Let’s review: The four competing theories regarding the source of the World Hum

Over the past five years, I’ve witnessed – and refereed – a few online shouting contests between people who are convinced they know the source of the world Hum. Passion may be a great engine for scientific research, but it is a poor arbiter of it. In my view, four hypotheses have survived the most trivial examinations and the available evidence. Each of these hypotheses has its difficulties. I am examining and testing them in turn.

  1. VLF radio frequencies between 3 Hz and 30 kHz (and possibly ELF frequencies below 3 kHz) are interacting with living tissue and activating the human auditory system in a way the brain interprets as sound, and sometimes as perceptions of physical vibration (The perception of EM energy as hissing and/or popping sounds has already been established at higher frequencies, such as radar and microwaves). I have a built a unit that aims to completely block VLF radio waves within an enclosed space. I conducted this experiment and I heard the Hum as loud as ever. This is not conclusive, of course, and I need to at least confirm using electronic measuring devices that the box does what I claim it does. Nevertheless, the EM theory is in doubt now. There of course is the related theory that exposure to some types of EM energies causes subsequent perceived audio effects, just as certain types of intense acoustic exposure can lead to perceived audio effects (i.e. tinnitus).
  2. The world Hum is caused by the (increasingly) grand accumulation of low-frequency sound and infrasound from human activity, including for example mining, marine traffic, air traffic, windmill farms, smelters and blast furnaces, freeway traffic, the electric grid, factories, and so on.
  3. The world Hum is the result of a terrestrial/geological process. Many geological processes can work very quickly, such as during earthquakes. Some can work over months or years (e.g. volcanoes). I have a person digging into the historical records to find evidence of the Hum in 19th century England. If it can be solidly established that the Hum has occurred in past centuries, then this would be a piece of confirming evidence for this theory.
  4. The world Hum is an internal body process along the lines of otoacoustic emissions and tinnitus. If the currently accepted timeline of the Hum is correct, then I think this theory is unlikely. If we find historical evidence of the Hum, then this theory becomes a serious contender.

Another significant setback for Worldwide Hum research

The progress of research on the Worldwide Hum is agonizingly slow, yet we have made significant inroads into serious media with our efforts to normalize the phenomenon and increase awareness. I am greatly dismayed to see yet another article, this time in Newsweek, claiming the “Earth’s Hum” has been solved. You can read the article here: http://www.newsweek.com/earth-hum-sound-record-742075

This is interesting research, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the Worldwide Hum. The reporter, who has a Masters degree from Oxford in Medical Anthropology, should know better. But because of lazy reporting, we now have another hundred thousand or so people out there who have lost interest in the topic and will relegate groups like ours even further to the fringes. “It’s been solved, by actual scientists”, will become the automated response. What’s irritating about this coverage is that writers – perhaps for lack of a more accurate term – are using the word “hum” to describe the phenomenon investigated by the French scientists. The frequencies in question are far, far beyond the range of human hearing, and using the word “hum” conflates two phenomena that are unrelated. The writer, to her credit, made no references to “mystery sounds” and so on, but she is from England, and surely she knows that superficial (non-scientific) readers might get the wrong idea. Several members of my own family in other parts of Canada hurriedly sent me links to the Newsweek story when they saw it. They are bright and well-educated people, but they are neither scientists nor science teachers and they didn’t have the time or background to dig into the details.

And there are other, more subtle distractions. For example, the article states that scientists have been trying to record the Earth’s “hum” since 1959. This is yet another conflation with the Worldwide Hum, which was first reported in a widespread and reliable way around the same era, and which to my knowledge has never been demonstrably recorded.

I’m quite sure the reason our project has penetrated serious media to the extent it has, is because I’ve roundly rejected ridiculous conspiracies and pseudoscientific hogwash. We have slowly and steadily collected and published data, and participated in serious dialogues with scientists, physicians, and other scientifically literate people. It’s easy to let ennui set in when measurable progress is so infrequent, and when setbacks like the above article muddle the issue and change the subject. But if we stop every once in a while and look back and the distance we’ve traveled, it can motivate us to push forward.

We should take a second look at this

A few years ago I posted on this topic, and a few minutes ago I rediscovered why. As evidence piles up against EM-based theories (VLF radio, microwave, etc), I’m leaning toward the theory that the Worldwide Hum is an internally generated perception of sound and in some cases, vibration. Note that there may be external triggers or pre-requisites, such as ototoxic medications, environmental exposure, infrasound, and so on.

