For years I have been plagued with the ubiquitous first-world problem of the dreaded alarm clock. It does not matter what time I have to wake up, it’s a given that my wife will need to wake up at a different time and because of this: we must set the alarm twice. This creates a scenario where either my wife or I have to condition ourselves to ignore one alarm and then be awakened by another. This task is not possible.
After meditating on this notion I have come to the discovery that if we vary our alarm clocks in tone and/or style, then perhaps it is possible for me to wake up to my own alarm, which is different and unique to hers. However, in practice I have discovered that eventually I will learn to tune that one out too. I have also discovered that the alarm clock volume is significant and that there is an optimal volume level. The volume of the alarm (subjective noise) must be louder than the base level background noise (objective noise), but not so loud that it startles you and jolts you out of bed so quickly to silence it that you don’t have the time to recognize that it’s time to wake up and you end up going back to bed. The subjective noise is only noticeable if it adequately breaks through the objective noise and if it is too loud, it will cause an overreaction— all reason is tossed out the window when we are forced to respond to something that jars the senses.
If we were to perform an experiment in which a subject slept in a bed with an objective noise of X and a subjective noise (alarm) of Y and over the period of their lifetime we slowly raised both X and Y in small and equal increments, it would be possible, I posit, that the subject would not notice that their alarm become louder at all. If we were to do this experiment I would also posit that the effectiveness of the subjective noise is dependent on it being contrasting in quality to the objective noise. For example: a subjective noise of Ocean sounds would not be effective at waking somebody up if they slept at the beach. But, conversely, Construction sounds would not be effective for somebody who slept in a construction zone. This would indicate that subjective noise that is of similar quality than the objective noise will fade into the background and will become, to some degree, part of the objective noise. In this experiment, I posit, we could also at random points in the experiment increase Y dramatically to see how much the subjective noise must be raised to cause fear, reaction and, more explicitly, an overreaction. But, as you may have gathered, it would be possible to have subjective noise that is of similar quality than the objective noise that is dramatically higher, but because its like in quality, it may still continue to fade into the objective noise— significantly increasing the objective noise.
All of these lofty ideas of experiments, of which I will never actually test, are a bit of a moot point, as nobody uses alarm clocks on the beach and people usually avoid sleeping in construction zones. But, in everyday practicality it may be helpful to know that alarm clock success is dependent on finding a perfect balance of low objective noise, moderately contrasting subjective noise and, to prevent your objective noise from slowly rising ad infinitum, a method of moderating the objective noise. The latter seems to be, in my experience, the hardest one to accomplish and it can be achieved by experimenting with the practice of mindful hearing: this process requires that you meditate on the objective noise and try to recognize all of its different components in both quality and quantity. If you do this, if you listen and hear everything that echoes in the background and pick out the many subjective noises that have merged with the objective noise overtime and see things for what they really are, then the beautifully rendered result will be quiet and peaceful sleep. And then….