Ever feel like your office is a little too loud and distracting? Or have those moments when you're at home and you think it's quiet, but then you start to hear the hum of the refrigerator and the low rumble of distant traffic? Maybe you'd like a holiday to the quietest place in the world - though be warned, you're probably not prepared for what total silence does to the human brain.
Welcome to the quietest place on earth - the anechoic chamber at Orfield Laboratories in the USA. The room is so perfectly soundproofed that the background noise is measured in negative decibels: -9.4 dBA to be precise.
The room is largely used by companies who require fine testing of audio-related products, such as Microsoft, as mentioned in the video above. Even NASA has used the space for astronaut training to get them accustomed to the silence they'll encounter in space.
The more creative use of the chamber, however, is as a particularly unique way of challenging, or even torturing, unsuspecting guests. See, our brains were not built to deal with all-encompassing silence, so being in the anechoic chamber is extremely disorienting. While reports that the longest anyone has stayed in the chamber is 45 minutes are false - Orfield himself says people can potentially stay as long as they want - even people visiting for shorter times report disorienting effects.
When the entire room is completely soundproofed, a person visiting will be the source of the only sound they're able to hear. Your voice would sound strange to you, without the added reverb of a room or a space. Your breathing would sound too loud, and even the sounds of your heart beating, your circulatory system and digestive system would be strangely audible. Even the moving of your joints is audible.
But there are other effects you'll experience in the room too. Your balance will be effected by the lack of echoes, for example, as sound is one of the cues we use constantly and subconsciously to keep ourselves oriented in the room. Without being able to hear the 'shape' of the room, your brain will start to rebel against existing in the space.
However if you want to test yourself against perfect silence, I have some bad news. Orfield Labs' website points out that "the chamber is a test chamber for product, not people", and is not particularly keen on opening its lab for endurance tests. If you happen to be in Minneapolis and you want to visit, however, you can arrange a tour of the facility.
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