Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Mysteries of Sleep

So, this piece on the insomnia of baby dolphins leads me to point out something I've thought about a lot. Sleep is weird.

We spend roughly a third of our lives asleep, we go crazy if we can't sleep, but we haven't got a clue why we need to sleep at all! When you look at the biological basics, we understand the functional purpose of a lot of the biggies--we know why we get hungry and eat, why we need to breathe, why we have sex...but sleep? Nobody knows .

I find this a very exciting thing. The fact that we don't understand sleep at all suggests that there is a huge breakthrough in scientific knowledge or theory to be made--something as earthshattering as quantum mechanics, or the discovery of the microscopic world. We have plenty of data points on sleep, but we simply have no understanding of the functional purpose of the phenomenon. I suspect that once we are able to understand sleep, we will also be able to understand a lot of other things--many forms of mental illness, the biology underlying emotional states and affecting social interaction, etc.

Anyway, it's nice every once in a while to look out the window and marvel at all the undiscovered country. Rock on, baby dolphins!


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