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Positive Feedback ISSUE 21
september/october 2005


Audio Ramblings - Faith and Belief in Audio
by Dave Clark


I have not been reviewing any audio items based on the simple fact that there is not that much out there to get me all that excited. "Gee another black box, another wire, another wooden crate with drivers—sheesh, where is the novel idea or "thinking outside the box sort of thing" that made audio fun in the first place?!" It seems only a short while ago, that it was I, the consummate equipment hound, who just had to get everything my hands and ears could latch onto—today, uh, not so much. What happened?

Let's consider the Great Audio Pursuit—you know where you chase your audio-tail until you die unhappy because you never find what you think you're after thing? Well… we are very happy with how our system sounds (at least how we think it sounds!). This has been a work in progress for close to 15 years, and music now sounds the way we want it to sound like. That is, music via our system sounds right to Carol and me—others, not so important to us. Plus, there are precious few components and gadgets that appeal to our audio instincts which could make our system, in any real sense, "better." Different, certainly, but not necessarily better. Why spend the time and effort in listening to something else, if all you get is something different and it is not really any better? Sorry, no interest in playing with gear and stuff just to be playing with gear and stuff, I have other things that can occupy my time and that bring me much more pleasure—like good wine! And beer! And cigars, teaching, and gardening! Oh, and family, and hanging with friends in our garden of tranquility, and sports on TV! And PFO!! The Great Audio Pursuit, ah, not so much anymore.

But then again, perhaps it is simply burnout. Audio has been a big part of my life—and still is to a great degree as Editor and partner in PFO—and after so many years it is hard to keep the juices flowing. Things seem to be drying up a bit. So perhaps it just may be burnout! So with that in mind let me take a break and approach this part of my life from a different direction—one that may not be better (heck if I can even write any thoughts in a way that make any sense anymore), but it will certainly be different. Ahhh, different is better! That is, I am going to spend some time writing about the things that I have come across—that have made us happy with our system (and maybe an occasional new thing that caught my ear or will make an improvement in some way)—as well as a sort of mental rambling on audio and the audio world in general. Consider this a column sort of thing, aptly titled Audio Ramblings!

Disclaimer for the mentally constipated

None of the following is in any sense a definitive all-inclusive essay on the topic. My intent is simply to offer some food for thought. You may find a feast or it may be a famine—does not really matter, as some people will get it and some of you will unfortunately never get it. Ah, the lost souls of our community. How sad.

Let us start with something that has been a real pisser for Carol and me: Peter Belt and stuff like the GSIC chip—you know, stuff that defies Science and rattles the people who refuse to listen (let alone think) with an open mind. Specifically, those who want to have it both ways.

Science is the truth only in matters that can be objectified; in the spiritual world, where values, goals, authority and purpose are located, science has nothing to say. It is a poor life that is restricted to the scientific standard of truth, where you and I are nothing but a collection of atoms without meaning and purpose

Naturally, neither of these items (or similarly odd quizzical items) have to work for everyone or even make sense, let alone be logical or fit into some paradigm of science. If they produce a difference, then they do something—though perhaps they do not work as advertised. Yet, while they do appear to make a difference for some, the real issue appears to be why or why not.

Faith: confident belief in an idea or thing.

Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.

It is a big world out there and while I hate to be the bearer of bad news, you ain't the only one living in it! That is, you ain't the only one who has beliefs or faith in the things that make your view of the world a place where you can get by day after day by making sense of the world around you. Other people have different beliefs and faith in items that for all intents and purposes may make little if any sense to you or anyone else for that matter—but it does to someone, it does to them. Things are just not quite so black and white—there is a very wide splash of gray for everyone to find their little bit-o-happiness. Problem is those who hide in the black or white feel that that is the only place to hide, err stand …or believe in—you got to follow by my rules or you're an idiot! You know their mantra, "Ha! If you believe that pile of crap, do I have something to sell you! Hoax! Snake oil! Dupe! Scam artist! Rip-off! Charlatan!" Gee, can we be any less intolerant of other's beliefs and faith in what defines or makes sense of the world for them? I mean, do you really toss and turn at night worrying about people who have different outlooks than you? That is very big of you. Thanks.

