Listen. What do you hear right now? Maybe a group of people are talking near you or traffic is loud today. Maybe you hear dogs barking or music coming from an open window. Maybe it’s subtler: the faint hum of an air conditioner, the soft rustle of leaves, or birds chirping outside. It’s almost impossible to think of a silent place. There are peaceful places, sure, but in the background of all of them, something is happening that your brain is trying to ignore.
However, in the quietest room on earth, you will hear nothing but yourself. This room, in Minnesota’s Orfield Laboratories, is an anechoic (no echo) chamber (1). It is equipped with geometrically shaped fiberglass and walls insulated with feet of steel and concrete (2). The fiberglass wedges on every wall of the room act as dissipaters for low-frequency sounds, bouncing the frequency between them to prevent it from echoing back into the room. High frequencies are absorbed into the fiberglass (3). Even background noise in the room is at a decibel measure of -9.4 dBA. To compare, the background noise of an average quiet room is around 30 dBA (4). This room is frequently used to test products for loudness, conduct research, and to prepare astronauts for the quietness of space (1).
To me, this sounded relaxing at first. It’s a room that seems to be the very definition of peace and quiet. However, everyone that has been in the room alone has quickly grown to dislike it. The room is so silent that you can hear every movement and sound that your body is producing. You begin to hear your blood moving, your clothes brushing against your body, and your lungs expanding (4). Your brain eventually becomes accustomed to the quiet and begins to hear these sounds as louder than they are because they’re the loudest thing in the room. Your mind will begin to struggle to make sense of its environment. People who stay in the room for over half an hour begin to feel disoriented and have to sit down (2). Many say that they can hear their own heartbeat and their blood rushing. Most can’t stay in the room for a long time.
So next time you’re trying to study or read and you begin to complain that the room isn’t completely silent, think about what silence means to you. Do you want to hear your heartbeat?
(1) Eveleth, Rose. “Earth’s Quietest Place Will Drive You Crazy in 45 Minutes.” Smithsonian, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/earths-quietest-place-will-drive-you-crazy-in-45-minutes-180948160/
(2) Nguyen, Tuan. “‘Quietest Place on Earth’ Causes Hallucinations.” ZDNet, https://www.zdnet.com/article/quietest-place-on-earth-causes-hallucinations/
(3) “Can Silence Actually Drive You Crazy?” YouTube, uploaded by Veritasium, 18 Feb. 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXVGIb3bzHI
(4) DNews. “World’s Quietest Room Will Drive You Crazy in 30 Mins.” Seeker, https://www.seeker.com/worlds-quietest-room-will-drive-you-crazy-in-30-minutes-1765731268.html