French volunteers leave cave after 40-day endurance trial

Published April 25, 2021
Volunteers leave the Lombrives cave after spending 40 days in the cave in Ussat-les-Bains, southern of France, on Saturday. — AFP
Volunteers leave the Lombrives cave after spending 40 days in the cave in Ussat-les-Bains, southern of France, on Saturday. — AFP

TARASCON ARIGE: A group of 15 French volunteers on Saturday left a cave where they had stayed for 40 days, in an experiment probing the limits of human adaptability to isolation.

Dazzled by the light and with pale faces but otherwise healthy, the group led by French-Swiss explorer Christian Clot emerged at around 10:30am from the Lombrives cave in Ariege, southwest France.

The underground isolation experiment saw the subjects, aged between 27 and 50, give up watches, phones and natural light, exchanging modern comforts for a cave system with a constant 12 Celsius (54 Fahrenheit) temperature and 95 percent humidity.

Members had to generate their own electricity with a pedal bike and draw water from a well 45 metres below the earth.

Clot, founder of the Human Adaptation Institute, had said the so-called “Deep Time” experiment would test humans’ ability to adapt to the loss of their frame of reference for time and space.

Such questions have gained urgency given the widespread isolation people have experienced during the coronavirus pandemic.

But while some researchers joined the project, other scientists criticised the setup of the experiment.

Etienne Koechlin, head of the cognitive neuroscience lab at France’s prestigious ENS graduate school, said the research was “ground-breaking”.

Data on participants’ brain activity and cognitive function were gathered before they entered the cave, for comparison with their levels after they left.

Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2021

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