Ivan Nel

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Why is absolute silence so terrifying ?

They say silence is golden – but there’s a room in the U.S that’s so quiet it becomes unbearable after a short time.

The longest that anyone has survived in the ‘anechoic chamber’ at Orfield Laboratories in South Minneapolis is just 45 minutes.

It’s 99.99 per cent sound absorbent and holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s quietest place, but stay there too long and you may start hallucinating.

What is it that causes our brains, to need sound to maintain sanity ?

Why is silence so terrifying ?

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    Oct 3 2012: Because that plastic chair looks really uncomfortable. Put a bed, a pillow and a blanket in there and you will be shocked by the jump in the number of minutes..Hang a few paintings on the wall...you'll get hours..it is not the silence but the poor set up.. Also; deaf people are not insane.
  • Oct 2 2012: So how do deaf people cope in the ‘anechoic chamber’ or are they unaffected because they can't hear the silence.....?
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    Oct 1 2012: Looks pretty interesting to me....great place to meditate:>)

    Regarding hallucinations:
    I read some information about the ‘anechoic chamber’ at Orfield Laboratories in South Minneapolis, and I did not see anything about an oxygen source. Ken Brown and Alex French mention nitrogen narcosis in this comment thread, and I agree with them. If there is no adequate oxygen supply into the chamber, it is not unreasonable to believe that lack of oxygen may cause hallucinations, rather than simply being in the chamber.
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      Oct 3 2012: There must a maximum capacity of 1 in this room or a maximum capacity of 2 healthy lungs! HAHAHAHA!

      *drum, drum, cymbal*
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    Sep 26 2012: In a place of absolute silence one comes in contact with the real state of one's humanity. They say we are not perfect; and that is just like a tip of an iceberg. If there is an absolute right (which I believe there is) we would be terrified when we see how far even the best of humanity has strayed from it in our choices, actions and attitudes.

    Humanity is made for relationship. Relationship with God; relationship with humanity; and relationship with the environment. If we don't have healthy relationship with all of the three aforementioned; I'm afraid, there is no life.

    Certain relationships and communication are essential in order to maintain our sanity.
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      Sep 26 2012: you say "certain relationships and communication are essential in order to maintain our sanity".
      how long can you be kept brfore you lose your sanity? one day ?,two days? or
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        Sep 26 2012: It may happen faster in the anechoic chamber; but it usually happens slowly, sometimes it is hardly noticed until the person then suddenly express the evidence of sanity.
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    Sep 26 2012: Is it silence itself or the strangeness of the setting for those used to hearing sounds?
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    Oct 2 2012: Let's consider this posed in a different way. There's a month-long waiting list for people to spend time in the "room of extraordinary tranquility". For $100 you can stay 30 minutes. For $500 you may stay for 45 minutes and for $1000 you may stay for one hour, which is the ultimate experience in peace. The effects are long lasting - you'll reach nirvana and that will linger for nearly six months, when you may re-visit.

    Of course, being in South Minneapolis a more terrifying thought would being alone in the room with a large mosquito
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    Sep 28 2012: I'd have to see some data before answering this question. I haven't studied it too much.

    I've heard about some studies using Buddhist monks and meditation experts, in passing.

    Do you have any real information other than the endless loop links you've posted?

    It's hard for me to imagine why someone would give a thumbs up for just a question.
  • Sep 28 2012: HI, i can not agree that absolute silence is as terrifying as you ask in that question. Because i am a silence-fond lady.
    Most of my life has been silent . i enjoyed it heartedly. Keeping silence helps me know more about my inside feeling about the real world.
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      Sep 29 2012: Hi Litin I want to ask a question that might be answered by only you why some people keep silence sometimes that you try to ask some questions from them but they do not even speak once in a year to you. (Although they are normal with rest of the world)
  • Sep 28 2012: What about deaf people? They don't seem to be walking around terrified all the time..
    • Sep 28 2012: Maybe they have adapted to where they can sense danger even tho they hear no sounds. You would think that their other senses would be heightened. They have learned to not let their situation stop them from having a life. I commend them for their courage.
  • Sep 28 2012: I was curious and searched the web a bit for more informations.

    Edward Long said here: The body is a real noisemaker. It "sounds" bogus to me.

    Yes, and no.

    Yes, the quieter the room, the more your ears adapt and you eventutally "hear" your own body. To the point you even hear your ears (not joking). In fact, all senses become more sensitive in the room.

    But it doesn't end here.

