Thursday, August 26, 2010



QUESTION:  What do trapped Chilean miners, Nazi soldiers, Indian Yogis and the sputtering US economy have in common?

By now you may have heard about the 33 Chilean miners trapped in a mineshaft 700 meters underground. Their survival is dependent on supplies provided through a fragile bore hole approximately 6-7 inches in diameter. They have already been told that it it will take a little while before a rescue shaft can be completed. The narrow escape shaft will require the miners to limit consumption to maintain slim waste lines (not to exceed 35 inches)  in addition to their mental state.

Exactly how long is "a little while"? Experts are estimating anywhere between thirty days to 3 months. Ouch! Three months! The longest mine shaft escape on record was apparently 25 days.

Until then, a crack team of experts, including psychiatrists, the Chilean Navy and NASA,  have been brought in for consultations on how best to optimize the chance that these hapless miners will be able to endure the unimaginable physical and mental hardships that lie ahead. The world will be transfixed with this continuing story in the coming months and wishes only the best for the miners and their families.

Think about it. Three months trapped underground, waiting to be rescued. What will that be like and what kind of "right stuff" will these miners have to bring to bear?

Bear? Bears survive long periods in isolation by hibernating. Can humans hibernate? This is a question purported to have been studied by scientists and pseudo scientists for over one hundred years. According to the Inhuman Experiment Blog:

Hibernation is a state characterized by inactivity, slower metabolism and lower body temperature. Hibernating animals most often do so to survive food scarcity, especially during the winter. Man is not considered a hibernating animal, but a glance at modern science and strange accounts from the past suggest we may have to revise our views in the future.

James Braid, the father of hypnotherapy and a man with a fascination for the occult, recorded several odd cases of humans surviving hibernation-like conditions in his 1850 bookObservations on Trance (Link) . In his most famous account an Indian fakir (Yogi)  was buried alive in the presence of Sir Claude Wade, the English governor at the time. After remaining in the ground for several months, the fakir was reportedly exhumed and restored to consciousness in good health.

You can read the rest of the post, which covers hibernating Russian peasants as well, here: The Curious Case of Human Hibernation. Human hibernation may or may not be possible Yogi, but controlling
food consumption and dialing back energy dissipation is a familiar survival theme.

These miners will not be hibernating. They will be in constant contact with the world above. Undoubtedly this will provide a much needed boost to their morale in their time of darkness. What would it be like without that umbilical cord to the rest of the world? Could one survive and how long?

Read this this Article from the Saint Petersburg Times (June 1951).

This soldier apparently survived 6 years (much of it in darkness). He and his colleagues had plenty of wine, candy and canned food. But no daylight and no hope of escape. These 6 men (only one actually went the full nine yards to escape) had to resign themselves to the idea existence means existence in a pitch dark bunker. Ouch!!!!! The psychological drama was enough to inspire a French author to write a book: Blockhouse, Jean Paul Clebert followed by a movie starring Peter Sellers in his only serious movie role: The Block House .

 We have all heard stories testing the limits of human endurance.  One of my favorites is The Long Walk by Slawomir Rawicz, the Polish officer who escaped a Soviet gulag,  and made his way 4,000 miles across Siberia, the Gobi Desert and the Tibetan Plateau to eventual escape (The Long Walk). But six years in a bunker defies imagination.

Which brings me back to those Chilean miners, via a short detour to the US economy. The country is suffering through what many observers are calling the Second Great Depression. Daily we are inundated with news of record unemployment, record foreclosures, record loss of wealth, record bankruptcies, record deficits etc.

The economy is not buried in a mine shaft or German regelbau bunker,  it's buried under an avalanche of bad debts and fiscal incompetence. Guess which "Blockheads" are in charge of the rescue operation.

Hint 1:  Not NASA or the Chilean Navy.

Hint 2: Instead of conserving resources and slowing down captial metabolism, they want you to borrow and stimulate consumption (blow all the air out of the tunnel shaft in a manner of speaking).

Hint 3: Ben, Larry & Timmy

Lets all keep an eye on those Chilean miners. Lets root for their eventual rescue and lets try as we may not to let Ben, Larry and Timmy blow all of the air out of our economic tunnel.

1 comment:

  1. So flour sacks are how the Egyptians made mummies?

    My hope is those miners are freed and in the best possible health. Too many have died for their greedy bosses in the past few years, especially.

    The rest of us are pretty much screwed.