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Technology Science

The Quietest Place On Earth Will Cause You To Hallucinate In 45 Minutes 332

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Industry Tap reports that there is a place so quiet you can hear your heart beat, your lungs breathe and your stomach digest. It's the anechoic chamber at Orfield Labs in Minnesota where 3ft of sound-proofing fiberglass wedges and insulated steel and concrete absorbs 99.99% of sound, making it the quietest place in the world. 'When it's quiet, ears will adapt,' says the company's founder and president, Steven Orfield. 'The quieter the room, the more things you hear. You'll hear your heart beating, sometimes you can hear your lungs, hear your stomach gurgling loudly. In the anechoic chamber, you become the sound.' The chamber is used by a multitude of manufacturers, to test how loud their products are and the space normally rents for $300 to $400 an hour. 'It's used for formal product testing, for research into the sound of different things — heart valves, the sound of the display of a cellphone, the sound of a switch on a car dashboard.' But the strangest thing about the chamber is that sensory deprivation makes the room extremely disorienting, and people can rarely stay in the dark space for long. As the minutes tick by in absolute quiet, the human mind begins to lose its grip, causing test subjects to experience visual and aural hallucinations. 'We challenge people to sit in the chamber in the dark — one reporter stayed in there for 45 minutes,' says Orfield who says even he can't stand the quiet for more than about 30 minutes. Nasa uses a similar chamber to test its astronauts putting them in a water-filled tank inside the room to see 'how long it takes before hallucinations take place and whether they could work through it.'"
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The Quietest Place On Earth Will Cause You To Hallucinate In 45 Minutes

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  • Nein (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 02, 2013 @06:07AM (#45572995)

    Cool, a real geodesic psychoisolation chamber

  • by codeButcher ( 223668 ) on Monday December 02, 2013 @06:09AM (#45572999)
    Some people [pointedly looking at neighbors] need external sounds to mask the quiet in their heads. The quieter the head, the louder the noi^Wmusic.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      In my defence, I need the music to drown out the voices in my head.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by JustOK ( 667959 )

        They're the ones that told you to turn the music on. They just want it so you can't hear them talking behind your head.

  • by redmid17 ( 1217076 ) on Monday December 02, 2013 @06:10AM (#45573001)
    Hmmm give me some booze and a bucket. I bet I can beat that
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I've spent over an hour in a sensory deprivation tank and it wasn't nearly as trippy as this makes is sound.... Maybe longer would do it.

    • Me too. It was no big deal.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        I remember reading abobut this in Feynman's autobiography. IIRC he wanted to experience some halucinations without subjecting his brain to any chemicals. I've always wanted to try it, but have never had access to a sensory deprivation tank. Fortunately there were plenty of chemicals.

        • by swb ( 14022 )

          There's probably some substantive difference in hallucinations induced by drug stimuli versus those induced by removal of stimuli.

          And a sensory deprivation tank itself is probably different than an anechoic chamber, since the tank is designed to remove all stimuli. The tanks are supposed to be dark and immerse you in water so you minimize all stimuli, where the anechoic chamber is quiet, but you still have physical stimuli since you're not in the dark, etc.

          Drug induced hallucinations are probably more simi

          • The tanks are supposed to be dark and immerse you in water so you minimize all stimuli, where the anechoic chamber is quiet, but you still have physical stimuli since you're not in the dark, etc.

            Um... What parts of "But the strangest thing about the chamber is that sensory deprivation makes the room extremely disorienting, and people can rarely stay in the dark space for long." and "We challenge people to sit in the chamber in the dark..." make you think that you're not in the dark?

            They test the volume of cell phone displays in there, for Pete's sake. Do you really think they'd have fluorescents running if they're trying to find out how loud an LED is?

        • by martyb ( 196687 )

          I remember reading abobut this in Feynman's autobiography. IIRC he wanted to experience some halucinations without subjecting his brain to any chemicals. I've always wanted to try it, but have never had access to a sensory deprivation tank. Fortunately there were plenty of chemicals.

          You remember correctly. In Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" [fsu.edu] on page 128 in the chapter titled "altered states" he recounts his experiments with sensory deprivation. There was some chemical usage, too:

          I must have gone about a dozen times, each time spending about two and a half hours in the tank. The first time I didn't get any hallucinations, but after I had been in the tank, the Lillys introduced me to a man billed as a medical doctor, who told me about a drug called ketamine, which was used as an anesthetic. I've always been interested in questions related to what happens when you go to sleep, or what happens when you get conked out, so they showed me the papers that came with the medicine and gave me one tenth of the normal dose.

