of the Rich and Weightless
Juvenile brains exuberate and snooze, though snoozing threatens the enrichments that exuberance produces.
This conclusion suggests that native extraterrestrials
will be as rambunctious as their terrestrial counterparts. But young
children, particularly preschoolers—those youngsters whose brains
exhibit the greatest population of neurons and density of synapses—despite their rambunctiousness tend
also to spend considerable time at the opposite end of the activity spectrum. They
sleep a lot.
That is, the extraterrestrial
lifestyle might take shape as one of long naps punctuated by acrobatics. A terrestrial three-month-old human brain typically spends most
of its day sleeping, about 14 hours; a middle-aged brain sleeps about
7.5 hours per day; and a septuagenarian brain sleeps only about 6 hours
in 24. For neotenous extraterrestrial brains, drowsing seems likely to become a preferred pastime. Punctuated by rambunctiousness.
of teenagers confirm the correlation between high synaptic density and
the need for sleep. The dramatic physiological changes of adolescence
include an explosion of new synaptic connections, followed by selective
pruning, as also is seen in young children, the cycle being accompanied by an increase in time spent sleeping.
"The Oedipus wish is precisely the psychological expression of an extremely general
biological tendency which lures the organism to a return to the state of
rest enjoyed before birth."
— Sandor Ferenczi
A Theory of Genitality
If extraterrestrials, with their juvenilized brains,
follow this pattern, then the question
arises as to who will mind the store. The answer seems likely to be silicon circuitry, which already manages industrial-control
functions and within a few decades has become an indispensable decision-support and data-management tool for countless enterprises.
As silicon-based technologies crystallize around urbankind, creating an artificial life-support
bubble, these technologies reveal themselves to be material partners with which human beings, and their descendants, seem
destined to become ever more intimately symbiotic.
utopia of abundant leisure imagined by prescient futurists still
might come to pass. A prosperous solar-energy
economy and evolved
technologies that automate commercial and personal life could bless humankind's extraterrestrial
descendants with more leisure than they will have time to stay awake for. But the prospect
of endemic drowsing—specifically, its paralysis—would seem to impose a limit on the brain-enriching
potential of weightlessness.
sleeper is an autoerotic; he represents in toto a child who
is enjoying repose inside this mother's body and who in his absolutely
narcissistic absorption is altogether indifferent to the environment."
— Sandor Ferenczi
A Theory of Genitality
Evolutionary biologists propose that
sleep evolved as an adaptation, because,
by minimizing movement, it conserves energy. In doing so, it also minimizes the chances of
becoming preyed upon when one is not oneself actively engaged in predation. For
this reason, because it would minimize physical activity, chronic sleep might frustrate activity-driven
neurological enrichment. It would seem
to set the stage for a descent into neurological impoverishment.
For this reason, the prospect
of spending the lion's share of one's life asleep
carries ambiguous implications for humankind's extraterrestrial descendants. Research suggests that brains clear out toxins during sleep, and this cleansing might help brains resist degenerative diseases. The process involves activating the brain's glymphatic system, a "plumbing" system that flushes out the spaces between brain cells during sleep. Research into glymphatic activity during sleep is summarized on the National Institutes of Health web site at http://www.ninds.nih.gov/news_and_events/news_articles/pressrelease_brain_sleep_10182013.htm.
Nonetheless, it would seem that a growing proportion of
unconsciousness and of physical inactivity would impoverish the brain and thereby diminish consciousness.
But, on the other, other hand.
as the two states are, waking and sleeping occupy points on a continuum.
And in infant brains the continuum is smoother in its transitions among
states than it is in adults. In adults, the receptive and expressive
functions of consciousness shut down nearly completely during sleep,
producing a mode of experience profoundly different from waking. In
infants, these functions—sensory receptivity and motor activity—don't
shut down nearly as completely. This is according not only to EEG studies, but also to the common observation that sleeping
infants can respond readily to stimulation. In The
World of the Newborn,
Daphne and Charles Maurer summarize:
adults, lights, clicks, and taps evoke only small responses [during
sleep]. However, in the newborn, more or less comparable responses are
evoked whether the baby is awake or sound asleep . . . . Hence it is
very likely that a newborn’s sensory circuits are connected and
functioning twenty-four hours per day."
will recall, perhaps, that I felt constrained to describe the first
sleep of the newborn as a rather faithful replica of the state of repose
existing prior to birth. I added that this condition of sleep, as indeed
is likewise true of every subsequent sleep, may signify the hallucinatory gratification
of the wish to be in the unborn state."
— Sandor Ferenczi
A Theory of Genitality
and other observations, the Maurers conclude,
the baby can learn while he is asleep—learn to recognize a story
read to him repeatedly, learn to expect the chiming of a clock, learn
to expect to be fed. To a newborn, sleep is not a lessening or change
of consciousness; it is merely muscular relaxation."
If this is
the nature of infant sleep, then the sleeping and waking states would
seem to be programmed to converge in the infantilized circuitry of space
And with circadian (day/night) cycles in space colonies being as artificial as gravity, native extraterrestrials are likely to jettison them too. The distinction
between the two kinds of minds—waking and sleeping—might
itself be an artifact of living on a planet. The brains of humankind's
extraterrestrial descendants might dispense with alternating between
waking and sleeping. They might forgo day/night cycles
colony environment and in doing so encourage
wakefulness and sleep to converge into a more holistic, less differentiated,
more juvenile consciousness. With their brains freed from the neurochemical
oscillations of the day/night cycle, native extraterrestrials might
enjoy a perpetual reverie in a new kind of subjective space. With their
survival needs met through technological symbiosis, they might
need to attend to very little in their environments, by terrestrial
So, in a
weightless population, will the stillness of sleep undermine the enrichments
of neurological neoteny? Or, could a merging of waking and sleeping experience more than
compensate for any squandering of gray matter?
NEXT > Lucid
Dreams, the Great Awakening
Star Larvae Hypothesis:
a genus of organism.
The stellar life cycle includes a larval phase.
Biological life constitutes the larval phase of the stellar life cycle.
hypothesis presents a teleological model of nature, in which
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