    Your brain is trying to process stimuli it's almost not receiving anymore. As a result you will start hallucinating after a while. This reminds me of an informative TEDtalk about losing the ability to see through ageing, those people too have hallucinations. Also, astronauts face a similar situation in outer space and the NASA used the room to experiment ways to avoid it.

    It's also true that you will lose balance because of the absence of sound, you have to sit down.

    But if you step in being aware of all that, I fail to understand how noone managed to stay inside more than "45 minutes". Once you know what awaits you it's a lot easier to cope with it. I have a hard time believing even those astronauts could not (or that they tried).

    The company’s founder and president, Steven Orfield: "We challenge people to sit in the chamber in the dark - one reporter stayed in there for 45 minutes."

    Sounds a lot different than "The longest anyone has survived [...] is just 45 minutes" but the later is probably more catchy as a title for an article on the subject.
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      Sep 28 2012: "But if you step in being aware of all that, I fail to understand how noone managed to stay inside more than "45 minutes". Once you know what awaits you it's a lot easier to cope with it. I have a hard time believing even those astronauts could not (or that they tried)."

      It's a common mistake we make when thinking that prior knowledge of a up coming event will help one cope,each of us react different to different situations but until we actually experience said room we can only guess as we don't have any prior experience with said room.

      It's like telling someone that they could be one of those people who feed their oxygen to fishes if they scuba dived down to the Narc level which is usually 90 ft down but until they do it for themselves they wouldn't have any idea how they are going to react when nitrogen narcosis hits them,i'm lucky i was one of those that just had their eye's turn completely black and was on a glorious buzz though i was almost submerged in a floating silt bed.
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        Sep 28 2012: i fully take your point, but look at it from the other side. You don't know anything about the nitrogen narcosis and it hits you. My guess is you are going to have a more severe mental reaction to the narcosis than if you knew it was going to happen.
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          Sep 28 2012: Ah thanks for pointing that out,i realized that i didn't take into account that a good rational warning is better than none at all in my previous post,thanks Alex.Try scuba diving and then when you're confidant go for the the Narc level,i made the mistake that i thought i will feel it as i hit 90 ft like it actually had a border i could see and cross over,i was wrong very wrong,i didn't feel any change or even was aware of any change,it was truly the free-st and totally legal stone anyone could have because i didn't know i was narced until i ascended to 65 ft and realized after the fact,absolutely glorious,for a time all time stood still.
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    Sep 28 2012: Could pure silence also be a form of extreme loneliness?

    I could just be bs'ing here lol
  • Sep 27 2012: "What is it that causes our brains, to need sound to maintain sanity ?"
    It is not about hearing that causes the problems, otherwise deaf people would go insane, but they seem to be pretty sane.

    It is because everyone "hears" with the full body, and "sound" is a physical thing. That is why you are disturbed by "noise", no matter of if it is loud or almost silent, because it is always an information, like temperature is too, or sunlight etc..

    Like you sense sunlight even when totally blind, you sense "sound" even when you do not hear it. And when this is totally missing, your body acts wired, you might hallucinate, or go mad, or get sick etc.. Like you would go nuts in a room without enough air, or air where the content of oxygen is changed.

    Sound is so to say an element you need to exist, but you do not access it with your ears only. There are many sounds you do not hear, but they do have an effect on your body. You just do not realize it.

    I think it would interesting what happens with deaf people-they should look how long they can stay inside this room until it has mental or physical effects on them. If nothing happens to them, even after long time, i was totally wrong with my idea :)

    And i think it would be interesting to see if there are changes when you put two people in this room. The walls might absorb every sound, but i would like to know if you "survive" this if you listen to the heartbeat and breath of a person right next to you.
  • Sep 27 2012: Natural silence is never silent. It is possible that this sound proof room deadens the normal internal feedback loop that helps people maintain their balance. Deaf people do not "miss" sound, nor do they hallucinate, but they may have adapted (just thinking here) to maintaining balance without sound. Being slightly off balance will make you feel slightly seasick without knowing why.
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    Oct 3 2012: That is fascinating!! Can you even not hear your own voice in this chamber?
  • Oct 2 2012: This is a silence in which there is no sensory data of any kind. That is why ii is terrifying.
    The examples used, are not of people who ho-hummed their way through.
    They "endured" for as long as they could.
    I had an associate who swam in a two team race from the Farallon Islands off the coast of San Francisco, many years ago. They had one long-boat per team, with a light on each so that the swimming competitors could find it in the dark.
    Yes, they swam the race at night in order to be out of the shipping lanes that regularly come in. The Farallons are about 30 miles off the coast, and from the opening to the San Francisco Bay. They also are a breeding ground for Great White sharks. That will put something into ones thoughts.