          (It is unclear to me whether that was a one-time thing, or whether he used the ketamine for all his subsequent visits.)

          I *highly* recommend reading the entire work!

          • by dpilot ( 134227 )

            Not with Richard Feynman, but instead with William Hurt and Blair Brown, I rather enjoyed "Altered States", even though it was filled with William Hurt pretentiousness - it fit because he played a pompous academic.

            As for related, the movie involved sensory deprivation chambers, with and without chemical assistance.

          • by martyb ( 196687 )

            Sorry for replying to myself... left out the href...

            See the chapter "Altered States" on page 128 of Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" [fsu.edu].

      • Is a sensory deprivation tank as quiet as this? From what I understand of their design, it doesn't seem as though they would be. Water is a great conductor of sound, and you can hear things through bone conduction (maybe even soft tissue to some degree? we are ugly bags of mostly water).

    • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Monday December 02, 2013 @12:51PM (#45575337) Journal

      Maybe longer would do it.

      Yep, longer will do it, I'd find it very difficult to believe someone can go without sleep for five days without hallucinating. I worked on a fishing trawler in the southern ocean. Every voyage lasted about 3 days. That's no sleep for 70+ hours, 30-35 of them working straight through to fill the hold, only stopping for 30 min every 5hrs to get something to eat, the other half of the time was normally spent holding on for dear life in the "roaring forties" between the Islands and the mainland

      Driving home in twilight on a country road after my first voyage, a row of white goblins suddenly ran single file across the highway, they were about 3 foot tall with one big red "Cyclops" eye that took up their entire face . They kept coming out of the thick scrub all in neat single file, every one of them looking straight at me, running for their lives and showing no signs of breaking formation even though I'm driving straight at them at 100km/h.

      I hit the brakes even though I kept telling myself in my head that it wasn't real, I hadn't yet realised I was hallucinating and could not work out what the fuck was going on, and whatever they were I certainly didn't want to hit them. I noticed that as I slowed down so did the "goblins", when I was nearly stopped I just as "suddenly" realised it was the row of white guide posts with the red reflectors that you get on hazardous stretches of highway. They appeared to be running across the road because I was approaching a long right hand bend. I hadn't been looking at where the goblins were going until I was almost stopped. What was left of my attention was focused on where the goblins were coming from. As soon as I looked to the left to see where they were going, it broke the illusion.

      It was only then I realised I had been hallucinating. Further down the road on that 30 minute trip I saw a large "beast" on a semi trailer. it looked a bit like an elephant or a hippo lying on it's back with it's legs straight up and in chains, before I could put a finger on what type of animal it was it morphed into a log truck carrying two stacks of short logs. A bit further down the road there was a (very fat) aborigine sitting under a tree at the side of the road sporting a loin cloth and yellow corroboree spots on his body, that turned out to be a large lichen covered rock. As I was showering and crawling into bed someone kept speaking my name every few minutes.

      I worked the boats for about 6 months (circa 1980), the goblins were the best but also the most disorientating. Once you realise what's going on and start expecting it to happen they don't seem to last as long or appear as frequently. Some people can sleep on a 60' fishing trawler in high seas, most can't, some of those (ordinary) people see really fucked up shit that stops them going out to sea again. Personally I quite enjoyed the audio and visual effects my brain throws back at me when it's protesting a lack of sleep. I can see why Alice was so curious about the rabbit hole, needless to say I got the wife to pick me up from the docks after that first voyage. I slept a solid 24hrs after every "trip", curiously about the same amount of sleep I had missed over the previous 3 days.

  • Chamber (Score:5, Informative)

    by Alioth ( 221270 ) <no@spam> on Monday December 02, 2013 @06:15AM (#45573007) Journal

    I've been in an anechoic chamber - it is quite strange, when you talk it feels like your voice is being sucked out of you.

  • by dltaylor ( 7510 ) on Monday December 02, 2013 @06:21AM (#45573027)

    Not having reached the point that I can ignore all external stimuli, that sounds like a place I could work on inner stillness, at least. Too bad it's so far from where I live; I'd like to try a few individual hours.

    • Not having reach the point where I can silence all external stimuli, that sounds like a place where I could think in peace. Too bad I'd get nagged to take the kids in there with me.

      • You nailed it, I would still hear some form of nagging. If a man is without his wife and makes no noise is he still wrong?
    • by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Monday December 02, 2013 @07:24AM (#45573219) Homepage Journal

      Dig a hole about forty or fifty feet deep. Make a monolithic pour of waterproofed concrete. Install the insulation and the anechoic surfaces. You'll want at least a couple soundproof hatches in the access tunnel, maybe three or four, to eliminate noise from the wind or whatever.

