room with a view
It was a visit to the Orfield Laboratories, once dubbed “the quietest place on earth,” in Minneapolis that had him missing the ‘mad scientist’ archetype. These days’ kids in college are staying away from it in droves. They prefer a traditional career and a stable income.
The anechoic chamber at Orfield has a background noise reading of –9.4 decibels. To put it in perspective, if you converse with someone your speech would measure around 60 decibels on a sound-level meter. If you stood quietly on your own in an empty concert hall, the meter would drop down to a level of about 15 decibels. The threshold of hearing, the quietest sound a person can hear, is about 0 decibels. The room at Orfield Laboratories is far quieter than that.
The longest anyone has ever been able to stay in the room is 45 minutes.
He was able to stay in the room for 27.
With no sound from the outside world, the almost-absolute silence gradually manifested itself as an unbearable ringing in his ears, drowning out the song he’d walked in humming; Where Is My Mind by the Pixies. And then, because the lack of reverberation in the room was sabotaging his in-built spatial awareness, he began to lose his balance. The entire time he could hear his heart pounding away, his lungs gulping in air and his stomach gurgling. A man’s true inner voice.
It began as disturbing and quickly moved to intolerable. So out he came.
Which got him to thinking…
The thing is, at least how he saw it, there is a role for the mad scientist to play in our society. While other scientists are busy coming up with practical theories and various way of proving them, gone are the days of just creating interesting scenarios just to see what would happen. Standing over some lever, anticipating the thrill of throwing it, long unkempt hair flying everywhere, a maniacal laugh at the ready. A little lightning in the background always appreciated.
He wasn’t even sure there were levers in labs anymore.
For reasons he couldn’t understand, he found this depressing. A longing for bygone years perhaps.
Or, much more likely, a longing to lock someone in the anechoic chamber at Orfield for a few hours. Maybe more. Just to see what would happen.
When he thought of this he had to fight the urge to hunch over, rub his hands together and allow a sinister smile to slowly unfold across his face.
He also had to fight the urge to theorize what would actually happen to that individual. Such postulation completely violated the mad scientist code. As a mad scientist he had only to create the circumstances and then sit back and observe. No accountability whatsoever.
It was a code he intended to uphold.
Could someone adapt to it or would it drive them crazy? Would there be screaming and clawing and bleeding from the eyes involved?
“Stop it” he scolded himself. “Just stop. Stop asking questions. Don’t break the code. It’s sacred… sort of.”
There it was again, his inner voice.
With your feet on the air and your head on the ground
Try this trick and spin it, yeah
Your head will collapse
If there’s nothing in it
And you’ll ask yourself