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Sourcing the Taos Hum

By Thomas Begich, Staff Writer

Three years ago Congress directed scientists and observers from some of the most prestigious research institutes in the nation to look into a strange low frequency noise heard by residents in and around the small town of Taos, New Mexico. For years those who had heard the noise, often described by them as a "hum", had been looking for answers. No one was sure when it began, but its persistence led first a few and then many of those who heard it (called "hearers" by each other) to band together. In 1993 they found their way to Congress.

The investigation Congress requested consisted of a team of a dozen investigators from a number of scientific institutions. Joe Mullins of the University of New Mexico and Horace Poteet of Sandia National Laboratories wrote the team's final report. Other New Mexico research organizations involved included Phillips Air Force Laboratory and the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Concern by hearers that the hum might have been caused by the Department of Defense ensured that the investigation was conducted in the open and that a large number of persons were contacted.

The first goal of the investigative team was to interview hearers and try to determine the nature of the hum the sound it made, its frequency, timing and its effects on those who heard it. Next the team planned to survey residents of Taos and the surrounding communities to determine how wide spread the hum was. Finally, the team was to try to isolate and determine the cause of the hum. Important to their effort was the team's clear interest in deter-mining the cause of the phenomenon, rather than questioning the hum's existence. There was a generally clear understanding by the investigators that something was happening here, but just exactly what it was seemed to defy definition.

The initial investigation focused on ten hearers and determined certain key facts surrounding the hum. It was persistent. It was heard by only a small number of people. The sound was extremely low on the frequency scale between 30 and 80Hz. There was variation in how different hearers perceived the sound. Some heard a sound like the low rumbling of a truck while others heard a more steady, pulsing, yet still low sound. Interestingly, the investigators learned that the sound was not limited to the area around Taos, but was, in fact, heard at places all over the country and around the globe.

Hearers described the increasing problems they were having with the hum. Consistent with the reports and complaints that had brought the issue to Congress in the first place, hearers described the hum as a cause not just of annoyance, but also of dizziness, insomnia or sleep disturbance, pressure on the ears, headaches and even nosebleeds. The hearers were also bothered by the disturbing nature of its existence: it did not seem like a natural phenomenon to them. According to the August 23, 1993 " Taos Hum Investigation: Informal Report", most hearers initially experienced the hum with an "abrupt beginning, as if some device were switched on." Many of the hearers believed there was a connection between the hum, the military installations in and around New Mexico, and the Department of Defense or that the hum was somehow caused by the U. S. Navy's ELF (Extremely Low Frequency) stations in Northern Michigan. These suspicions made a civilian presence on the investigation team necessary.

After examining ten hearers the team (now including James Kelly, a hearing research scientist with the University of New Mexico's Health Sciences Center) began a broad survey of Taos locals. Their survey of 1,440 residents led the team to extrapolate that roughly 2% of the Taos population were hearers.

Given this large number of hearers, initial exploration of a source for the hum focused on external possibilities for generation of the low frequency hum. While there were isolated instances of hearing within the low frequency range identified by hearers, these tests revealed no consistent background noise which could account for the hum. As Mullins and Kelly concluded, there were "no known acoustic signals that might account for the hum, nor are there any seismic events that might explain it."

Having ruled out external sources the team focused on testing hearers' inner ears and on researching frequency sensitivity. While these investigations are not complete, it appears highly unlikely that the hum is caused by low frequency tinnitus as some have speculated. Mullins and Kelly are more inclined to believe that hearers have developed a specific sensitivity to sounds in the 20 to 100Hz range and therefore are directing their research toward gleaning an understanding of how the ear perceives low frequency energy.

While this approach may help answer the persistent question of the hum's origin, Dr. Nick Begich and Patrick Flanagan (a Sedona-based inventor and scientist), have explored another possibility. Dr. Nick Begich has found some interesting clues in Mullins' own comments that might lead to another source for the hearers' unique ability and, perhaps in the long term, a solution to their near-debilitating problem.

To support the future direction of his research Mullins has pointed out that, as a nation, "...we're slowly building up the background of electronic noise...We're going to more and more cordless things all electromagnetic transmitters. Whether that's the cause of the hum, we don't know, but we can't write it off."

Begich theorizes that the cause of the hum may be found within this electromagnetic background buildup. He believes that there is a mechanism for the transduction of sound which might explain the hum. The key may be hidden in a technology invented by Dr. Patrick Flanagan. NeurophonicTM sound technologies were developed based on an understanding of sound transfer using different "hearing" pathways to the brain. Standard sound measuring and diagnostic equipment would be ineffective in locating the "sound" source.

Patrick Flanagan's NeurophoneTM, invented when Flanagan was 14, is a low voltage, high frequency, amplitude modulated radio oscillator. In simpler terms, the NeurophoneTM acts on the skin of the listener by converting "...modulated radio waves into a neural modulated signal that bypasses the 8th cranial hearing nerve and transmits intelligence directly into the learning centers of the brain." In other words the NeurophoneTM allows the listener to "hear" without having to use the ear canal or the bones and nerves we normally associate with hearing.

Flanagan's patent was approved after a six year fight with the patent office culminating in a test of the device on a hearing impaired patent office employee. The demonstration convinced the patent examiner that the NeurophoneTM worked, even though it appeared to fly in the face of traditional concepts of how we hear. The novel concept with the NeurophoneTM is that we use the skin itself as the neural transmitter.

This concept is actually quite simple. When in the womb, a fetus's skin serves as the primary sensory organ. From it evolve the eyes, the nose and the ears. While the ears specialize in hearing, Flanagan recognized that the skin is also an organ. Consequently, if a way could be found to transmit information through the skin to the brain, then information could be directly communicated to the brain, bypassing the ears. The NeurophoneTM ran radio waves through two small electrodes placed on the skin and essentially used existing neural pathways to directly access the brain.

Flanagan's NeurophoneTM research offers a possible explanation for the Taos hum. As Mullins has pointed out, we are surrounded by a large number of low frequency devices devices all operating around 60Hz. Given Flanagan's NeurophoneTM concept, it is possible that this concentration of frequency may well be resonating with the skin causing a direct neural link between the skin and the brain. As with the NeurophoneTM, some individuals are more receptive than others. Consequently, some persons' skin could be more receptive to ambient electromagnetic frequencies than others.

Flanagan and Begich speculate that the NeurophoneTM could be pulsed at the frequencies identified by those hearers interviewed by Mullins and the investigative team. If the hum was generated by ambient electromagnetic fields then the NeurophoneTM technology could be used to mitigate it. While Mullins is investigating the ear canal and our human hearing apparatus, Flanagan and Begich believe that the answer is more likely to be found through the pathways established by the NeurophoneTM, which bypass the ear entirely.

Proof of whether or not their theory is correct is reliant upon testing of hearers. If Begich and Flanagan are correct, the NeurophonicTM technology and what has been learned about hearing may well be used to alleviate the suffering of hearers as the search for the source of the hum continues.

Sources

Flanagan, Patrick, Ph.D., M.D., "The NeurophoneTM Instructions", March 30, 1996.

Mullins, Joe H. and Horace Poteet, "A Perceived Low Frequency Sound In Taos, New Mexico", November 11, 1994.

Mullins, Joe H. and James P. Kelly, "The Mystery of the Taos Hum", Echoes, Volume 5, Number 3, Autumn 1995

Mullins, Joe and James Kelly, "Hum Investigation: Source Still Unknown, Questions Raised", Press Release, August 23, 1993.

"Taos Hum Investigation: Informal Report", August 23, 1993.

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