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Introduction
& Prolog
Part 1.
Metabolic Metaphysics
Part 2.
Star Larvae
Part 3.
Space Brains
Addenda
Epilog

The Star Larvae Hypothesis
Nature's Plan for Humankind
Part 3. Space Brains

Sleep, Lifestyle of the Rich and Weightless

Juvenile brains exuberate and snooze, though snoozing threatens the enrichments that exuberance produces.


 

Neotenous extraterrestrial brains, synaptically enriched, like those of young children, can only predispose their bearers to act like kids.

This would suggest that native extraterrestrials will be physically active. But, despite their rambunctiousness, young children, particularly preschoolers—those youngsters whose brains exhibit the greatest density of synapses and population of neurons—tend also to spend time at the opposite end of the activity spectrum. They sleep a lot.

The extraterrestrial lifestyle seems likely to be one of long naps punctuated by acrobatics. On Earth, a typical three-month-old human brain 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 be practiced as a preferred pastime.

Studies 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, the cycle being accompanied by an increase in the need for sleep.

"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
Thalassa: A Theory of Genitality

If extraterrestrials, with their juvenilized brains, follow this pattern, then the question arises as to who will mind the store. Silicon circuitry already manages industrial-control functions across developed economies and within a few decades has become an indispensable decision-support and data management tool for countless enterprises. And as silicon-based technologies crystallize around urbankind into an artificial life-support bubble, these technologies show themselves to be material partners with whom human beings seem destined to become increasingly symbiotic.

The technological utopia of abundant leisure imagined by twentieth-century futurists still might come to pass. A prosperous solar-energy economy and evolved forms of the technologies that already 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.

"The 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
Thalassa: A Theory of Genitality

The Impoverishments of Sleep?

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 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.

The prospect of spending the lion's share of one's life asleep carries uncertain implications for humankind's extraterrestrial descendants. Evidently, 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.

On the other hand, 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 different 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:

"In 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."

"You 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
Thalassa: A Theory of Genitality

From this and other observations, the Maurers conclude,

"Thus 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 brains.

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 forego day/night cycles in the 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 standards.

So, in a weightless population, will the stillness of sleep undermine the enrichments of neurological neoteny? Or, will a merging of waking and sleep more than compensate for any squandering of gray matter?

NEXT > Lucid Dreams, the Great Awakening

The Star Larvae Hypothesis:

Stars constitute a genus of organism. The stellar life cycle includes a larval phase. Biological life constitutes the larval phase of the stellar life cycle.

Elaboration: The hypothesis presents a teleological model of nature, in which

 

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