Are you among those who love solitude or are you among those who fear being alone? For decades, research into how loneliness affects human beings has shown both its advantages and disadvantages. In yet another similar study, this time a human experiment, a Spanish extreme athlete Beatriz Flamini spent 500 days in isolation in an underground cave.
Flamini only emerged from the cave on Friday, April 14, with a smile on her face, seeing daylight for the first time in 500 days.
How and why was Flamini in a cave?
To make it clear, Beatriz Flamini's living in a cave story isn't that of survival; nor was she trapped in the cave.
In November 2021, Beatriz Flamini entered a 230-foot underground cave in Granada to live for 500 days as part of a project.
Flamini was monitored by a support team, who were studying the impact of living alone on her mental and physical well-being. They are still studying the impacts including the effect on her circadian rhythm.
Circadian rhythm is the 24-hour internal clock in our brain that regulates our cycle of alertness and sleepiness based on the light changes in the environment. It is also known as body clock.
She did come out of the cave for eight days after 300 days due to some technical issues and remained isolated in a tent.
She was provided with food, water, and clothes by her support team. The team also cleaned up human waste and other waste that had accumulated in the cave.
However, Flamini only had very minimal contact with her support team; through special messaging devices.
If it's no communication it's no communication regardless of the circumstances (even in case of a family death). The people who know me knew and respected that.
- Beatriz Flamini
So, what did Flamini do in the cave?
For 500 days, Beatriz Flamini had no one but herself for company in a cave, other than a plague of flies that once suddenly flooded the cave, completely covering the athlete.
Flamini had instructed her support team to ensure zero contact and information about the outside world even in the case of a death of a loved one.
The athlete spent nearly 1.5 years writing, reading about 60 books, knitting, exercising, and enjoying her own company.
I'm cooking; I'm drawing ... You have to be focused. If I get distracted, I'll twist my ankle. I'll get hurt. It'll be over and they'll have to get me out. And I don't want that.
- Beatriz Flamini
She had a panic button by her side in case she ever felt like she wanted to leave. But while speaking to the media after emerging out of the cave, she said she never felt like pressing the button.
In fact, I didn't want to come out.
- Beatriz Flamini
While most of us might be wondering that Flamini must be itching to return to society, speak to friends and family and just explore anything outside the cave, the athlete said she didn't feel that way.
When the support team came to get her after the period of 500 days, she was woken up from her nap surprised that it was already time to leave. She said she felt like only "160-170 days" had passed.
What time meant in the cave
When Flamini went to live in the cave, Russia had not yet invaded Ukraine, England's Queen Elizabeth II was still alive and India had just emerged from a deadly second Covid wave. Flamini had no knowledge of any of the events that happened after she went to live in the cave.
Flamini's perception of time was also very different from those living in society, like she said; it felt as if only 160 to 170 days had passed at the end of 500 days.
Flamini told the media that she was keeping a track of time when she first entered the cave, but later gave up.
On Day 65, I stopped counting and lost perception of time.
- Beatriz Flamini
She also said that she didn't feel anything once she was the light for the first time in 500 days. She said that it felt like she'd just gone inside the cave.
Flamini also revealed experiencing "auditory hallucinations", since it was all quiet in the cave.
She said that she spoke to herself quite a lot, but rarely aloud. She mostly had conversations with herself in silence.
Beatriz Flamini also recorded her time spent alone in the cave with go-pro cameras that she carried with her, which will be part of a forthcoming documentary. Flamini was briefly examined by doctors and psychologists after she emerged from the cave. She was also surprised at the media presence she was greeted with. She took her first shower in 500 days after emerging from the cave.
So, what does solitude do to humans?
As part of an experiment closely monitored by scientists seeking to learn more about the capacity of the human mind and circadian rhythms, Spanish elite mountaineer Beatriz Flamini completed a 500-day challenge living in a cave https://t.co/rPmhMotGjGpic.twitter.com/6xgB2BZ0ku
A team of scientists from the universities of Almería, Granada, and Murcia is still studying the impact isolated cave living had on the athlete. But there are several previous studies that hint at both pros and cons of solitude for humans.
When we are with others, it is usually with a certain group of people which kind of forms a bubble.
Spending time alone can help develop greater empathy. It helps develop more compassion toward those people who may not fit into your usual 'social circle'.
Solitude is also known to increase productivity and creativity. More importantly, certain studies have shown that the ability to tolerate more alone time is linked to greater happiness, life satisfaction, and less depression.
Spending time alone also helps in planning life goals, knowing oneself, and making original choices without any outside influence.
However, research also shows that loneliness can result in social dysfunction, worsened ability on spatial processing or ability to tell where objects are in space and more.
It needs to be seen what more Beatriz Flamini's isolation reveals.
On the other hand, Spanish media has touted that Flamini may have broken the world record for the longest time a person spent time alone in a cave, but there is no confirmation yet.
Living in caves alone isn't something completely unheard of. In fact, several Buddhist monks and nuns practice isolation as part of religious learning.