Science

Psychology: experiment has 15 people trapped in a cave for 40 days without sense of time


Would you agree to live in a cave for 40 days, surrounded by complete strangers and with no access to a phone, watch or natural light, just for the sake of science?

An extreme, ‘world first’ experiment is seeing 15 people do just that, in order to explore the effects on the human body of long-term isolation with no notion of time. 

The French volunteers, who are not being compensated for their participation, are aged from 27–50 and include a biologist, a jeweller and a maths teacher.

Sequestered in the Lombrives cave in Ariège, the team have four tons of supplies to live on — along with water from the cave and a pedal-driven dynamo for electricity.

Mission leader Christian Clot, who is one of the participants, was inspired to stage the test after seeing how the COVID-19 pandemic brought isolation in to our lives.

However, the explorer has received some criticism in the French press because he assumes the title of ‘researcher’ while having no formal scientific training.

The ‘Deep Time’ experiment began at 20:00 local time on Sunday, March 14 — and, if all goes to plan, will be concluding on April 22.

The findings of the project could be relevant to future space missions, submarine crews, mining teams and other settings were people are enclosed for long periods.

Deep Time follows in the footsteps of the French geologist Michel Siffre, who spent several extended periods underground, including one six-month stint in 1972.

He found that the human body’s circadian cycle can vary in duration when untethered from the stimuli of natural light. 

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Would you agree to live in a cave for 40 days — surrounded by complete strangers and with no access to a phone, watch or natural light — just for the sake of science? An extreme, 'world first' experiment is seeing 15 people do just that, in order to explore the effects on the human body of long-term isolation with no notion of time. Pictured: experiment team members and reporters descending into the entrance of the Lombrives cave in Ariège on March 14, 2021

Would you agree to live in a cave for 40 days — surrounded by complete strangers and with no access to a phone, watch or natural light — just for the sake of science? An extreme, ‘world first’ experiment is seeing 15 people do just that, in order to explore the effects on the human body of long-term isolation with no notion of time. Pictured: experiment team members and reporters descending into the entrance of the Lombrives cave in Ariège on March 14, 2021

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The French volunteers (pictured), who are not being compensated for their participation, are aged from 27–50 and include a biologist, a jeweller and a maths teacher

The French volunteers (pictured), who are not being compensated for their participation, are aged from 27–50 and include a biologist, a jeweller and a maths teacher

THE INTREPID ‘DEEP TIME’ TEAM MEMBERS 

Christian Clot, 49, Mission Leader

Arnaud Burel, 29, Biologist

Johan François, 37, Teacher

Nicole Hueber, 27, Geoscientist

Damien Jemelgo, 47, Technician

Emilie Kim-Foo, 29, Nurse

Marie-Caroline Lagache, 50, Jeweller

Marina Lançon, 33, Trek Guide

Francois Mattens, 35, Director

Alexis Monseigny, 42, Unemployed

Jerome Normand, 43, Anaesthetist

Margaux Romand-Monnier, 31, Neuroscientist

Kora Saccharin, 30, Analyst

Martin Saumet, 29, Scientific Mediator

Tiphaine Vuarier, 32, Therapist

‘Losing time is the greatest disorientation there is, and it is this aspect that the Deep Time mission wants to better understand,’ the team said on their website.

‘During certain events, our perception of time is altered — it seems to pass very slowly or very quickly, unrelated to the reality of each passing second.’

‘What happens then? How to find the sense of time? What are the connections between cognitive and biological time, between the brain and genetic cells?’

‘What is the relationship between perceived time and normative time, that of our watches? How does our brain see time?’ 

To answer these questions, the project leaders have said that the fifteen participants will be monitored by a dozen-strong team of scientists on the surface using data collected by an assortment of sensors. 

One of the participants — 29-year-old Arnaud Burel — told Oddity Central that he agreed to take part in the unusual experiment in order to ‘to taste this timeless life, which is impossible outside with our computers and mobile phones that constantly remind us of our appointments and obligations.’ 

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However, the biologist added, he agreed that spending nearly six weeks confined in a cave with 14 strangers would not be easy and that he felt communication would be key to ensuring their time together goes smoothly.

In the Lombrives — the largest cave in Europe by volume — the team will be forced to adapt to the constant 54°F (12°C) temperature and 95 per cent humidity.

In the cave, ‘three separate living spaces have been fitted out — one for sleeping, one for living and one for carrying out studies on the topography of the place, especially the flora and fauna,’ Mr Clot told Le Parisian

The experiment has been funded by a total of €1.2 million (£1 million) from both public and private funding sources. 

Sequestered in the Lombrives cave in Ariège (pictured), the team have four tons of supplies to live on — along with water from the cave and a pedal-driven dynamo for electricity

Sequestered in the Lombrives cave in Ariège (pictured), the team have four tons of supplies to live on — along with water from the cave and a pedal-driven dynamo for electricity

Mission leader Christian Clot (pictured), who is one of the participants, was inspired to stage the test after seeing how the COVID-19 pandemic brought isolation in to our lives

Mission leader Christian Clot (pictured), who is one of the participants, was inspired to stage the test after seeing how the COVID-19 pandemic brought isolation in to our lives

‘This experiment is a world first,’ neuroscientist Etienne Koechlin of the École Normale Supérieure in Paris told the Belgian news site 7sur7.

‘Until now, all missions of this type focused on the study of the physiological rhythms of the body, but never on the impact of this type of temporal rupture on the cognitive and emotional functions of the human being,’ he added.

More information on the experiment can be found on the Deep Time website

The 'Deep Time' experiment began at 20:00 local time on Sunday, March 14 — and, if all goes to plan, will be concluding on April 22. Pictured, the entrance to the Lombrives cave

The ‘Deep Time’ experiment began at 20:00 local time on Sunday, March 14 — and, if all goes to plan, will be concluding on April 22. Pictured, the entrance to the Lombrives cave

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In the Lombrives cave — the largest in Europe by volume — the team will be forced to adapt to the constant 54°F (12°C) temperature and 95 per cent humidity

In the Lombrives cave — the largest in Europe by volume — the team will be forced to adapt to the constant 54°F (12°C) temperature and 95 per cent humidity

HOW SEVERE IS SMARTPHONE ADDICTION?

With the average age for a child to get their first phone now just 10, young people are becoming more and more reliant on their smartphones.

Worrying research from Korea University suggests that this dependence on the technology could even be affecting some teens’ brains.

The findings reveals that teenagers who are addicted to their smartphones are more likely to suffer from mental disorders, including depression and anxiety.

Other studies have shown people are so dependent on their smartphone that they happily break social etiquette to use them.

Researchers from mobile connectivity firm iPass surveyed more than 1,700 people in the US and Europe about their connectivity habits, preferences and expectations.

The survey revealed some of the most inappropriate situations in which people have felt the need to check their phone – during sex (seven per cent), on the toilet (72 per cent) and even during a funeral (11 per cent).

Nearly two thirds of people said they felt anxious when not connected to the Wi-Fi, with many saying they’d give up a range of items and activities in exchange for a connection.

Sixty-one per cent of respondents said that Wi-Fi was impossible to give up – more than for sex (58 per cent), junk food (42 per cent), smoking (41 per cent), alcohol (33 per cent), or drugs (31 per cent).

A quarter of respondents even went so far as to say that they’d choose Wi-Fi over a bath or shower, and 19 per cent said they’d choose Wi-Fi over human contact.



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