Main Entry: 1faith

Pronunciation: 'fAth

Function: noun

Inflected Form(s): plural faiths/'fAths, sometimes 'fA[th]z/

Etymology: Middle English feith, from Old French feid, foi, from Latin fides; akin to Latin fidere to trust.

1 a : allegiance to duty or a person : LOYALTY(1) : fidelity to one's promises (2) : sincerity of intentions.

2 a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to a God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust.

3 : something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs.

Like the faith in some tweak or gadget if we consider 2B above, and as suggested below under religion, definition 3 can pretty much stand all by itself. Ironic how people will not allow for the belief in something like a GSIC chip, Belt-isms, etc., yet have no problem having faith and/or belief in anything relating to a religion or other things that defy any logic or scientific validation. Oh, I get, your beliefs negate anyone else's that may be counter to or at odds with yours, or at the very least , do not fall into your paradigm of what is what, and that is because why exactly?… gee, that is a great way to get along in life! What I believe supersedes and makes a mockery of what you believe—assuming of course we do not agree in our beliefs! Heck, sometimes even if we do agree, we fail to really agree! Now that is a real buzz killer. Talk about being insecure!

Main Entry: re·li·gion

Pronunciation: ri-'li-jin

Function: noun

Etymology: Middle English religioun, from Latin religion-, religio supernatural constraint, sanction, religious practice, perhaps from religare to restrain, tie back.

1 a; the state of a religious person, b; (1) the service and worship of a God or the supernatural (2) commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance.

2 a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.

3 archaic: scrupulous conformity: CONSCIENTIOUSNESS.

4 a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.

The word faith has various uses; but its central meaning is similar to "belief", "trust," or "confidence" in something that has value or meaning to the individual. While it can refer to having faith in a deity or an established religion, it can also refer to some commonality of held beliefs among individuals (that do not pertain to a deity or formal religion). Say for example, Peter Belt, which suggests a "spiritual" relationship or connection between nature and man—as defined by 2 and 4 above.

Peter Belt? The guy that rips people off selling a series of bizarre nonsensical tweaks to get the best out of an audio system? No, not at all. The guy that suggests some bizarre ritual, where people wear funny hats and sing or recant ancient passages in a little used language to make things "right" in some way? Uh… hey wait a minute! That sounds like religions that are widely accepted and followed by the millions! Huh …then is he someone that places special properties or "powers" on specified items to affect people who have faith in what he preaches? Hey, there you go again referring to an established religion! Stop that! Yes, but that pretty much sums up Peter Belt! Belt is nothing more than performing actions with specified items that have a defined purpose to "deal" with what Belt claims to be occurring in our "world". So if one, or any religion can define practices that require faith and belief in their followers, why not someone like Belt? Why is it only limited to "accepted" practices and/or established religions that certain people define as being okay or believable?

Oh, I know. It is because Belt's ideas are not acceptable or established, or for many even plausible—they are too far off center and odd for any sane person to accept and how can one just claim to know this or that and then how to fix it with common items? Mmmm, wait a minute… Why is this an issue? Seems to me that any religion or faith-based belief "system" falls into exactly the same category depending on whose viewpoint one is using to define the world. After all, any faith-based or belief system has to start somewhere, based around something, and develops over time items and practices that support their ideology. I really find no difference between Belt or any other faith or belief system—they are just the new kid on the block. May not work for you, but I would expect the same reaction to other faith-based belief systems—find what works for you and respect that other may find something totally different to float their boat.

