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In Earth’s quietest room, even 45 minutes are unbearable for anyone

Standing in the room gives people creeps, making them feel as if they're losing their spatial balance and orientation.

In Earth’s quietest room, even 45 minutes are unbearable for anyone
Cover Image Source: Orfield Laboratories | orfieldlabs.com

Can silence drive us mad? This question arises from a unique room in Minneapolis, where visitors report eerie sensations and disorientation due to its profound silence. They often hear faint ringing in their ears, and so far, no one has lasted more than 45 minutes.



 

 

Holding the Guinness World Record for the quietest place on Earth, the anechoic test chamber at Orfield Laboratories has a background noise level of -24.9 decibels. The human audible range is from zero to 120 decibels, so a sound of negative decibels is inaudible by humans.

 

An anechoic chamber, meaning "no echo," achieves profound silence through its design. Fiberglass wedges coat the walls, floors, and ceilings, absorbing any internal sounds, while thick layers of brick and steel reinforce the soundproofing. This meticulous design guarantees complete isolation from external noise.


 
 
 
 
 
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The maximum someone has stayed inside this chamber is 45 minutes. The room is so quiet that a person inside it will hear their heartbeats, even the sounds of their organs, Steven Orfield, the lab's founder, told Hearing Aid Know. “We challenge people to sit in the chamber in the dark – one person stayed in there for 45 minutes. When it’s quiet, ears will adapt. The quieter the room, the more things you hear,” he said, adding, “In the anechoic chamber, you become the sound."

But the room isn't designed for the sake of distressing or tormenting people. NASA regularly sends astronauts here to help them practice adaptability to the silence of space. Many people also visit the room to meditate, Orfield told CBS.

 

Yet, for most people, the room offers an eerie and unsettling experience, as it can disrupt one's sense of balance and orientation. "How you orient yourself is through sounds you hear when you walk. In the anechoic chamber, you don't have any cues," Orfield said. "You take away the perceptual cues that allow you to balance and maneuver. If you're in there for half an hour, you have to be in a chair."



 

 

Like Orfield Laboratories, the Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington is also an anechoic place. It is the previous Guinness World Record holder for being the “quietest place on earth.” The room is designed in an onion-like structure that isolates it from the rest of the building and the outside world. Here too, people cannot stand the silence for too long, not more than 55 minutes to be precise.

Explaining to CNN, Hundraj Gopal at Microsoft said that in the real world, our ears are constantly subject to some level of sound, so there is always some air pressure present on the ear drums. But when someone enters the anechoic room, this air pressure zips away due to the total absence of sound reflections. In a room like this, there is no interference of noise.

Ideally, silence is intended to pacify and soothe; however, its unsettling effect in these rooms is both uncanny and intriguing. For centuries, philosophers and poets have written that “silence is not empty,” and these anechoic rooms seem to provide evidence of this. 

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