Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Nancy Kress' "Inertia," "Patent Infringement" and "Beggars in Spain"

Posted by Trent Walters at 4:50 AM
"Inertia" involves a plague that both deforms skin tissue into disfiguring ropy lumps and presumably lowers serotonin enough only to cause a low-level depression, inhibiting anger and, therefore, war. If a virus could consistently interrupt both genes, then this is a future with some probability. Problematic, however, is that if depression creates a static inertia, how does a static society roll over to infect the active population?

"Patent Infringement" is all too probable, thanks to our issuing patents to those who cataloged the genome--future lawyers legislate that your genes are not your own, but theirs for the suing.

"Beggars in Spain"--in which a new generation of children do not sleep, allowing them more time to build human knowledge--has become no longer Mundane due to studies demonstrating the need for sleep to transfer short-term memory into long-term. However, it was probably Mundane in its time and could easily be convertible to today's science by allowing for the release of the protein involved in converting memory during waking hours.


Blogger goatchurch said...

Search for "anteater REM"

-- Although REM sleep occurs in nearly all mammals. Birds, reptiles and amphibians lack it.
-- Even few mammals like the spiny anteater, which has a remarkably large cerebral cortex, does not show any signs of REM sleep. (the big brain may be to compensate the inability to expunge parasitic mode of thoughts).

I think that sleep is a handy behavoir process that makes sure mammals are not busy getting into trouble when they shouldn't be (remember, we evolved when there was no artificial light and are not adapted to the night; going out at night in the dark guarentees you will get hurt: try it). A cave man that does sleep will live longer than one who doesn't, even if there are no physiological advantages.

Once sleep is part of life, it becomes useful for a whole bag of other things that could have been done without sleep, but since it's there, it's easier to do it at the time. So, to cancel the "need" for sleep, it's possible that many different physiological processes would need to be unpacked one at a time; like the essential dietary vitamins, which had to be discovered one at a time through careful disease analysis, experiments and difficult biochemistry.

11/18/2004 03:57:00 AM  
Blogger Trent said...

Hey, goatchurch,

If we were to live without sleep, at the least we'd still need down-time for cell repair and more calories. We spend much of dream time solving problems in our life and converting memories, so sleep may be integral to intelligence (any graduate student can tell you that little sleep can be detrimental to test performance--in fact, I'm certain our professors warned us of comparative studies). It may also be--since we all have individual design--that the sleep necessary is variable. But to test whether we humans need sleep as a species, whether it's been trained into us, may be unethical to attempt. Perhaps a few daring parents could attempt to keep their newborns from sleeping to see how necessary the process is.

11/18/2004 02:50:00 PM  
Blogger Ted said...

Cetaceans need to sleep, despite the fact that they are purely voluntary breathers; the two hemispheres of their brains take turns, so one hemisphere sleeps while the other half ensures breathing. Given that cetaceans would clearly benefit if they could simply rest rather than sleep, I think sleeping must be essential to the mammalian brain.

(See also Quote: "Trying to eliminate the need for sleep is similar to trying to eliminate the need to eat.")

11/24/2004 01:55:00 AM  
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