So focusing back on medical diagnostics, take a look at this startling experimental result: http://digitalcommons.northgeorgia.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1049&context=papersandpubs.

Allow me to offer an executive summary: When you strike a deep bass note on the piano, for example, the piano string vibrates strongly at that fundamental dominant frequency, which is what you hear. But, the string also vibrates at other frequencies, called overtones. (It is the mixture of these different harmonics and overtones that make each musical instrument and voice unique.) Musicians will know these overtones as the third, the fifth, the seventh, and so on. The fascinating thing is, if those harmonics and overtones – without the fundamental – are played to you, your ear and brain will create the fundamental note for you, and you would swear that you can hear the fundamental bass note being played!  I don’t use exclamation points very often, but this is quite remarkable. This effect is called the missing fundamental. The undergraduate researchers in the above paper conducted a brilliant experiment in which they played tones that created an infrasonic missing fundamental. That is, the brain created a note that was below the range of hearing. They measured the brain response using EEG recordings which clearly showed the missing fundamental rising at 18Hz.

So then I had an idea. We should do something very similar. The important lesson from the above study is that there are external experimental techniques that can validate real or perceived sounds. This could separate Hum hearing from schizophrenia, otoacoustic emissions, tinnitus, or other phenomena, just for starters.

We don’t need to create the missing fundamental. If we are perceiving, say, a 47 Hz tone, then the EEG might show that. It also might show whether that perceived Hum disappears in the presence of masking noise, or whether it is persistent. If a 47 Hz signal cannot be read on the EEG, then this will point neurologists toward different hypotheses. It seems to me that no matter what the result, we can use the data generated.

Please let me know if you have connections in the medical world who might be interested in making this happen.

Two crucial questions for Hum skeptics

From the beginning, in every interview I’ve given, I’ve insisted that the interviewer answer two of my questions:

The first question is, “Do you think that tinnitus is real?” (The answer is almost always “Yes”, which leads to the second question.)

“Why do you think it’s real?”

I admit that I take pleasure in the awkward and sometimes stunned silence that usually follows. You see, tinnitus is self-reported, as is the Hum. Why is one credible but not the other? The answer is simply one of proportions. So many of us have experienced transient high frequency squealing noises and tones that nobody questions another person who also reports it. But since a much smaller proportion of people experience the Hum, some people have doubts. It’s a good thing that so many typical, everyday, and responsible people are in our ranks.

So the next time you encounter skeptics, you have two questions for them.

If only we had access to this equipment…

If we had access to this equipment, our mystery could be solved within a few weeks. Working on our own and with limited resources, this could be a long project. As soon as a major university gets involved, we will have our answer very quickly.



In response to a recent comment…

The Deming Box experiment was conducted and was described here in detail. The next experiment requires making some minor modifications to George G.’s device (specifically, measuring the inductance on a coil inside the unit). As for finances, the web hosting costs about US $356.00 per year (see attached receipt), and the WordPress ad-free hosting is US $30.00 per year. Donations cover less than this amount (see Paypal statement).

But nobody should ever feel compelled to donate. I’d rather a wealthy person who can easily afford it do so. Better yet, I’d like governmental or institutional funding.


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Regarding my interview with Maclean’s Magazine on the US Embassy in Cuba

Every once in a while I need to set the record straight about my scientific credentials. I am not a scientist. I have been teaching mathematics, psychology, physics, biology, general science and other subjects for almost 30 years, as well as having trained mathematics teachers at UBC for 16 years. I also lecture at UBC Robson Square with their GMAT and GRE programs. I clarify this in every interview I give, although this information slips through the cracks sometimes. Several sources have stated that I am a scientist at UBC and that is quite false. My work with the Worldwide Hum has caused me to read very broadly into a large number of scientific topics. In other words, I know a little bit about everything scientific, which is why outfits like Maclean’s talk to me.

I directed the interviewer from Maclean’s to some widely available peer-reviewed research (from PubMed, etc) on vibroacoustic disease and exposure to low-frequency sound and infrasound. I also explained some basics surrounding the use of ultrasonics to generate localized sound at a distance. I obviously don’t have access to classified documents, so my comments regarding the US Embassy in Cuba were sheer speculation – and the reporter correctly reported that.