Peter Belt is not about changing the sound coming from a system, but changing how the listener perceives or internalizes the sound. How the listener reacts or responds to the environment and/or "system" at a particular place and time—all based on how Belt sees nature and man. Really not so extreme when you consider that what they are saying is nothing new and has been a subject of study in various forms, as well as being found to various in many Eastern beliefs. Is it infallible? No. Is it hard Science? No, more like pseudo-Science or deductive reasoning from anecdotal evidence using, to various degrees, Biology, Physiology, Chemistry, and Mathematics to formulate a belief-system. For some this falls into the realm of "religion"—though maybe we should refer to it as Beltism and say it is more a form Spiritualism and not a religion per se—but is it any less plausible than any other religion or form of an accepted spiritualism? Assuming you have faith and belief in what they are suggesting, much like any other "religion" then the answer is no. If not then the answer is yes. Both are fine. On the other hand, many people find established religions to be implausible and to varying degrees, simply ridiculous. Ahhh …it is what you place your faith and belief in! What makes sense to you…

From the Belt site:

"Our basic concept is that everything in the modern environment has an energy pattern that we (human beings) are sensing and reacting to—that we are interpreting these energy patterns as 'danger'., 'intruders'.,' predators'., or that we cannot resolve these energy patterns and therefore remain under tension. Peter has developed techniques to change these adverse energy patterns to ones that we recognize as 'friendly' and therefore to gradually treat so many things in the modern environment (including the very audio equipment) so that we (human beings) can be under less tension, therefore can perceive more of the information that is actually in the room."

Far fetched? Perhaps. I do find much of what they say to be interesting, and perhaps plausible—that is parts of it fits into my perception of what is happening in the world, it is has a level of acceptance to me. Nor is there anything they suggest to negate other beliefs or religions to any significant degree—is it just a way to perceive the relationship between nature and man. On the other hand people do choose what works for them, what they believe is true, and in many cases I said above, perhaps more so than other beliefs or religions—unless you got the inside scoop. Come on man, give it up! Tell me the truth; tell me, what am I to believe?

But, if you believe that what Belt says is happening or is to some degree plausible, their products should do the trick. You would then have faith in what they can do and believe in what Belt claims they can do—just as any item/practice/ritual used in any other "religion". On the other hand, if you don't, then they won't do what they should do (unless he is right of course—this would cast aside the need to believe in something for it to work if it really does what it is claimed to do!), and life goes on.

Yeah, but if this stuff really worked then you could test for it and show whether or not it really could be identified when it was being used in the room or however one should apply it in practice. After all, science can prove anything. I have faith and believe in science and its applications!

"The object of faith can be a person (or even an inanimate object or state of affairs) or a proposition (or body of propositions, such as a religious credo or something more generically spiritual). In each case, however, the faithful subject's faith is in an aspect of the object that cannot be rationally proven or objectively known."

Sort of as anything used in any religious practice …it requires faith and belief. Yeah, but only mine you idiot! Yours does not count, as I am the righteous one! It is only I who can lead you to salvation!

"Finally, some religious believers—and many of their critics—often use the term "faith" as the affirmation of belief without an ongoing test of evidence, and even despite evidence apparently to the contrary. Most Jews, Christians and Muslims admit that whatever particular evidence or reason they may possess that God exists and is deserving of trust, is not ultimately the basis for their believing. Thus, in this sense faith refers to belief beyond evidence or logical arguments, sometimes called "implicit faith". Another form of this kind of faith is fideism: one ought to believe that God exists, but one should not base that belief on any other beliefs; one should instead accept it without any reasons at all."

Sort of like the GSIC chip hoopla. Defies any sense of plausible explanation (as given so far), but it does work for many of those who have tried it—they believe in it and do not need proof. Across the table are those who have tried it and not experienced any effect (along with those who refuse to try based on the reasons provided why it should work or why it should not work)—and this is all fine. Sort of like how people fit a faith-based belief system into their daily lives—some parts work and other parts not so much. Or it simply works as is or it doesn't.

Perhaps the idea of having implicit faith does not apply to the GSIC chip—or universally to other tweaks and "items" in life. No doubt many need some explanation or idea to latch on to—something to fit into a comfortable view of the world. Where do we draw the line, and who draws the line? Is it up to the individual, or some proclaimed leader that holds the truth—their truth, their perception? There are those who hear a difference and do not require scientific proof or explanation (here is the truth you require) that it can do what it does—it works for them so who cares how and why. Ditto Belt. Ditto cables. Ditto a lot of stuff in life.

