowly and carefully unwrap a cardboard box.

As I was recently reminded by an astoundingly clear-sighted lecture by Sam Harris, most of us spend our whole lives thinking mostly about the future and about the past, without ever truly connecting with the present moment. We get expensive University degrees, and get jobs to earn lots of money, and invest money over decades into a retirement account in the anticipation that we will achieve happiness at some distant point in the future. I guess listening to a binaural recording in the quiet secret spaces of the night is a tiny way to set all of that aside, and to be contented with the present moment for just long enough to be taken by the sweet embrace of sleep.

A poetic excerpt from the Sam Harris lecture "Death and the Present Moment"

No comments:

Post a Comment