Weirdly Quiet: What the Total Silence of an Anechoic Chamber Can Do To You

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Noise is a given part of our daily lives, and if you live in a bustling area like B&H’s home in New York City, the clamor of buses, trains, construction, and people can be downright overwhelming. New Yorkers love to get away on weekend trips to quieter, rural locales. But is there such a thing as too quiet?

Two NASA engineers inspect a test setup in an anechoic chamber in preparation for the Apollo lunar mission.

Even if you love the serenity of silence, most people would draw the line at the eerie quiet of an anechoic chamber. Designed to be free from echoes and noise, anechoic chambers are constructed from a variety of acoustic material that absorbs and minimizes the sonic reflections in a room. The chambers are generally used to test audio equipment or machine-noise levels, and have even been employed by NASA because they so closely emulate the silence of the vacuum of space.

A carbon-filled foam filter cone used in a NASA anechoic chamber.

The reigning “quietest place on Earth” (for all you Guinness Book of World Records fans keeping score at home) is the anechoic chamber at the Orfield Laboratory in Minneapolis, Minnesota, pulling the meter at a decibel rating of -9.4dBA. To put that in perspective, anything below 0dBA cannot be heard by human ears, and staying in such a quiet environment quickly illustrates just how much we rely on hearing, and what extreme quiet can do to the mind.

A huge NASA anechoic chamber.

When you're inside the chamber, you will begin to hear things that are normally drowned out and masked by ambient noise, starting with bodily functions. With nothing else to hear, your ears pick up your heartbeat, stomach gurgles, and your breathing. As our hearing helps orient us to our surroundings, staying in the room for stretches of time makes it difficult to stand, and eventually, you’ll need to sit down. Planning a longer visit? The sensory deprivation created in this chamber will result in hallucinations. After that, the effects remain relatively unknown; according to Orfield Labs, the longest anyone has stayed inside has been a mere 45 minutes.

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I *SO* wanna go there! Do they do "guided tours" or something like that?