Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Hum

'The Hum' has been blamed on many things, but one thing is sure: It is maddening for those who hear it

One of the things I won't miss about this house is the constant and annoying presence of what I have learned is called The Hum.  

It started about five or six years ago.  I got up one summer morning and went to the bathroom (as we all do in the morning).  I noticed a deep rumbling, thrumming sound and grouchily concluded that it was someone blasting the bass on their stereo--I practice I abhor.

Angry and ready to find the culprit and press the local constabulary upon him, I ran outside to see if I could pinpoint the source--and ran right into silence.

Nothing.  There was no thrumming sound here.  Just birds and the usual sounds of morning traffic, and the river noises--barge horns and train whistles--drifting up over the hills.

Back into the house.  I can hear it again. 

Hmmph.  Perplexing.   
Is it the washer or dryer?  No, no laundry is running.  Is the furnace on?  No, again.  Fans and air conditioners were equally silent. But the whole house was humming!  It seemed loudest in the bathroom, but was clearly audible in other rooms of the house as well.  

Later, it was confirmed by everyone else that I was the only one who could hear it.  

I chased it over the next couple of days--it was keeping me awake at night, making me irritable.  I wandered our neighborhood in the pre-dawn searching for the source.  I drove the car downtown, along the river, near the factories.  By now I could hear it even outside, although it was much fainter there and I tried to locate it by listening on every corner.  I found nothing.

Finally, it occurred to me that I might be hearing what has been called The Hum.  I had heard about the Hum many years ago, when I first came across reports about Taos, New Mexico, where many people experienced an environmental humming sound that they could neither identify or locate.  There was great speculation about its possible source, including several conspiracy theories.  But the evidence is thin, so conclusions are impossible.  I had also heard of the Kokomo Hum in Indiana, and I believe I came across a Native American legend or two about certain places in North America that have mysterious sounds.  I suspected that the modern hum-hearers were hearing some sort of military activity; and the pre-technology stories were likely attributable to some local scientific phenomena, like water in underground caves, or wind in certain canyons.

Naturally, I went googling and after several hours of reading, discovered that the Hum is experienced by between one and three percent of any given population.  It is heard in cities and in the countryside, as well as in wilderness.  It is heard all over the world.  It seems that more women than men hear it.  And more women over 50 than under.  Many report that after a few years, they stop hearing it.
So, what is it?  Let’s start with what it is not.  It is not tinnitus—one of the first dismissive answers offered.  But with tinnitus, if you put your fingers in your ears, you can still hear it.  Tinnitus is inside your ears, so blocking outside sound waves won’t stop it.  If you block your ears, you can stop hearing the hum, so the source must be external. And tinnitus is most often a high-pitched sound, not a pulsating, growling, vibrating, irregular Hum. 

What does it sound like?  Like a Theraman on steroids.  Vibratory like electricity, irregular but pulsing, varying in intensity and volume.  Some days it is subtle and easy to ignore.  Other days I have to turn up the TV to drown it out.  Some mornings it is so loud it will wake me from a sound sleep.  Because of its vibratory nature, I think it awakens some instinct we have about earthquakes, and makes one one to rise and flee.  

After reading through many ultra-scientific speculations, I came across one that suggested we might be hearing the Schumann Resonance—the natural electro-magnetic pulsebeat of the planet Earth. Other speculations suggest that we are hearing the waves from cell towers, vibrations from HAARP or other secret military operations, or even colliding ocean waves. 

All of these lack enough support or evidence to help narrow it down, but I do like the Shumann Resonance theory--that I can hear the Earth's heartbeat, so to speak. 

There is little study done on this phenomenon—are there other Hum-Hearers out there?  Certainly.  I invite them to share their experiences.  I also invite experts—scientists, physicians, audio specialists—to bring their trained minds to bear on this experience.  I would also be willing to share my experiences with any investigators pursuing the answers for this mystery.

I, for one, am hoping that traveling will reduce my experience with the Hum.  It can be annoying, irritating.  Some days I don’t hear it at all (these are rare), others I hear it, but it is background noise, and I have habituated much of it.  Others—especially when it is cold at night—it vibrates so loud I hear it over and above everything else, and it feels to me as though the whole house is vibrating with this irregular pulsating noise. On its strongest days, I can even hear it outside.  (Most people report that it is louder indoors and I’m among them.)  I’m also hoping that I turn out to be one of those people who hear it for a few years, then mysteriously outgrow it.  But whether or not I hear it, it is a mystery for which I will continue to seek answers. 

This image was borrowed from The Alien Nexxt Door, a blog by SF Girl located at

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