Okay, so ya know, you need to do a double blind test! That's the ticket. Then we will have proof that it is either real, or it is just a hoax and you are just fooling yerself young fella! Huh, interesting …I have yet to see any double-blind test proving the existence of a god, deity, or spirit in any religious context. Nor that any religious practice or item does what the religion believes it does. I really do not expect any future devotee (or religious follower) to demand one either—nor does an atheist or follower from a different religion require one to substantiate their beliefs. Oh, sorry, I forgot that we are talking about things that require faith and belief—that it does what it does, because that is what it is supposed to do based on what I have faith and belief in! Though this may only exists up to a point for some and really not at all for others. But that is okay. We each find that place where the world makes sense for us—regardless what Science may or not may be able to claim to be true.

Food for thought: Science requires faith and belief just as much as any thing else out there. Science is quite finite—it is a growing body of knowledge..

A Catholic accepts that Holy Water is Holy Water based on their doctrine, and because of that, one receives or responds to it as their belief and faith demands. But truth is, it is first water—though it has been blessed to be something clearly defined as different and now capable of acting in a special way. On the other hand, can one test to see if it really is Holy Water? I mean does Holy Water taste different from non Holy Water? Has it molecularly changed in some way? If they swapped regular water for Holy Water, would the people know? I do not think so. It requires faith and belief that it is what we believe it is—therefore it does what we expect of it. Much like what Belt is about. You follow his belief and his "treatments" produce the results as defined. Yes, it is just some foil, but it has been "blessed" in some way to make it do what one believes it will do, because one accepts what Belt is suggesting. It is still foil, but one now believes it is "special" in some way. Therefore, one should experience some effect. (This in no way is to ridicule the Catholic faith nor Catholics, or even to suggest that Priests are not following the Catholic doctrine by substituting regular water for Holy Water. I should also add that I am not Catholic, so if I have misrepresented anything here I apologize.)

Should? You said should? What is that all about? Well, as in all worldly matters, not everything works as it should all the time for everyone as everyone expects, regardless of their beliefs. I suppose one could be blessed with Holy Water and still not have a great day, and you could try Belt's stuff and find nothing is happening to make your experiences any better than before. On the other hand, things can work in ways that do not require explicit or conscious belief and faith. That is they may work when you do not know that they are what they really are! If that is case then have we found the truth that everyone has been searching for…? Interesting… uhhh, I need a beer.

Case in point 1

First time I experienced Belt treatments. Had no clue what Carol was up to as I was in the other room, though I did know she was playing around with something audio. She asked me to come in and give a listen, but with the following constraints: 1) I had to play the same track three times in a row, and 2) I could not open my eyes during the session. Easy as pie! Out came my favorite Lambchop disc What Another Man Spoils and on went track 1. Hit play and… "Sounds fine Carol, sounds like it usually does; great recording, fun music, love it!" She hits Stop and after a few seconds, she hits Play again, and like "WOW, this sounds much better! Way more musical and golly-gosh-gee, this is really cool!" She hits Stop and a minute later, she hits Play again, and shit! I mean SHIT, this sounds like shit! Not the shit, but shit. Not more than 5 seconds into the track and STOP IT NOW BEFORE I TEAR MY EARS OFF! What did you do? "Well, the first time nothing, the second time I wrote Reimer > O.K! with this red pen on a piece of tape and placed one on the top of each speaker, and the third time I replaced the tape with another that said… Reimer > BAD." Huh, sounded as it usually did with nothing on the speaker, sounded really great when you wrote O.K, and sound really bad when you wrote Bad. Weird.

