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The Crazy Kitchen

Crazy Kitchen

The Crazy Kitchen is one of the Canada Science and Technology Museum’s most popular interactive displays. Visitors who enter the Crazy Kitchen experience spatial distortion — a bizarre sensation caused when the body’s balance-sensing organs send contradicting messages to the brain

In this short video, Isabelle explains how the Crazy Kitchen works.

Have you ever taken a picture of yourself in the Crazy Kitchen? Share your photos on Flickr or Facebook.

What makes the kitchen so crazy?

It’s not what you see — it’s what you feel!

When you look at the kitchen, your eyes don’t see anything out of the ordinary. They send a message to your brain that the room is level. While your eyes don’t notice that one corner of the room is actually raised at a 12-degree angle, your inner ear detects this subtle incline and tells your brain that the room is not level.

These two conflicting messages are the cause of your feeling of dizziness when you stand in the Crazy Kitchen.

How do we sense balance?

To determine balance, your eyes judge your horizontal position — essentially whether your head is level. This requires that you see a horizontal plane of reference. Outside, this is the horizon. When you are indoors, this frame of reference is often the relationship between vertical lines, like the sides of doors and windows, and horizontal lines, like floors and ceilings. If doors and windows are perpendicular to the floor and ceiling, your eyes will assume that the room, and in turn your head, is level.

Horizontal position is only one aspect of balance. While your eyes judge your horizontal position, your inner ears can also determine which way is “up.” The inner ear contains fluid. When this fluid moves side to side or up and down, it brushes against tiny hairs. The brain senses this movement, and determines the spatial positioning of the body.

When your eyes and ears send the same message to your brain, you feel that you are balanced. When your brain receives two different messages, you feel a dizzying sensation called spatial distortion.

Spatial distortion can be dangerous!

Visiting the Crazy Kitchen is safe and fun. However, in some real-life situations spatial distortion can be very dangerous.

Pilots flying in low visibility can fall victim to spatial distortion if they can’t see the horizon. With only their inner ear and onboard instruments to guide them, their sense of “up” and “down” can easily be fooled. This dizziness can cause pilots to assume that they are ascending while they are actually descending — a potentially fatal mistake.

Try this!

Stand in the Crazy Kitchen and close your eyes. By doing this, you disable one of the organs that determines balance — your eyes. Your dizziness subsides because your brain is no longer receiving conflicting messages.