      With your own chamber in your back yard, you can deprive yourself anytime. When you tire of that, you can use it to hide your armory, or your gold, or dead bodies. Whatever needs to be hidden, you've got the place to hide it. Plan for the future though - a guy never knows just how many people he might meet who desperately need to be bludgeoned to death!

      • by WizardFusion ( 989563 ) on Monday December 02, 2013 @07:54AM (#45573315)
        +1 Strangely informative and disturbing at the same time
      • So long as you're digging, make a few chambers at the bottom.

        You might want one for, uhh, disposal, one for storage, and maybe a survival shelter, in addition to the anechoic chamber.

        They don't all need to be furnished at once, but I imagine it will be less expensive to have the deep hole excavated once, rather than bringing back the heavy equipment when you want to expand the underground lair.

  • by Spy Handler ( 822350 ) on Monday December 02, 2013 @06:23AM (#45573039) Homepage Journal

    it's looking into the future

  • by gr8dude ( 832945 ) on Monday December 02, 2013 @06:27AM (#45573057) Homepage

    With this condition you will always be exposed to some other forms of sound - would this prevent the hallucinations?

    After all, your senses are not fully deprived of input.

    • by gigaherz ( 2653757 ) on Monday December 02, 2013 @06:32AM (#45573083)
      I'd guess it would make it worse. You'd still be deprived of external input, so you'd be hearing the tinnitus almost exclusively.
      • Yep (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Monday December 02, 2013 @07:54AM (#45573309)

        Tinnitus is no fun in low noise environments as your ears seem to be awash in it. It seems really loud and overbearing, since it is all you hear. That kind of thing happens when you get your hearing tested and you have it (as I do). When they start doing threshold of hearing tests and the sounds they make are really quiet, the tinnitus seems massive and overpowering. Then you take off the headphones and leave the booth and it vanishes.

    • by Paradise Pete ( 33184 ) on Monday December 02, 2013 @06:42AM (#45573115) Journal

      With this condition you will always be exposed to some other forms of sound - would this prevent the hallucinations?

      I have mild tinnitus. In normal environments I'm not aware of it, but when the room is quiet I notice it. In this chamber it'd probably drive me crazy, hallucinations or no.
      FWIW, mine started after a severe cold and has never diminished in the seven years since.

      • by CubicleZombie ( 2590497 ) on Monday December 02, 2013 @09:57AM (#45573829)

        I have tinnitus from going to night clubs and frat parties in college. I can't sleep at night without a fan and this chamber would drive me nuts.

        Kids: Wear your friggen earplugs. You may look like a dork, but trust me, someday you will wish you had. You know that ringing you hear after leaving a concert? Someday you'll hear that all the time and it never, ever goes away.

    • by Stenchwarrior ( 1335051 ) on Monday December 02, 2013 @10:02AM (#45573849)

      The way I understand tinnitus, I don't think it would make a difference.

      Here's what I know: Our inner ears contain hair cells which would normally be responsible for perceiving specific frequencies when stimulated by the basilar membrane inside the cochlea (which is simulated by the 3, tiny bones which are stimulated by the attached ear drum, which is stimulated by...you get the idea.). With tinnitus, however, some of these hair cells are damaged and can no longer detect vibrations. As a result, the accompanying neurons associated with those damaged cells become "hungry" for stimulation because the brain sends an increasing level of "outbound" signal since it never receives any "inbound" signal, thereby causing the ringing sound we hear...a "loop" of information, if you will. This is very similar to the phantom-limb pain we can feel after having lost an arm or leg; this situation also causes the associated part of the brain to stop receiving signals from the amputated or damaged limb and the increased level of outbound signal causes (severe, in many cases) pain. Tinnitus works the same way, but on a much smaller scale because fewer neurons are left wanting, plus we still have many hair cells remaining which function normally and help "drown out" the ringing.

      So, by that rationale I imagine that the ringing would be much more apparent initially but would eventually be drowned out by the sounds perceived by the working cells, like heart beat, breathing and digestion. Then when those sounds are not enough, our brain starts creating "phantom" stimulus which causes the hallucinations.

      In short, I would think the answer is no.

      • by astro ( 20275 )

        The physiological causes of tinnitus are not the only basis for the condition. It can also be purely neurological. For example, cessation of Benzodiazapenes (typically Xanax or Klonopin - generically Alprazolam) after long-term use is known to often cause tinnitus for ~two years or perhaps more. I have relatively severe tinnitus of this causation. I agree with others' experiential anecdotes - it really can be quite debilitating in a very silent situation.

