There is a special place in hell reserved for people who talk loudly in libraries for two reasons: 1. silence is hard to come by and 2. silence is indispensably useful. Some of this usefulness comes from silence’s versatility; there are many ways in which silence can beneficially impact the mind.
Sometimes it is simply a lack of distraction, supporting the ability to hone in on a task with all of one’s mental capacities. Focusing in this way can range in intensity from a few hours in the library to a herculean feat, in which the the working mind is emptied of all thoughts except the relevant context surrounding the task for days on end.
Cal Newport, a CS professor and study hacks guru, goes into the nature of this “deep work” in his book of the same name. In short, he claims striving to master deep work will increase your life’s satisfaction, make you valuable in the economy, and help you achieve intellectual tasks that might have been previously impossible. He also claims that most of your time spent in deep work is spent ramping up, while most of the productivity only happens after you’ve achieved “deep mode”. None of it can be accomplished, however, in the presence of distractions (phones, internet, noise, etc.), which makes having a silent place so important; whenever someone distracts you, you have to start your ramp-up process over again.
At other times, silence affords an opportunity to not focus on anything, to let the mind drift into a diffuse mode where creativity thrives. Or maybe it means taking some time to focus that extra attention inward, to be ok with being alone with our feelings rather than drowning them in entertainment. Erling Kagge, the first man to achieve the Three Poles Challenge, talks about his special relationship with silence in his book Silence in the Age of Noise. One must enjoy silence, I suppose, to ski to the South Pole alone for 50 days.
Well, whatever silence means to us, the imperative is clear: don’t talk in libraries.