'Quietest place on earth' causes hallucinations

No one can stand more than 45 minutes inside Orfield Laboratory's ultra-silent anechoic chamber.
Written by Tuan Nguyen, Contributor

While we all can appreciate getting some peace and quiet every now and then, you might be surprised to learn that there's only so much of it the brain can take.

That's what scientists have discovered based on the reported experiences of those who have spent some quality alone time in Orfield Laboratory's anechoic chamber, a room that's so soundproof, it's officially listed as the "Quietest place on earth," according to Guinness World Records.

Located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the acoustic chamber is comprised of 3.3-foot-thick fiberglass acoustic wedges, double walls of insulated steel and foot-thick concrete, which enables it to be 99.99 per cent sound absorbent with a decibal rating of −9.4 dBA. Any sounds below the threshold of 0 dBA is undetectable by the human ear. And at such a low decibal level, the environment becomes so disconcerting that people have actually started to hallucinate.

"When it’s quiet, ears will adapt. The quieter the room, the more things you hear. You'll hear your heart beating, sometimes you can hear your lungs, hear your stomach gurgling loudly, Steven Orfield, the lab's President and founder, told The Daily Mail. "In the anechoic chamber, you become the sound."

The fact that mere absence of noise causes people to psychologically fall apart shows the degree to which we, as sensory beings, rely on the everyday ruckus constantly emanating around us. For instance, Orfield points out that audio cues within any environment help to orient people to their surroundings. But when there's nothing but utter silence, the mind struggles to make sense of what's happening or where it is. That means that "if you're there for more than half an hour, you have to be in a chair," he added.

And the longest anyone's ever spent in the chamber? 45 minutes.

But although the facility can theoretically function as a torture chamber, it wasn't conceived as such. It actually serves as an ideal laboratory setting for companies to test how loud their products are as well as determine sound quality. Past clients have included Whirpool and Harley-Davidson, which used the chamber in an effort to produce quieter motorcycles.

NASA has sent astronauts inside in order to figure out ways to help them adapt better to outer space, which can be thought of as a massive anechoic chamber. To ratchet up the sensory deprivation experience, they are even put into a water-filled tank kept inside the room to determine "how long it takes before hallucinations take place and whether they could work through it," according to Orfield.

Heck, who knew tranquility can be so exciting.

(via Daily Mail)

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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