The Sound of Fear

A certain inaudible sound frequency may directly trigger feelings of “creepiness” and physical symptoms of fear, one scientist says.

Don't look now, but I think I see a g-g-g-gh-gh-sound wave!

A sound frequency of around 19hz – just below the range of human hearing – has been detected in several “haunted” places, including a laboratory where staff had reported inexplicable feelings of panic, and and a pub cellar where many people have claimed to see ghosts.

Though no peer-reviewed studies have examined this phenomenon yet, I think it’s still intriguing enough to be worth talking about – and after all, it is that special time of year. So huddle up close, and let me tell you a tale – the tale of… The Frequency of Fear!

Back in the 1980s, an engineer named Vic Tandy began hearing strange stories from his otherwise-scientifically minded coworkers: whenever they spent time working in a certain laboratory, they’d experience inexplicable feelings of unease, and glimpses of ghostly apparitions.

At first, Tandy chalked these reports up to stress, or to the irritating wheeze of life-support machines that permeated the building. But one foreboding night, as Tandy toiled alone in the lab, he suddenly broke into a cold sweat, and felt the hairs on his neck stand up. He was overcome with the feeling that he was being watched. From the corner of his eye, he glimpsed a sinister gray form moving toward him – but when he turned to face it, it vanished. Tandy fled the lab for the safety of his home, his keen scientific mind churning, asking what could have triggered this bizarre episode.

The next day, Tandy happened to catch sight of a clue: in the lab, he noticed that a foil blade clamped in a vice was vibrating at a rapid rate. Fetching his trusty frequency meter, he discovered that the sound wave behind these vibrations was bouncing off the walls of the lab, and that its peak intensity was focused in the room’s center. Its frequency was 19hz – slightly below the minimum human-audible frequency of 20hz, but easy for a human body to feel as a subtle vibration.

Tandy began to delve into ancient forbidden texts (OK, actually he started reading biology papers) and learned that frequencies near this range can cause animals to behave nervously, hyperventilate, stumble dizzily, and even have trouble seeing clearly.

It’s likely that these animals’ sensitivity to these vibrations evolved as an early-warning system for earthquakes, tsunamis and related disasters, and may explain why animals flee the sites of these disasters en masse long before humans suspect anything’s the matter.

Over the years, subsequent investigations have found that similar frequencies occur in other reputedly haunted spots, which seems to indicate that we humans may be sensitive to these frequencies as well.

If you ask me, though, the scariest part of this story is that as you read this, scientists with less noble purposes could potentially be developing devices to project these frequencies directly into a target’s body. Not to be paranoid here, but I’m not too keen on the idea of a fear ray. Just putting that out there.

On the whole, I think right now is a pretty awesome time to be alive – we’ve got mind-controlled computers, we’ll soon be able to record videos of our thoughts and dreams, and it won’t be long before we can see, hear and even touch virtual worlds. But we’ve also learned that magnetic stimulation can make people want to lie, that electrical stimulation can alter our decision-making processes, and that sound waves can make us feel pain and fear.

We’re on the brink of an unprecedented epoch in human history, when miracle-working may quite literally lie within any person’s grasp – but with that power also comes the potential to create truly unimaginable hells at the push of a button. All I can say is, I hope with all my might that our better nature wins out.

Because, I don’t know about you guys, but I can hardly wait to see what the future holds.

2 thoughts on “The Sound of Fear

  1. The future, although exciting, can also be scary. This reminds me of an article in Time magazine about Singularity, an organization that is working on developing artificial intelligence.. and to ultimately replace us. It talked about people being able to “store” their consciousness in computer programs and save them until it can be “downloaded” in an artificial body. It would make us immortal. Scary, isn’t it?

    1. Scary, and also tremendously exciting. It’s the intersection between those feelings that motivates me to research and write about these topics, in the hope that the Bill Gates-s and Steve Jobs-s of the next generation will wield their power with wisdom and compassion.

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