Opinion

What's that humming? The Earth, scientists say | Tom Tyner

This just in: scientists say the earth is humming. Not humming the chorus to “Bye Bye Miss American Pie” exactly, nor belting out Broadway show tunes, but rather emitting random clutches of notes and tiny clusters of chords woven into a mysterious, ethereal, rhythmic thrum of primordial noise so low and deep that it is imperceptible to human ears, so low that it can only be picked up by sophisticated geothermal listening devices, African elephants wallowing in the fetid lowlands of the Kenyan rain forest, and ancient blue whales diving for albino plankton in the silent inky depths of the Mariana Trench.

I haven’t heard the humming myself, of course. In fact, I haven’t technically seen the reports of the scientists who say they’ve heard it. But SF Gate columnist Mark Morford wrote in a recent column that he did, and that’s good enough for me. Evidently, scientists can’t explain the source or purpose of this humming. Morford said it fits perfectly with his theory that the earth is essentially a giant brass Tibetan singing bowl, flicked by the curious finger of a curious God to create a continuous, vibrating hum that has lasted now for more than 10 billion years. Viewed in that context, the fact that the earth is humming is entirely normal, if, as Morford suggests, by “normal” one means “unfathomably powerful and speaking to a vast mystical timelessness that we can’t possibly comprehend.”

I am personally predisposed to believe any story that is based on the premise that the earth is humming. If you told me the moon is whistling and the sun is reciting stanzas from Dante’s Inferno, I’d want to believe that, too. Anthropologists and archeologists are constantly digging up strange and exotic artifacts that radically shift our notions of the origins of man and the rise and fall of ancient civilizations. Scientists and biologists keep discovering oddly illuminating facts about the world which, paradoxically, have the effect of demonstrating that the more we think we know about life on earth, the less we actually know about life on earth.

Sometimes we laugh or roll our eyes when we learn some amusing or quaint detail about an ancient culture’s odd or incongruous religious or spiritual practices. However, all the while we know that thousands of years from now our own highly-evolved and ferociously-defended beliefs about the big questions of life, the universe and everything, will be nothing more than comic fodder for the amusement of future generations of amphibious dolphin worshippers or Mars-dwelling pantheistic mushrooms who will wonder how a supposedly evolved and intelligent people such as ourselves could have had ever held such naive and irrational religious beliefs.

Just as one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor, one man’s faith may be another man’s folly, and thinking about things like why and how the earth might be humming probably does a body some good once in a while. It may even make us rethink the way we think about thinking. Unless and until we’re given a peek behind the Big Curtain, none of us knows for certain what the answers to life’s big questions are. In fact, we can’t even know for sure if we’re even asking the right questions. In that sense, as the song says, we’re all just pilgrims on this road and maybe it would be best if we all stuck together a little bit more just in case one of us actually gets to wherever it is we’re going.

In the meantime, why not believe that the earth is humming? There may be great wisdom to be gained by putting our ears to the ground once in a while to see if we can pick up a snatch of some cosmic ditty. Perhaps Morford was on the right track when he wondered if “maybe we humans have this divine connection thing all wrong. Maybe God isn’t really some scowling, gay-hating deity raining down guilt and judgment and fear on human kind after all. Maybe She’s actually a throb, a pulse, a song, deep, complex, eternal. And us, we’re just bouncing and shaking along as best we can, trying to figure out the goddamn melody.”

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