Have you ever wondered what it would be like to disconnect from a hyperconnected world and hide in a dark cave for 40 days?
Fifteen people in France did just that, emerging from the scientific experiment to say that time seemed to pass more slowly in their cavernous underground home in southwest France, where they were deprived of clocks and light.
With big smiles on their pale faces, eight men and seven women left their voluntary isolation in the Lombrives cave under a round of applause and basked in the light using special glasses to protect their eyes after so long in the dark.
“It was like a break,” said Marina Lancon, 33, one of the seven members of the experiment, adding that she was in no hurry to do anything.
Although she wished she could stay in the cave for a few more days, she said she was happy to feel the wind blowing in her face again and to hear the birds singing in the French Pyrenees trees.
And she doesn’t plan to open her smartphone for a few more days, hoping to avoid a “too brutal” return to real life.
The Deep Time project
For 40 days and 40 nights, the group lived and explored the cave as part of the Deep Time project.
There was no sunlight inside, the temperature was 10 degrees Celsius and the relative humidity was 100 percent. The cave dwellers had no contact with the outside world, no update on the pandemic, nor any communication with friends or family.
Scientists at the Human Adaptation Institute who lead the 1.2 million euro ($ 1.9 million) Deep Time project said the experiment would help them better understand how people have adapted to drastic changes in living conditions and environments .
As expected, those in the cave have lost track of time.
“And here we are! We just left after 40 days … For us it was a real surprise,” said project director Christian Clot, adding for most participants, “in our heads, we had entered the cave 30 days ago “.
At least one team member estimated the underground time at 23 days.
Johan François, 37, a math teacher and sailing instructor, ran 10 km circles in the cave to keep himself in shape. He sometimes had “visceral desires” to leave.
With no daily obligations and no children around, the challenge was “to enjoy the present moment without ever thinking about what will happen in an hour, in two hours,” he said.
In partnership with laboratories in France and Switzerland, the scientists monitored the sleep patterns, social interactions and behavioral reactions of the 15 members using sensors.
A sensor was a tiny thermometer inside a capsule that the participants swallowed like a pill. He took his body temperature and transmitted data to a computer until he was expelled naturally.
Team members followed their biological clocks to know when to wake up, sleep and eat. They counted their days not in hours, but in sleep cycles.
‘Our future as humans on this planet will evolve’
On Friday, the scientists who monitored the participants entered the cave to warn the research subjects that they would be leaving soon.
“It’s really interesting to see how this group synchronizes,” said Clot earlier in a recording from inside the cave.
Working together on projects and organizing tasks without being able to set a time for meetings was especially challenging, he said.
Although participants looked visibly tired on leaving the cave, two-thirds expressed a desire to stay underground a little longer to complete the group projects started during the expedition, said Benoit Mauvieux, a chronobiologist involved in the research.
“Our future as humans on this planet will evolve,” said Clot after emerging.
“We need to learn to better understand how our brains are able to find new solutions, whatever the situation.”