Faber Social present: DBC Pierre on the quantum of silence

Faber Social is the unerringly cool arm of London’s Faber & Faber publishing house. Over the coming months we will be featuring exclusive essays, extracts and articles from some of their finest authors.

Here is Booker-prize winning author DBC Pierre on the quiet – the waveforms through and across parallel universes of which sound, us and everything are made.

There’s more going on in acoustics than we’re able to know. The inkling comes because waveforms have become an important model for explaining the universe. Our eyesight is limited to a narrow spectrum, touch is limited to immediate surroundings, but I’m convinced the far edges of science, reality, possibility, lie in sound.

I work by night in a room where a beloved big black dog used to sleep beside a wall, sleep with long luxurious breaths, with a rhythm like the roll of the sea. The room used to be a bedroom. The dog slept against a wall at the foot of the bed. Now the bed is gone, the dog is dead. The room is a study in a different time of life.


But after midnight, in one or two-minute bursts, through the quiet of the night, that breathing comes back, every night lately. Not in my mind but in reality, and if I go to that wall it gets louder, seems to hang in the air quietly rolling as it always did. I’m not a mystic, there will be an explanation. But in the meantime it makes me recall the universe I’m in, one of gently pulsing seams of classical and quantum physics. Not expressed through visions or sensations, but through sounds.

I discovered for the first time when I moved to a hillside in Ireland that silence is a noise. Just as white is not an absence of colour but an abundance of it, true silence is loud with sounds from the borders of the mind and from space. As you try to identify components you find that some of what you imagine to be sounds are in your head – but are still sounds, as physical as if from an objective outside source. You remember that waveforms don’t stop for doors or bodies. You remember that we’re part of those waveforms ourselves, made from the same materials, and headed the same way. Music might give pleasure by insulting them, playing them, bending, surprising, tickling them; but underneath in silence they roll on to their own tune, a universal waveform playing maths to itself. Here sits the home of quantum mechanics.

The genius Hugh Everett III wrote an outrageous doctoral thesis in the 50s, so ridiculed at the time that he left physics altogether and went to do something else. But the intervening years have seen classical physics take a hit. Everett’s theory on reality and the way the universe works is today a mainstream interpretation, and one of many since that say the same thing: that we live in a multiverse. Possibly an infinity of parallel universes where everything that can happen does happen.

In the last couple of years researchers have proven what Einstein called ‘spooky action at a distance’ – the entanglement of particles, where one instantaneously knows what the other is doing, even if it’s across the universe. That’s quicker than lightspeed. In fact it’s no-speed, which suggests the particles are in separate universes superimposed on each other. All this is happening out there, in the quiet. Possible universes with superimposed wave functions. We can’t see, can’t touch, can’t smell them. But damned if I can’t hear one breathing in the night. And I love that.


Release the Bats by DBC Pierre is out now on Faber.

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