The Deep Time experiment – forty days without clock and natural light

Have you ever wondered how people precept time? How people are getting adjusted to new circumstances and environment?

These are the questions which Christian Clot the head of the Human Adaptation Institute wanted to answer with his experiment in which a team of fifteen volunteers was exploring one of the caves located beneath the Pyrenees for forty days. The crucial part of the experiment was the fact the team did not have clocks whereas the cave chosen by Christian Clot was totally isolated from sunlight. Now, when the forty days of this amazing experience are over, the head of the expedition shared the first impressions of this experiment.

Similar experiments

the experiment lead by Christian Clot was not the only one of such a kind. Similar experiments were held in France in 1960s and 1970s as well as in Germany. In some of these experiments, the researchers were also trying to live in an isolated cave without clocks and sunlight. Yet, the great difference between these experiments and the one conducted by Christian Clot is the fact the new experiment included an entire team of people whereas the previous ones had only one participant who was the researcher himself.

For Christian Clot, a group of volunteers was an important part of the experiment since he wanted to check how people are really able to adjust to an untypical situation as a group.

There were also some other experiments which were simulating the isolation of being on a space mission. For instance, the effect of such a type was simulated by The Russia’s Institute for Biomedical Problems and The European Space Agency. Still, the perception of the participants of such experiments are different from the things the team of Christian Clot experienced as in the space mission experiments people feel as if it had been a kind of a game. Thus, it was difficult to measure their real emotions.

How did people respond to the new conditions?

As you can imagine, for people living in the modern world which is not simply featured by time which we are constantly measuring. Today, the world is living according to the rules of time management which is making us particularly fixated on the time dynamics, the way we are using and spending it.

The experiment of Christian Clot created a unique space for people in which they were be not be able to estimate time in any way, neither by clocks nor by natural cycles.

What was happening with people under such circumstances was a complete feeling of being lost. The participants of the experiments were waking up without any idea what time of the day it was. The automatic reaction for the first week was checking the time which was not possible.

Since the volunteers were occupied by exploration of the cave during the experiment, they had some work to do. Thus, in a week of being lost, the group discussed the plan and set their goals. For some time these arrangements helped people to organise their time even without any clocks, yet, in some ten days, the majority of the members of the group suddenly started feeling extremely exhausted.

What does a sleeping cycle look like in the world without clocks?

Of course, one of the most curious questions about the experience of the participants of this experiment is the way they managed their sleeping cycles.

Actually, everyone had their own sleeping rhythm which is true for the real world as well. Gradually, there was some synchronisation between the sleeping cycles of the participants which was partially the result of them working together on the exploration of the cave. Actually, the reason the people were working together made it easier for them to adapt to the new reality.

At the same time, even though the enteral feeling of time suggested the day lasted between 24 and 25 hours, when the team left the cave, its members were surprised to find out they had already spent forty days there instead of thirty as they felt at the moment.

The researchers assume this might be an indication of a so-called biological clock not being thus important for the perception of time after all. At the same time a possibility of communicating with others who were in the same situation had a particular importance for the understanding of the time.

What parameters were checked during the experiment?

The data collected during the experiment was of several types. There were biological markers including blood and tissue samples. Cognition was also analysed with the help of necessary tests on decision making and probe perception.

The brain activity was measured with EEG whereas the first step and the last step of the experiment were MRI scans.

Testing the participants also included a lot of psychological questionnaires which the group members were completed every day.