French volunteers leave underground caves after 40 days of isolation study

On Saturday, a group of 15 French volunteers left a cave where they had stayed for 40 days, in an experiment that examined the limits of human adaptability to isolation.

Dazzled by the light and with pale faces but otherwise healthy, the group led by the Franco-Swiss explorer Christian Clot arrived at 10:30 (0830 GMT) from the Lombrives Cave in Ariege, southwestern France.

The underground insulation experiment saw that the substances, between 27 and 50 years old, gave up clocks, telephones and natural light and exchanged modern conveniences for a cave system with a constant temperature of 12 Celsius (54 Fahrenheit) and 95 percent humidity.

The members had to generate their own electricity with a pedal bike and fetch water from a well 45 meters underground.

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

Such issues have become urgent in view of the extensive isolation that humans have experienced during the coronavirus pandemic.

But while some researchers joined the project, other researchers criticized the attitude of the experiment.

Etienne Koechlin, head of the Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at France’s prestigious ENS, said the research was “groundbreaking”.

Data on participants’ brain activity and cognitive function were collected before entering the cave, for comparison with their levels after leaving.

But just like other experts, Pierre-Marie Lledo of the CNRS Government Research Center and the Pasteur Institute noted that there was no “control group” in the experiment.

Comparing an unaffected group with those who make changes is usually an important component of scientific studies.

The volunteers plan to hold a press conference later on Saturday about their experiences.


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