It may seem like an unlikely tourist draw but visitors from right across the globe are flocking to this destination in Minneapolis … the ultimate relaxation room. Dubbed the quietest place on earth, the laboratory in Minnesota is so completely silent that it actually measures in minus decibels.
In 2005, the ‘anechoic chamber’ made it into the Guinness World Records when readings of minus 2.5 decibels were recorded inside. Ever since, it has been open to visitors with numbers increasing all the time as curious travellers look to experience what true silence really means. Laboratory owner Steve Orfield told Lonely Planet: “[we run] two tours a week and most everybody is from outside of the area. It can be a small group of up to ten or it can be an individual. Tours are charged in accordance with the number of people, with students [charged] half as much.”
For some, the absolute quietness of the room can be almost terrifying. Steve Orfield explained: “what the chamber tends to do is it tends to scare people because when you get in the chamber, everything gets tremendously quiet. You feel like there’s pressure on your ears – but it’s actually pressure moving away from your ears. Within about thirty seconds to a minute, you start to hear the sounds that your ears make … within twenty minutes, you hear the sounds of your knees and elbows as bones rub against each other. Once in there for thirty minutes – but it happens differently for different people – you can hear your heartbeat clearly and if you’ve good hearing you can hear the sound of your lungs.
“All those sounds are highly disconcerting. Our metaphor for silence is silence whereas the silence is not there, and in fact they [the people themselves find that they are] … the noise. It’s a fascinating experience; gentle introverts will find it much more pleasurable than an extrovert.” He said some visitors walk into the chamber and leave immediately, while others look inside and decide the prospect of absolute silence is a little too scary. The laboratory is, of course, not just for visitors and Mr Orfield is also at the forefront of scientific research into how silence can be therapeutic for people with conditions like autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, and certain types of mental illness.