You are in an underground cave. There are 14 other people with you like you, so you are not alone. Food, drinks, medicine, a comfortable bed, etc. all your needs are met. The cave does not only have: sunlight, the clock and communication tools to connect you to the outdoors. In other words, it is not possible to understand if it is day or night, what day of the week or what time it is. How would you like to stay in such an environment? Let’s say you stay, how long can you last that?
An experiment was carried out in France under exactly these conditions. A group of 15 people, made up of eight male and seven female volunteers, lived for 40 days in the Lombrives cave, in the southwest of the country. The group did not have clocks, phones or other mass media with them. The purpose of the experiment, called deep time, was to understand whether these conditions affect the human perception of time.
The volunteer experience ended last weekend. What they said after they came out of the cave was really surprising.
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“I WOULD LIKE TO STAY FOR A FEW DAYS”
The team of 15 came out of the cave with big smiles on their faces faded from seeing the sun and applause with huge glasses that would shield them from the damaging effects of light in their eyes.
Marina Lançon, one of the women with the experience, told The Associated Press that “it was like taking a break from life,” saying she was in no rush to do anything else and that she wanted to stay in the cave a few more days.
Declaring himself very happy to be able to feel the wind on his face and to hear the sounds of the bird again, Lançon said he hadn’t thought of looking at his smartphone for at least a few more days. Lançon added that he intends to avoid returning to real life by being “too brutal”.
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AN EXPERIENCE OF 1.2 MILLION EUROS
The Deep Time project, costing a total of 1.2 million euros, was organized by the Human Adaptation Institute. When the scientists designed the experiment, they aimed to gain a better understanding of how people adapt to changes in their living conditions and environment.
For this purpose, a special living space has been created in the Lombrives cave for the group of volunteers aged 27 to 50 years. There was no natural light, but adequate lighting. The temperature was set at 10 degrees and the relative humidity at 100 percent.
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They stayed in tents, drew water from a well 45 meters below the ground, and produced their own electricity by pedaling their special bikes.
ZERO COMMUNICATION WITH THE OUTSIDE WORLD
The people in the cave had no communication with the outside world. They were unable to hear the latest developments regarding the pandemic, their family or friends. Just on the penultimate day, the scientists who carried out the project descended into the cave and informed the following that the work was about to be completed.
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As a result, what the scientists predicted happened: They lost track of time.
But what was even more interesting was this: Everyone in the cave believed that the time they spent getting out was much less than 40 days.
40 DAYS LAST 23 DAYS
“Here we are. We left the cave after 40 days. It is a real surprise to us. In our mind, 30 days have passed since we entered the cave.” One of the team members estimated the time spent underground at 23 days.
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Johan François, math teacher and sailing teacher, said he ran 10 kilometers inside the cave to keep his form, and said he had a deep desire to get out.
Francois said that since the daily responsibilities and the children are absent, the main challenge they face is “to take advantage of this moment without even thinking about what will happen in 1 hour or 2 hours”.
THE SENSORS ARE ALWAYS LOOKING AT THEM
As part of the experiment, designed in partnership with laboratories in France and Switzerland, scientists measured and recorded participants’ brain activity and cognitive functions before descending.
During the time spent in the cave, the sleep patterns, social interactions and behavioral responses of the participants were constantly monitored using sensors. One of the sensors was a tiny thermometer that participants swallowed in a capsule like a pill. Using these thermometers, participants’ body temperatures were measured and data transfer to a computer continued until the thermometer was naturally excreted from the body.
It is expected that interesting results will be obtained by comparing the measurements taken before entering the cave with the measurement results to be carried out in the coming days.
HOW DO YOU MAKE AN APPOINTMENT WITHOUT HOURS?
Team members decided when to wake up, sleep, and when to eat, based on their body clocks. For this reason, they measured the number of days spent in the cave not in hours, but by the number of times they slept and woke up.
“It’s really interesting to see how this band syncs up,” Clot said in one of the audio recordings he took inside the cave. Clot added that working together on various projects without setting a meeting time is particularly difficult.
Chronobiologist Benoit Mauvieux, one of the study participants, said two-thirds of the participants wanted to stay in the cave for a while because they wanted to complete the work they had started down below.
After leaving the cave, Clot said, “Our future as humans on this planet will change. We need to learn to better understand how our brains come to find new solutions, regardless of the new conditions.”
THIS EXPERIENCE IS A FIRST
Especially in the coronavirus pandemic, the difficulty of millions of people around the world getting used to living with home quarantines is increasing the importance of research today.
The research website also indicates that the results obtained from the cave experience will be effective in understanding the behavior of people who live or will live for a long time in closed conditions in many areas such as the bases that should be established on the Moon by 2024, long space or submarine missions and mining exploration work.
The history of studies of understanding time is as old as mankind, but the science of chronobiology, the branch of biology dealing with the effects of time, was defined as a field in 1938. Many people like Nathaniel Kletiman and Véronique Le Guen have carried out research in this area.
In 1962, the Frenchman Michel Siffre made important discoveries about the human biological rhythm while living in a cave for two months.
However, group work in this context that focuses on the brain and genetics is a first in the history of science in the context of its methodology and principles.