Who hasn’t come across a beautiful shell on the beach and felt compelled to pick it up to see if they can hear the roaring of the sea? Some childhood habits die hard, and listening to the sound that radiates from within a conch shell is one of them.
For a moment it seems like magic, just as it did when you were young and full of awe for those treasures you collected from along the shoreline. With the shell pressed against your ear, you’re enchanted by the powerful union it emanates with its native home.
But, is it possible that you are only imagining that connection? As much as you’d like to carry on believing in magic, you know deep down that it can’t really be the sea. Right?
In fact, what you’re hearing are the sound frequencies that exist all around us, all the time, just in an altered, amplified state. The spiral of the conch shell acts as a ‘resonator’, and as the sounds bounce off the cavity walls, the frequencies get altered, resulting in a vibration that we liken to the ebb and flow of the waves. (In contrast, if you put your ear to a conch shell in a soundproof room, you would hear nothing.)
Scientists speculate that the reason we recognise this sound as the sea comes down to the fact that humans have an incredible capacity for seeking out patterns. Our minds search for structure in reality, and when we uncover ‘coincidences’, it helps us make sense of the chaos. It helps us understand the world we live in. It helps us feel like we are in control.
In a fast-paced world, the sounds produced by the natural environment are often drowned out by the artificial cacophony of the urban landscape, or ignored in favour of digital distractions.
In ‘The Sea Shell’, the poet William Wordsworth speaks of a curious child, brightened with joy upon hearing the echoes from inside the shell that reflect ‘his very soul’. He describes the magical union between the shell and the sea, how from within its concave we may bear witness to the universe itself, as its music reflects the ebb and flow of existence and central peace.
Perhaps we could learn something from the sound of the seashell, or from the boy in the poem. Perhaps it’s time to reconnect with nature and experience what it’s like to listen as a child again. In a world overloaded with distractions, maybe it’s time to pick up the seashell, and listen, really listen, to the beauty that surrounds us. It’s always been there, we just have to tune in to the right frequency.