Yet for those seeking absolute relief from human noise for an indefinite period, the surest bet would finding one of the rooms specifically built for that purpose, called anechoic chambers. They are both sound proof and sound wave-absorbing. That was the conclusion reached by Foy, at least, after he visited such a chamber at Orfield Labs in Minnesota. It measures at –9.4 decibels, a figure less than zero decibels because any sound that does exist is below what the human ear can detect. “It’s supposed to be the quietest place on earth,” he says.
Where others tend to become uncomfortable in the disconcerting silence, Foy relished the chance to be completely cut off. But minutes into his stay in the chamber, he noticed that the silence was in fact broken. His own body, it turned out – his breathing, his heartbeat, even the scratchy sound his scalp made rubbing against his skull when he frowned – was betraying his quest for auditory nothingness. “The only time you’ll hear absolute silence is when you’re in no position to hear it, because you’re dead,” he realized.