Time out

Issue 54 - 04 May 2021 (6-min read)

If you ask me if I would willingly spend 40 days underground in a dark and damp cave, I would take a hard pass. But 15 men and women jumped to this opportunity last month and spent 40 days in the Lombrives cave in Ariège, France. 

These cave dwellers were volunteers for the Deep Time research project, led by the Human Adaptation Institute, to gauge how humans adapt to extreme environments with no ability to measure time. There was no natural light, the temperature was 10ºC and the relative humidity 100%. They had no contact with the outside world, no updates on the pandemic nor any communications with friends or family.

The goal of this one-of-a-kind experiment was to understand how experiences change brain plasticity, how desynchronisation happens in the face of new life situations and the ability of humans to find functional synchronisation when immersed in a totally new universe in the absence of a major landmark: time. 

When the group was informed at the end of the 40 days that they will be coming out, they had lost their sense of time. Based on their sleep cycles, the group was under the impression that they were only there for 30 days - one group member thought it was just 23 days.

The scientists behind this experiment started this project to try and answer three questions essential for our future:

  • How to manage disorientation, when we are subjected to a totally new situation, like the confinement of 2020?

  • How our brain conceives and manages time apart from any indicator?

  • How can a human group manage to synchronise, to function together, when it finds itself in totally new living conditions?

Since the group just emerged a week or so ago, it is too early to know the results of this experiment but the implications are likely to be far and wide. It can impact how human beings will go on space missions further and further away; it can shape military trainings, especially those for naval submarines; it can help companies involved in mining and deep sea excavations to adapt their working conditions; and most importantly, it can show us how we can deal with uncertainty and chaos. In case of extreme climate events or other pandemics in the future, this study can show us how, or if, humans are capable of withstanding big change.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that prolonged uncertainty can be taxing. In fact, there is a term for the blah that many of us are feeling: it’s called languishing. It is a state that we can all relate to: where you’re not exactly depressed but you’re not exactly joyful — merely aimless and empty.

Even though it is difficult to shake off this feeling, especially when we see how vaccines are not being administered enough to end the pandemic anytime soon, experts suggest the key to managing this feeling can be in our mindset. Maintaining focus, giving yourself pockets of uninterrupted time and focusing on small goals are some antidotes to languishing.

Uncertainty is not something we thrive in but that doesn’t mean that it does not help us move forward. It drives the quest for knowledge, as many scientists would tell you. Tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity are also linked with greater creative thinking.

As we brace ourselves to some more months of ambiguity and languish, perhaps we can learn from these 15 volunteers who let go of their hold on time itself.

Speaking of time, The Global Tiller will be taking some time off for the next two weeks. We will take this opportunity to brainstorm which topics and ideas we can bring to you. If you happen to come across something interesting, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

Until then, take care!

Hira - Editor - The Global Tiller

If you’d like to read our previous issues, you can access our archives here.

A word from our sponsors
Tahiti and its islands are open for tourism! Moana Adventure Tours provide you amazing nautical activities in Bora Bora. Enjoy an exclusive offer: a package of three excursions to live a complete experience of the Pearl of the Pacific!
- Complete tour of the Bora Bora lagoon on a jet-ski with many stops for swimming and refreshments on a private isle.
- Full day aboard a Polynesian canoe with several snorkelling stops and traditional lunch on a private isle.
- Sunset cruise followed by dinner at St James Restaurant.
THREE excursions at reduced prices! Check it out now on their website.

…and now what?

“Finding comfort in doubt and uncertainty.” I’ve found myself saying this phrase since the beginning of the pandemic, while observing all that’s happening around us. I’ve come to realise how we tend to be too rigid, too tied to our routines, our beliefs, our ways of doing things.

Like a perfectly set-up clock, our lives have become repetitive clogs to which we cling harder and harder when things become rocky. It’s become our nature. We struggle with change without realising that to thrive change, that’s what’s in our nature. Life, by its very nature, is fluid and prone to disruption.

In this context, the Deep Time experiment is fascinating. How can we learn to live in persistent uncertainty, in the inability to rely on solid marks to know where we are, when we are and, eventually, who we are. Deep in the darkness, isolated from our routines, lost in time, people have survived and developed a new synchronicity. A synchronicity that helped them cope with the challenge.

How do we develop flexible synchronicity? One not linked to our habits, whatever the context, one that is open to the needs of our interactions with the rest of the world?

We recently watched the Oscar-winning documentary 'My Octopus Teacher' in which the director reminds us that we are not “invited” into the world, we are a part of it. Way too often, humans see themselves as outside nature, if not directly opposed to it. We have convinced ourselves that we’re not from this world (and I’m not talking about the panspermia theory). So, we ended up thinking our way of life doesn’t have to take into account whatever is around us.

But the pandemic made us question this. It reminded us of those invisible connections we have with each other and with our environment. We’re not a-synchronised. In fact, we may actually be de-synchronised. 

The Deep Time experiment comes to remind us that we need to synchronise, we need to be adaptive to our environment, we need to accept uncertainty in time, in place, on senses, on habits. We need to be willing and ready to change persistently. We need to be prepared to never have a “status quo” a “T-time” or a “D-day” because everything is fluid and time is mostly a social construct among many other things we rely on. 

These 15 men and women in a cave reminded us that time is of our essence and that we’re living in times of both isolation and strong reliance, that we must be prepared to face the unexpected and learn to develop routines for whatever comes next. 

Thanks to them, we don’t need to isolate ourselves in a cave. But, close your eyes for a minute. Start moving and see how comfortable you feel. Live without a watch for a day and see if you can stay organised. Challenge yourself, see beyond Plato’s cave and free yourself from rigid perceptions. It may help you find comfort in doubt and uncertainty. It may help you lead yourself and, maybe, lead others.

And by the way, May the 4th be with you!

Philippe - Founder - Pacific Ventury

Leave a comment