    Only one member from each team in the water at a time, oiled to protect them from the cold water and they swim for a given period of time.
    Well, one swimmer became numb from the cold (as they all did), but he also rose and fell with the waves, losing sight of the boat, and so in complete darkness, he was numb, couldn't feel anything, like the water, couldn't see anything, and after a bit of time, he started losing his mind. He was unable to sense whether he was in water or lost in space, with out the "normal" sensory input he and we are accustomed to, to give us the sense of connection and some grounding to something that helps us retain sanity. He freaked out and had to be pulled in. He didn't return to the water.

    Without any sensory input, we are alone with our thoughts and there will come a time where insanity happens. The key is to move through it to the other side and that is possible in these scenarios. I think it is somewhat of the main intention for going into these sensory deprivation environments.

    It might become easier as more do it, stay longer and have experiences they can share, examine and understand.
    But, for sure, there is a part of it that will become absolutely terrifying.
  • Oct 2 2012: Lets compare this situation with an Isolation Tank. In the above situation only one sense is deprived (and in turn disturbed) while in the isolation chamber ALL of the senses are deprived. Is something about having just one sense deprived particularly upsetting? In this situation, you have your 4 senses (touch, taste, sight, and smell) functioning normally, not hallucinating and then the final sense (your hearing) completely hallucinating as a result of its deprivation. Is it something about having a PARTIAL and SPECIFIC hallucinatory experience (auditory) while having your other senses functioning normally, abiding to the reality as usual, that is particularly unnerving? That being posed, Who are the people being tested in this experiment? What are the confounding factors? Would the same people last only as long in an isolation chamber, and for that matter what are the rules for cross comparing the two mostly different experiences?
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    Oct 2 2012: I am unaware of this facility and data.

    Is our sense of hearing strictly in response to audible sound? I talk to myself. Not aloud mind you, at least not yet, still I hear what I'm saying just the same. Perhaps that inner voice becomes a little to real in this environment resulting in a meltdown.

    I do sense another Guinness World Record looming on outlasting the 45 minute chamber lock in for the existing quiet time champ.

    No, not me. It's can be spooky for to ride in an elevator.
  • Sep 30 2012: in my opinion. this is becoz those whom speaks, their opinion is gonna be heard and be the mainstream idea. and as time goes, ppl might think that the idea is correct and accept it as a norm. even if its wrong.
  • Sep 29 2012: Hi , it seems tough enough when such a things happens. I really hate it. Their excuses are variable. Some think the question is not their appetite, some believe that they do not need to answer it by themselves, for others may answer it instead. And, all the same, even most of people have the above reaction when a question is asked. i have to name it "public silence " of insideness.
  • Sep 29 2012: Why is silence so terrifying?
    This room is not like the experience of being deaf. It is also complete absence or absorption of sound with the complete removal of all the stimuli humans experience and use as a gauge for: 1. being alive and 2. being connected to being alive. The second one is very important to human sanity and perhaps a room like this could be part of the proof that all of this is simply created by our minds, our thinking, that it is only awareness of consciousness and thus we create a collective consciousness to help us feel unafraid, or experience a state of abject terror.

    I think if we could really grasp how alone we are in this dark universe, we would feel that fear. So, we create explanations, explorations, probes, scientific possibilities that life exists elsewhere and we are not alone. Or God. It is soothing to the human psyche, that is already split and in danger of splitting completely apart.
    But the consciousness of our brains/minds is what causes the experience to be terrifying. I think it must be connected to fear of "not being connected" at all, that does this.

    When I was young, I heard about something called, "rapture of the deep or depth" which today is known as nitrogen narcosis and although it can and has been more scientifically studied and understood, it still cannot reveal or empirically demonstrate or present the experiences I read about, where those who had survived this 'rapture' described hearing beautiful music somewhere in the distance that they wished and yearned to follow, beautiful women, angels or beauty that simply beckoned to them, urging them to go deeper and deeper into the dark.

    No one can disprove my experience of leaving my body when I drowned as a 7 yr. old. They might be able to scientifically explain it but not to the experience itself. I am the empirical evidence of it, but not proof of what it actually means or meant. All was black once, complete absorption of light and stimuli, and back to it, will return.
  • Sep 28 2012: Behaviorally, we spend our lives performing in veritably countless stimulus/response cycles - at work, in family, and in the community. If a person experiences difficulty in bearing absolute silence, perhaps that difficulty may arise out of the unfamiliarity of the experience of existing in a space completely devoid of external stimulus.

