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Spooky Science: Absolute Silence Could Drive You Absolutely Crazy

In an earlier installment of Spooky Science, we learned that infrasonic sounds can lead to feelings of depression and fear, and can conjure up ghostly visions due to vibrations that resonate with the human eyeball. While you might think that the sound of silence would be a welcome departure, absolute silence can be just as maddening. But finding a place that’s quiet enough to let you hear your own blood pulsing through your veins is easier said than done. Your best bet would be to seek out one of two specially engineered spaces, known as anechoic or non-echoing chambers, that have recently been dubbed the Quietest Place on Earth by Guinness World Records.

The first of these facilities is Orfield Laboratories in Minnesota, a place that’s so quiet that its decibel reading (which is on a logarithmic scale) is actually -13dBA. (A typical, quiet bedroom at night is 30dBA.) That means that at least 99.99% of sound is absorbed by the room’s baffling (3′ 4″ thick fiberglass acoustic wedges), double insulated steel walls, and a foot of concrete on all sides. The main purpose for these anechoic chambers are for product testing and development in which engineers get a baseline noise level for various devices. A side effect to all of this silence, however, is that those folks who stay inside the chamber for prolonged periods of time become hyper aware of the sounds of their own body, which can make for such a disorienting experience that few people can bear for more than 45 minutes.

In addition to slowly being driven mad by your thundering heartbeat, the steady pulse of your heart pumping blood through your vessels, and the sound of your breathing and digestion, there’s also the disturbing effect that comes with not being able to use auditory clues to orient yourself. If you plan on being in the chamber for more than a half hour, it’s advised that you sit down for your own safety. But if you think you can tough out an hour in an anechoic chamber like the reporter in the Veritasium video above, you’ll have to test your mettle by booking some time in the new champion for the World’s Quietest Place on Earth.

Microsoft’s Redmond, Washington audio lab decibel reading was measured at -20.6 dB, easily securing the record and even surpassing their own engineers’ estimation of -16dB. For more acoustic reference points, “the theoretical noise produced by Brownian motion—the random movement of particles in air—is the quietest known sound outside the vacuum of space, and is measured at -23 dB.” So basically, sitting in this world record-setting audio lab is almost the auditory equivalent of sitting in the vacuum of space. It’s probably best not to think about that fact should you find yourself entombed within an anechoic chamber like the victim of an Edgar Allan Poe story, or a case of the crazies is almost certain to set in.

The next time you find yourself wishing for some peace and quiet, remember that absolute silence exists in the realm of Spooky Science. Ever spent some time in an anechoic chamber or have been in a remarkably quiet place? Let us know about your experiences in the comments below!

Image: Adamantios, Veritasium

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