Things You Thought You Knew #7: Can You Hear Sounds Quieter than Total Silence?

What You Thought You Knew: “Total silence” is at 0 decibels, when you can’t hear noise at all.


What You Didn’t Know: Maybe silence really is so loud it’s deafening. A room has been developed in Minneapolis that is entirely anechoic — that is, ALL sound is completely absorbed and there is no echo. The room’s noise level is ranked at -9 decibels (below the level of total silence!), setting a Guinness World Record for quietness and rightfully earning the title “The World’s Quietest Room.”

The room’s design is a first, and test subjects exposed to the room have all lasted less than 45 minutes before caving and fleeing the room. What does this room have that’s so horrible? Isn’t peace and quiet supposed to be, well, peaceful?


Apparently (and largely thanks to the development of this room), scientists have discovered that the human brain cannot cope with sound levels below total silence (0 decibels). Since our ears are, along with our eyes and sense of touch, a primary function for us to understand where we are in the world, when our ears are confused, it’s not surprising that our body gets confused too.

With no sound for the ears to process and translate into location information, people in the silent room often find themselves dizzy, disoriented, and feeling like they are falling, swaying, or floating, especially if they enter the room when it is dark. With nothing to keep the brain grounded in the reality of physical objects nearby (since there is no echo in the room), hallucinations at negative sound are common.

The participants in the study found themselves able to hear the minutest functions of their bodies, including the heart and stomach. They could even hear their ears functioning. (It’s like Earception….)

It’s not surprising, then, that most of these people felt like they were insane after half an hour of hallucinations, floating, and hearing their ears hear nothing.

Although the room is actually intended to test the noise level of LED lights, I’d bet we may see it 200 years from now used as some sort of torture device….

Now You Know: That hearing negative sound less than total silence can drive you insane.


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