    I would like to imagine, then - so to speak - that in a long absence of external stimulus, hallucinations occurring in that time perhaps may result from the brain's desire to stimulate itself, lacking other stimuli? Granted, I've not researched that - my statements, as such, may simply be a matter of casual interpolation.
  • Sep 28 2012: What about people born deaf? How would they fare in that room? How do they fare if someone else can only last 45 minutes in what is essentially their life?
  • Sep 28 2012: Silence can also refer to any absence of communication.To interpret silence is difficult because it can be positive or negative.It can mean anger,hostility,disinterest or other emotions.If we see the positive aspect of silence then at times in everyone's life there is a phase, it can be in our personal or professional life when we need to remain silent to stop or to control the situation from worsening and on the other hand if we see the negative aspect then the person who is silent due to any disinterest or disappointment is affecting his or her mental health,he/she keeps on thinking that leads to frustration,tensions and at times when the person don't share don't talk about his/her disinterest or disappointment then slowly and slowly person gets depressed and most importantly he /she is also affecting other people's mental health in some or the other way who care for and love that person.
  • Sep 28 2012: I believe that the fear of silence is a primal fear that can be traced back to our ancestors having to know by sounds where the predators were. Also there is a old saying that goes like this: It was so guiet that you could hear yourself think. I have personally experienced that. I live in the mountains and late at night there is usually dead silence till about daylight. It can be too quiet at times. When it is like that your mind can run wild if you let it.
  • Sep 28 2012: I think it may be because when we experience silence... I would describe it as a feeling of waiting, or that something should be happening, Even when we know it shouldn't be. After a person reaches that point any sound at all is picked up on and then starts the bodies search for the next bit of sound so it can stop waiting
  • Sep 28 2012: When you are in absolute silence and you have no information of what is going on around you. our senses are "input" channels. And the info that comes through those channels is used in our behalf. So in a situation of total silence chances are someone can feel weird because the constant flow of information through our "sound" input channel (hearing) has suddenly stopped
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    Sep 27 2012: Because of lack of our experience of "absolute" silence.
  • Sep 27 2012: Interesting ! I would like to test the fragility of my sanity in this chamber :)
    Hypothetically , no sound equals to all sounds, maybe absolute silence is too loud to endure.
    Or maybe total absence of sound inputs is a kind of a signal for a mind that brain is dead , why should it maintain sanity under the circumstances?
    Btw, how deaf people feel in anechoic chamber ?
  • Sep 26 2012: A soundless situation is not terrifying, it is the overall experience. It is probably the awkwardness of the situation that creates the terrifying situation.
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    Sep 26 2012: Is this room available to rent for a night?

    If the room is soundproof, perhaps ventilation is the problem. Too much CO2 will make anyone sick.

    I know many deaf people and they do not seem to go around hallucinating. Even those who lost their hearing.
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    Sep 26 2012: How does a soundproof room stop my eardrums from vibrating when I generate a noise inside my body? Such noises do not depend on bouncing sound waves outside my body. The body is a real noisemaker. It "sounds" bogus to me.
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    Sep 26 2012: I would love to try that room,the effect of whatever movement i make has no echo effect and i'm left with no echo sensory return is probably destabilizing to our balance bones though that statement is wrong just an assumption.Strange,i've been running into a lot of nodalic simularities while being on this forum,one person poses a Q,you answer and read other posts and then others every now and then will post something similar yet most probably totally unrelated or have any inkling about the other posting yet one will connect it to a similarity,pattern recognition?

    I've been through our native bush areas where there has been a complete absence or removal of sound,it changes the lovely green lush temperate look of the bush from one of full of life to a green deadness,disturbing enough to set off a wholely irrational internal response similar to flight or fight,then the bubble gets filled or dissipates and sound return,scared the pants off me the first time.
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    Sep 26 2012: I have to agree with Fritzie. Just hearing no sounds can't be the determining factor that makes the experience so unique. If that was the case, a deaf person would also go insane in 45 minutes. I think it is the sudden change that someone used to hearing sounds experiences when placed in the chamber, along with all the other sensory changes that accompany the experience of being in the chamber, that unsettles them.

    Has a deaf person been placed in the chamber? Do they have to be removed from it within 45 minuites to prevent them from going insane?