A group of French volunteers spent 40 days in a cave without electricity, clocks, or sunlight. On Saturday, participants in an experiment designed to study the effects of isolation on humans came to the surface.
The 15 volunteers, eight men and seven women aged between 27 and 50, lived in the Lombrives Cave in southwestern France. They slept in tents and had to produce their own electricity using a bicycle generator. They had no contact with the outside world.
The participants also used water from a well located at a depth of 45 meters. The cave had a constant temperature of 12 degrees Celsius and a humidity of about 95%.
The experiment, called Deep Time, ended after the organizers went down into the cave and told the participants that they could go up.
The volunteers came to the surface wearing dark glasses so that their eyes could adjust to the bright sunlight after several weeks in semi-darkness. On the surface, they were greeted with applause by the scientists.
French-Swiss scientist Christian Clot, the project director and one of those who spent 40 days underground, said that time in the cave flowed more slowly than usual. “Here we are! – the AP news agency quotes him. — This is a big surprise for us. We felt like we had descended into the cave 30 days ago.” Another participant in the experiment estimated the time spent underground at 23 days.
Only the “biological clock”
Since they did not have a clock, the experiment participants counted the days spent underground, estimating the number of sleep-wake cycles.
One of the participants, 33-year-old Marina Lanson, admitted that the experiment “put her life on pause.” She said she doesn’t plan to check her phone for a few more days so that getting back to real life “won’t be too tough.”
During the experiment, the participants had to organize their lives independently. Instead of hours, the volunteers relied on their own “biological clock” to structure the days and the sleep-wake ratio.
“It was exciting to see how this group synced up,” Clot said. He explained that it was particularly difficult to work together on various projects without any time reference points.
Johan Francois, a math teacher and sailing instructor ran in a 10-kilometer circle during the experiment to keep fit. He admitted that he sometimes felt an “overwhelming urge” to leave the cave.
In the absence of important things to do, the main task for him was “to enjoy the current moment — and not even think about what will happen in one or two hours,” says Francois.
The authors of the experiment hope that it will help learn more about how people adapt to extreme conditions. Before the participants descended into the cave, the scientists obtained data on their brain activity and cognitive functions. Now they have to find out whether these indicators have changed after 40 days underground.
According to the Guardian, with the help of laboratories in France and Switzerland, scientists monitored the physical condition of the participants of the experiment, their behavior, and social interaction. Sensors were used to do this, including a tiny capsule that the volunteers had to swallow like a pill — it measured body temperature and sent data to the surface.
These studies are critical during the coronavirus pandemic when lockdowns have put millions of people in isolation worldwide. “Our future as the population of this planet will change,” says Christian Clot. — We have to learn more about how our brains can find new solutions – no matter what the situation is.”