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How the Silence of Space Can Make Astronauts Insane – Or Make Them See God

By Adam Sinicki | Miscellaneous | Rating:

Travelling into space is something that many of us dreamed of doing as kids, but for most of us it's unfortunately a reality that has yet to come true. Mostly this is due to the sheer competition as well as the impracticality of journeying into space; still only a very small percentage of people have been into space (which cost millions on each occasion) and so statistically you're not that likely to have been one of them.

But there's another reason that most of haven't ventured into space and that's that it's actually quite scary. Once you get to a certain age and you're happy with your partner and children in your nice cosy house… it's no longer quite so appealing to have mountains of rocket fuel exploding underneath you and launching you into the depths of space where there's not even any oxygen...

This is particularly true too due to all the unpleasant effects that space can have on your body – things you don't think about as a child. Your muscles can shrink, your eyes can bulge and you can lose a huge amount of blood – it's not pleasant.

And here's one thing you might not have thought of: the effects that space can have on your psychology. Here we will look specifically at just one thing that can affect your psychology while you're out there in space – the silence.

In Space No One Can Hear… You Know the Rest

As the well-known quote suggests, space is an awfully quiet place. This is due mostly of course to the lack of air, which means that there's no 'substance' to carry the vibrations that sounds are made of. When you're in space then you can bang a symbol right in front of your face and you would hear absolutely nothing.

Now while you might already be thinking that that could drive you a little insane, the effect is actually more profound than simple eeriness. You see, when there is no discernable sound to make out, the brain will desperately 'look' for sounds to pick out – it's not used to absolute silence so the cognitive dissonance causes some unusual reactions.

The first of these is that you hear all of your biological sounds far more loudly – including your own heart rate at an amplified volume and the sound of your breathing. This too could be enough to drive you over the edge on its own but there's more. For after a few moments your brain starts to conjure up new noises of its own leading to 'auditory hallucinations' where you hear things that aren't there. If you're not ready for it and you have no way of coping, this can eventually drive you mad.

Experience it for Yourself

If you think that sounds unbelievable and you'd like to see it, or hear it, or not hear it, for yourself, then you don't even need to travel all the way to space. Rather, you only need to go as far as Minnesota to visit a lab that can block out 99.99% of all sounds. This lab is principally used by NASA to help test astronauts, but it's also available for anyone else who wants to try it out and see what complete silence is really like. But just to give you an idea of how intense the experience is, it's worth noting that no one is allowed in for more than 45 minutes at a time…

Actually though, you don't need to travel all the way to Minnesota to experience some of this either, or even expose yourself to complete silence. It may be enough you see to simply take yourself somewhere very quiet and away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Cut yourself off from society for a bit and try not talking to anyone – even yourself – for a while (try a few days). While not everyone will experience anything profound, some people will experience hallucinations both auditory and visual, and can even experience 'religious' experiences as parts of the brain fire that we associate with worship and prayer. Some researchers have gone on to suggest that this could explain a number of religious experiences reported throughout history, though of course the interpretation of that is up to you…





Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki is a full time writer who spends most of his time in the coffee shops of London. Adam has a BSc in psychology and is an amateur bodybuilder with a couple of competition wins to his name. His other interests are self improvement, general health, transhumanism and brain training. As well as writing for websites and magazines, he also runs his own sites and has published several books and apps on these topics. He lives in London, England with his girlfriend and in his spare time he enjoys climbing, travelling, playing games, reading comics and eating sandwiches. Circle Adam on Google+! 

View all articles by Adam Sinicki

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