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So Quiet It Can Cause Hallucinations?

Orfield Labs' Silence Chamber

We’ve all been in rehearsal rooms and recording studios where we wished the noise cancelling was just a little bit better, where all outside sounds are completely removed – even that police siren going past. But it appears that there is such a thing as a place being too quiet.

Orfield Laboratories‘ “anechoic chamber” in South Minneapolis, USA claims to be the quietest place on earth, and that near-perfect silence does some odd things to those that experience it. The chamber is 99/9% absorbent and holds the Guinness World Record for the quietest place in the world at −9.4 dBA, and the longest anyone has managed to spend in it alone in the dark has been a mere 45 minutes.

The room offers true isolation from our surroundings, such silence that you can hear your heartbeat, your lungs move, and your stomach in its throws of digestion as your ears adapt. What is more interesting, however, is how much we use sound to examine our environment subconsciously, and how people rapidly lose orientation when they lose both light and total sound like this – it can even cause hallucinations and people lose themselves without the cues from their surroundings.

The chamber is used for commercial product testing, for manufacturers to discover how loud a heart valve and LCD screen really is – sounds which are generally imperceptible with normal background noise.

Photograph courtesy of Steven Orfield

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