  • I think they just found a new enhanced interrogation technique.

  • yogi (Score:5, Interesting)

    by danhaas ( 891773 ) on Monday December 02, 2013 @07:30AM (#45573233)

    It would be interesting to see the reaction of a competent yogi in there. They study exactly that: excluding sensory input and generating alternate mind states.

  • I can confirm this (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bowdie ( 11884 ) on Monday December 02, 2013 @07:47AM (#45573285) Homepage

    I had a go in the UK Plantronics anechoic chamber last year on a factory visit. They have a webcam, and an egg timer on the wall. It's not odd for people to weird out if they spend any time in the chamber. The (digital) egg timer was there so you could set it for 30 minutes and it would hopefully snap you out of any spin you got yourself into.

    I was in there for no more than five minutes, and it was extremely disorientating. You really can hear the blood in your ears. It's very much like the sound you get from sea shells. I can easily imagine losing my shit in short order in there.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

      I can easily imagine losing my shit in short order in there.

      I really don't want to know what that sounds like.

  • by BringsApples ( 3418089 ) on Monday December 02, 2013 @08:17AM (#45573381)
    ...ever gone into the anechoic chamber, on weeeed?
  • by upuv ( 1201447 ) on Monday December 02, 2013 @08:35AM (#45573439) Journal

    Back in the 90's I spent some extended time in a sensor deprivation chamber.

    Nothing as fancy as this place. Not even remotely close. Just a salt water tank and a really really dark and quite environment.

    I can tell you I was Hallucinating in far less than 45 minutes when I was in a sensory deprivation tank. Auditory hallucination was the first. Then physical sensory. Then finally visual. I can't comment on temperature. I had no memory of anything to do with temperature. Pain was there, but I am a bit confused if it was a memory of a memory or if I actually felt in while in the tank.

    I was in their for about a week. It was suppose to be longer. But I got pulled out when people got worried. Apparently I was not exhibiting an EEG with in expected norms. What ever that means. I used to know more about the results. But that was 20 years ago.

    The hallucinations got so intense that I believed them. This only took a relatively short time. No way of telling how short really. Nothing really weird, or dangerous. I substituted what I believed to be a real world environment. Yes responses from others were to easy and terse. Which was odd. The most unusual thing was travel. Traveling distances took little time at all. Rather I don't remember details of travel. Things that you would normally remember. There is always something about a journey you remember. In the tank I didn't have those memories. I always felt rather dis-connected after travel in my hallucinations.

    I was completely freaked out when they started to revive me. They started with light and then some sound in the tank. Apparently I resisted it. I forced my eyes shut and made funny faces when the light and sound started. It really was hard to accept my environment. It felt like it all went down in a few minutes. But apparently the process was over an hour.

    What you do for a little Uni cash.

    PS. Yes they hooked up tubes to my bits. That was more disturbing coming out than in. I'll never forget that.

    • by Dins ( 2538550 )
      If you were in there for a week, what did you eat and drink and how did that all work? I'd probably do something like that too for the right sum of money. Unfortunately the right sum of money for me would probably be orders of magnitude more than they'd be willing to pay...
  • A while ago 5 years now.. (how time flies) I ended up travelling across Eurasia on a motorbike. Passing through desolate areas like Kazakhstan and Siberia away from the railways would be a spooky experience. You'd put your tent up and it was so quiet you could hear your heart beat and your tinnitus. You would always think though that somebody was sneaking up on you and would stab you to death and rob you.
  • by Ogive17 ( 691899 ) on Monday December 02, 2013 @09:41AM (#45573713)
    I thought this would be discussing my bedroom. Not much happens when there's a baby sleeping in the room across the hall.
  • Sounds like (no pun intended) it would be a great place to practice insight meditation

  • Brain (Score:5, Interesting)

    by golden age villain ( 1607173 ) on Monday December 02, 2013 @10:30AM (#45574047)
    It is really interesting that in absence of auditory and visual sensory input, the brain quickly fills the void with false experiences. It could just go into quiet mode instead. I like the idea that all of what our brain does is building a representation of our environment and trying to anticipate inputs based on this "simulation".
  • by Ultracrepidarian ( 576183 ) on Monday December 02, 2013 @01:05PM (#45575471)

    I had a small computer room lined with Armstrong's 'Soundsoak' panels and before the equipment was installed, the effect was stunning. I found the silence to be literally painful to my ears.

If I had only known, I would have been a locksmith. -- Albert Einstein