Earth just keeps humming along, thanks to waves crashing

In 2008, I reported that scientists had discovered that the Earth was humming.

Not humming Zippity-Do-Dah or belting out Taylor Swift hits, but rather emitting a mysterious, ethereal, rhythmic thrum of primordial noise so low as to be imperceptible to human ears and could only be picked up by sophisticated geothermal listening devices, African elephants wallowing in the fetid lowlands of the Kenyan rainforest, ancient blue whales diving for albino plankton in the silent inky depths of the Mariana Trench, and aging hippie surfers living on remote tropical islands where the primary currency is conch shells and beach glass.

Scientists had no explanation for the humming. Some suggested it was the earth’s attempt to drown out all the crap noise humans make. Others suggested the earth was humming because it didn’t know the words.

Recently, scientists using seismometers lowered deep in the Indian Ocean confirmed the existence of that humming, and scientists now believe they have determined its source: the banging of stormy ocean waves against the edges of continents translated into rhythmic vibrations in the earth’s crust.

I have to confess I was disappointed in the pedestrian nature of that explanation. I was hoping that former SF Gate columnist Mark Morford was correct in his theory that the earth is essentially a giant brass Tibetan singing bowl, flicked by the finger of a curious God 10 billion years ago to create a continuous vibrating hum—a theory that seems entirely normal if, as Morford suggested, by “normal” one means “unfathomably powerful and speaking to a vast mystical timelessness that we can’t possibly comprehend.”

I was quite happy believing the Earth was humming for metaphysical reasons beyond the grasp of the human brain. If you told me the moon was whistling Dixie and the sun was reciting stanzas from Dante’s Inferno, I’d have believed 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.

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, all the while knowing 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 that will wonder how a supposedly evolved and intelligent people could have had ever held such naive and irrational religious beliefs.

If one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor, then one man’s faith may be another man’s folly, so thinking about why the earth might be humming is probably good for us. 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. We can’t know for sure if we’re even asking the right questions.

In the meantime, let’s just rejoice in the knowledge that the Earth is indisputably humming. And if the Earth is humming, what other terrestrial and cosmic sounds might we hear if we but close our eyes and open our ears?

While it appears he was wrong about the source of the Earth’s humming, 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 and trans-hating deity raining down guilt and judgment and fear on humankind after all. Maybe She’s actually a throb, a pulse, a song, deep, complex, eternal. And us humans, we’re just bouncing and shaking along as best we can, trying to figure out the goddamn melody.”

Tom Tyner of Bainbridge Island writes a weekly humor column for this newspaper.