Social Experiment Sends 15 Volunteers Into Dark Cave for 40 Days

The volunteers will have no source of light, no phones, watches or any other equipment that could tell the time.
Chris Young

A controversial new experiment in France has been compared to the infamous 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, in which volunteers were locked into prison and assigned the roles of either prisoner or guards.

Dubbed "Deep Time", the new experiment has just shut 15 people inside a dark cave in Ariège, France for 40 days, with no access to natural light or the ability to tell time.

As IFL Science reports, a team of 15 volunteers — eight men and seven women — were sealed into the cave on March 14. The goal of the project is to observe the effects that long-term isolation, with no concept of time, has on the mind.

The volunteers will have no source of light, no smartphones, watches, or any other object that could help them discern the time of day — we're assuming none of these volunteers have seen the movie 'The Descent'.

Only one source of light will be provided, a pedal-driven dynamo that creates electricity for a small lantern.

Time loss is 'the greatest disorientation there is'

The project will add to the growing scientific literature on social isolation, a particularly relevant topic amidst the ongoing pandemic.

"Losing time is the greatest disorientation there is," the project's website explains. "And it is this aspect that the mission Deep Time wants to understand better."

"Because to this day, we do not know how our cognitive system understands and manages this indefinite continuity, this environment where the succession of events and phenomena takes place, even beyond this variable that we could call the biological clock in chronobiology."

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Social Experiment Sends 15 Volunteers Into Dark Cave for 40 Days
The volunteers who are now inside the cave in Ariège, France. Source: Christian Clot/Twitter

The volunteers are all fitted with sensors that can be monitored by scientists outside the cave. The researchers hope that an analysis of the data derived from these sensors will provide a host of applications, including methods for coping with isolation in space travel, underground mines, submarines, and perhaps even during global lockdowns.

"The conquest of space takes a new turn during this century, enabled by new technologies and rising figures," the project's website says. "From the Moon to Mars, by targeting other stellar objects, such as Ceres, humans will face new perceptions of time."

Surprisingly, the leader of the project, Christian Clot founder of the Human Adaptation Institue, has entered the cave with the volunteers. All going well, the volunteers — aged 27 to 50 — will stay in the cave until April 22, 2021. On that day, they will each hopefully emerge with their sanity intact. 

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