No implicit beliefs or faith on my part as I did not consciously know that Belt was being used in the room, yet it worked anyhow. On the other hand, I did find much of what Belt was suggesting to make sense from earlier readings—the issues with us being at odds with the world, the stress, and all that it brings into our lives. So perhaps, it worked because subconsciously I had already accepted their propositions and as such, I already had faith and belief in their stuff. Therefore, anything that they create should work for us to some degree. This should not be viewed be an absolute affirmation of Belt, though it does cause Carol and I to think that perhaps they are doing something—something that appears to work for us. We simply do not have enough experience with the Belt products to say that this is the way to go. And yes, it was only three tries, but I did hit it on the head—statistically significant? Of course not, but still it is interesting… odd stuff really.

Case in point 2

I sat down two keen-eared audiophiles to test the GSIC chip. Explained what it was, how it is supposed to work, and how I had treated one disc and not the other. (These were two identical ISOMike discs courtesy of Ray Kimber. I had though marked the treated one with a small dot on the label side so I would know which was which.) I randomly played the two discs and to their best abilities tried to identify which was which. Well after about 13 tries, they were batting less than .500, meaning they had a difficult time identifying the treated and untreated discs. Hah, in your face GSIC! But, sitting in the adjacent dinning room, some 90 degrees off-axis were two other keen-eared audiophiles eating lunch, and (you see this coming right?) they identified the two discs every single time, "Treated!" "Untreated!" "Untreated!" "Untreated!" "Treated!" "Treated!" "Untreated!" And so on, and so on …go figure! So what does that tell us?

Neither is much into tweaking and had no prior knowledge of the GSIC chip. But they hit it on the head every time! Belief? Faith? Not in this case, so perhaps it really is doing something …odd to say the least. Hey, I know, they are just good guessers! They were duped! Obviously the GSIC does not fall into the realm of the Belt items, as it does not claim (to the best of my knowledge) to address issues between the listener and the environment. That is, it does not appear to be designed around some belief in how we react or respond to external stimuli—you know, stress issues. So they were obviously not duped, nor would being a good guesser—no, they would have to be incredible guessers!

Do we hear a difference with the GSIC? Carol not at all. Myself? Maybe, but nothing dramatic that would make me want to run out and sell the farm. More like coloring the edge of a CD. It makes a difference, but nothing dramatic.

You know what… it is all just a placebo! What is that all about?

Placebo?! They just think they heard a difference and if you did it long enough it would negate any positive results you think ya heard! Well, not true. While a placebo will cause a positive reaction in a percentage of test subjects,—in whatever your trying—the effect will not last for the long haul. That is while drug companies test drugs against a placebo to see if they get results that suggest that the drug has real benefits when compared against the placebo, one should not assume that if the placebo produces a positive response, that the placebo is a valid substitute for the real deal. It ain't as the results will not hold up over time. A placebo will not really cure that percentage of people being tested who had found the placebo to "work". The positive effect is due to other issues, and will diminish over time.

If you think an item will do something—even though the hidden truth is it will not, purely power of suggestion—than it will not behave as a true placebo. The effects will last as long as you continue to believe or have faith in the item. Who is being "taken" here? No one, assuming that the item is not being marketed to mislead the purchaser. That is the manufacturer knows it is fake, but sells it under the guise it is real. Not cool. But if the manufacturer believes, it is real and believes it really will do what they say it does —even though they cannot fully explain why, or do so that others can accept into their belief system—then who gives a frak? The buyer has become a believer, has faith in the item, and is happy. They get what they believe they should and life goes on.

So what does all this mean? Got me. Seems we have a conundrum of sorts. We blast people for having faith or beliefs in things that defy Science and logic, yet we contradict that by having our own faith and beliefs in things that also defy Science and logic—except they work for us! Even so, while we hold onto certain beliefs and faiths, we may or may not find the results we are always looking for in the world. Some "items" do for us what we expect and yet for others not at all—regardless of their faith and beliefs. It‘s a strange world. Deal with it. There is no need for ridicule, derogatory comments, and snide remarks—unless that is how you deal with anyone of a different faith or belief system than that of yourself. Sad. Time to learn how to play together.