The relationship between nature’s physical and metaphysical dimensions have been under debate since time immemorial. The nature we see as the deterministic functioning of the laws of physics and chemistry—which we call “causes”—include such phenomena as the rain falling, the sun’s warmth, plants germinating in the bosom of the earth, and geological faults rupturing in the earth’s crust. How are these events represented in the spiritual realm? What do these events correspond to in the metaphysical dimension? These are not the subject of objective science, but many scholars with a conscience and a rich inner life speak about the connection between the events in the physical world and phenomena in the metaphysical world. Said Nursi, for instance, draws a connection between natural disasters or celestial calamities and human transgressions . Are physical, geological, ecological, and biological factors, such as the decline of the ecosystem or the emergence of pandemics, a veil covering the real cause, that we cause suffering and inflict harm? Do our behavior trigger disasters? Are we “offending” nature?
Urbanization, modernism, and the ecosystem
Most ecologists and environmental organizations state that the earth’s ecosystem is gradually deteriorating. With more than half of the world’s population now living in cities—not to mention the increase in electronic devices, changing living conditions, and even changes in children’s perception of play—people’s opportunities for direct contact with nature are diminishing. The uncontrolled development of so-called modernity has negative effects on physical health, mental abilities, and peace of mind, as well as on the relationship between humans and nature. Signals of global biodiversity loss are evident all over the world.
In an ecosystem polluted by various elements such as pesticides and insecticides—which are supposedly produced to protect plants—as well as hormones, synthetic fertilizers, and industrial waste, birds that feed on poisoned insects have shorter lives. Other major topics of ecological discussion include the manifold impacts of pollution in water, soil, and air, sporadic but remarkably severe solar flares, and other atmospheric and meteorological phenomena, and the role of humankind in disrupting the balance of the life-sustaining ecosystem.
Are birdsongs distorted?
The decline in bird populations in North America is estimated at around three billion in the last 50 years. On websites, ornithologists list the species in swift decline. This decline means changes in the living environment of bird communities—and the disappearance of the familiar sounds of spring. Sounds in nature, especially birdsongs, are phenomena inherent to human nature and play an important role, like flowers and trees, in maintaining our connection with and reflection of nature. The widespread decline in bird flocks and the change of species in particular regions also imply the change of the sound patterns and acoustic properties of nature.
Research on plants and animals that are extinct or facing extinction almost unanimously state that every aspect of life on earth is deteriorating. Take this detail from a significant research article published on November 2, 2021 : Simon Butler and Catriona Morrison of the University of East Anglia, co-authors of the study that involved around thirty researchers and covered the whole of Europe and North America, determined that as the ecosystem deteriorates, bird populations decline on a global scale and melodic diversity gradually diminishes in nature's vocal repertoire. Given the statistics of over 200,000 bird melodies studied, birds have not just declined in number, but in the variety and richness of notes they sing, too.
For a moment, imagine yourself at a concert, listening to a familiar song but without wind instruments in the orchestra; the melody would not sound as rich as it normally is. This is what is happening in the nature.
Birdsong and its effect on the soul
We perceive all the experiences we have in the bosom of nature with our sensory organs. We perceive the taste of apples, the smell of melons, the crispness of grapes, the riot of colors of flowers—all with our senses. However, sounds especially have a special place among these. There are studies on the effect of natural sounds on our moods and their ability to reduce pain and stress. The effects on the soul of the sounds of rain, wind, leaves, waves, and streams have been studied by measuring sound characteristics such as frequency, rhythm, intensity, and amplitude. To see the effect of birdsong on the human soul, just think of the many poems written about it, such as John Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale.”
The breakthrough of voice recording technology
According to researchers, disruptive changes in bird and insect habitats suggest that, in the long term, both bird and soundscape diversity will continue to decline. Since the ability to record audio has only existed for around a century, archival recordings of bird melodies are at most a century old and are not clear enough for professionally extracting frequency patterns. To track how melodies have changed over time, it is necessary to examine songbirds’ past vocal repertoires.
Initiated to expand this research to a much wider area, a project collected regular late spring and early summer measurements and recordings made by volunteer ornithologists active at over 200,000 stations in Europe and North America. These were compiled into annual tables by bird species and number of individuals recorded. Annual bird count data from two websites  were combined with the recordings of over 1,000 species from Xeno Canto, an online database of bird songs to reconstruct historical vocal patterns. First, all downloaded sound files were standardized by truncating 25 seconds. Later, files of the individual members of the same species were added, and the contribution of each species was demarcated within the collective sounds. The acoustic properties of these sound patterns were then quantified using four indices designed to measure the energy, frequency, and temporal distribution of vibrations. These indices were used to measure the complexity and diversity of the songs collectively, like the variety of instruments in an orchestra. Dr. Butler summed up their findings as a widespread decline in the intensity of acoustic diversity and natural sound patterns resulting from changes in the composition of the different species that make up bird communities.
The “orchestra” of nature is rapidly losing both its players and its instruments. In general, there are about 10,000 species of birds, of which about 4,000 are songbirds. This number includes birds that do not sing or that have unpleasant voices, for they are a part of the acoustical range of a certain location. Depending on their breeding and feeding periods, the songs of some species may have a certain prevalence and prominence. For example, losing birds like the lark (Alauda arvensis) or the nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos), of which rich and complex melodic lines enliven the concerts we are accustomed to in spring, will have an impact greater than losing birds like crows and gulls whose voices are not as pleasing to our ears.
This research elucidates that over the last 25 years in Europe and North America, there has been a steady decline in the density of acoustic diversity and sound patterns, along with a decline in the number of species and individuals. As a consequence of these losses, one of the fundamental ways humans interact with nature is in chronic decline. Hence, it has been revealed that the “music” we listen to in the spring, in the open air, and in the forest, has become poorer and weaker, almost like music performed by a debilitated orchestra. Is the decline and disappearance of birds and their melodies merely a biological and ecological consequence? Or is it a metaphysical and spiritual dimension of the ruthless cruelties being perpetuated in the world and a harbinger of the apocalyptic destruction of the earth’s ecosystem by humanity? Isn’t it worth reflecting more deeply on this issue?
- Bediüzzaman Said Nursî, Sözler [The Words], Istanbul: Sahdamar Yayinlari, 2010, s. 799; Emirdag Lâhikasi, Istanbul: Sahdamar Yayinlari, 2010, s. 29.
- C.A. Morrison, A.Z. Auninš ve S.J. Butler, “Bird population declines and species turnover are changing the acoustic properties of spring soundscapes”, Nature Communications, vol. 12, article number: 6217, 2021.
- North American Breeding Bird Survey (www.usgs.gov/centers/eesc/science/north-american-breeding-bird-survey) ve Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme (pecbms.info).