Sunday, August 30, 2015

Segmented sleep not all it's cracked up to be

Do you frequently wake up in the middle of the night at a particular time? Do you sometimes have trouble getting back to sleep for an hour or more when this happens?

I do. And I hate it.

In an online article, Kel Campbell takes an optimistic view of these episodes. He claims that they involve a process that worked for our biological ancestors in the pre-Industrial Ages.

"Historian Roger Ekirch published a book in 2011 that listed approximately 500 written accounts from centuries past in which people referred to “first sleep” and “second sleep.” Diaries, medical journals, prayer books — they were filled with people discussing a sleep pattern that looked very different from what we know today.

People would sleep for the first part of the night, wake up in the early morning for a couple of hours, and then fall back asleep until it was time to start the day in earnest."

Campbell then describes some of the biological phenomena going on during these episodes. As one might imagine, our systems are in different states compared to times of normal wakefulness:

"When we fall asleep, we enjoy that fast actin’ prolactin, a hormonal secretion that sends you into dreamy, sleepy, peaceful and even hallucinatory state. It’s also released when we wake up and when we remain in a restful waking state — as our ancestors used to do between first and second sleep."

Does this "fast actin' prolactin" confer any benefits for us when we are awake in the middle of the night? Is there any reason to believe that we can use these episodes to our advantage? Campbell believes so:

"Your hormones enable you to take the creativity of dreams and combine them with the consciousness of a waking brain. Conversely, your brain can use its dream-like state to convince you that the spot on your back is undoubtedly melanoma. It’s like tripping on drugs [...]When you awake in the wee hours and are in a good place to lean into it, you can flex your imaginative muscles like perhaps no other time during the day."
As I said above,  I am dreadfully familiar with these episodes and skeptical of Campbell's optimistic view of them. The causal connection from sleep hormones to creativity on which his argument depends sounds speculative and runs counter to my own experiences. 
Having some flexibility in work time, I have occasionally taken segmented sleep by the horns. I have tried both practicing music and writing during these episodes.
In neither case did I experience any kind of breakthrough or even feel particularly satisfied by the activity. Instead, I felt like I was in a diminished state and merely trying to bide my time until I either got sleepy again or felt ready to move into normal waking life.
To me, there is absolutely no comparison to states in which I am fully rested, alert, and in a flow state.
In fact, Campbell's claim that it is "like tripping on drugs" seems unintentionally apt. As when under the influence of substances like alcohol and cold medicine, the flow of one's thoughts can seem coherent at the time. 

Later, when the products of one's activities seen under the glare of full consciousness, one realizes that they are of limited value and narrowly focused.

I'll take eight or more hours of unbroken sleep over segmented sleep any night of the week.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A note on "The Master"

I watched Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master." It was much better than "There will be blood," but still it was a mediocre film for PTA, who once was perhaps my favorite director. Nearing the end of it, I remember thinking that I would consider it an only slightly better than average film as a whole if not for the fact that it was so visually well done. I can't help thinking that PTA uses the crutch of the look of and acting in a film now. So many of his earlier films were all about his incredible scripts PLUS the visuals and acting.

The real kicker, though, was watching the extras. Guy ruined his own film with cuts. There was a really key dramatic element and he cut it out of the film. We were supposed to hear that the "second book" had a kind of legend about it, and learn later that it was a letdown to people. Tied to this, though, and even more importantly, we were supposed to wonder whether Quell was going to betray the master by doing something like stealing the second book. None of this made the cut, and in my mind this ruined the film. I was shocked that this was revealed in the extras as if it were some insignificant thing. Perhaps PTA thought it was; perhaps the inclusion was a kind of apology.

Another surprise in the extras was revealing that the "bromance" angle of the film was originally more extensive. There was supposed to be a whole montage (at least in the extras) that expounded on this and which was set to "Slow boat to china." As it was, the "Slow boat" scene in the end just seems to somewhat come out of nowhere. This seems more like the kind of thing that does not "test well" with audiences. Editing by focus group. Anyway, whoever made those editing decisions just butchered that film.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

No sweater

Thought of a sample case that suggests that ordinary language as a direct source of philosophical truth is either wrong-headed or more complicated than the name suggests. I was looking at a story about the ship of Theseus and started thinking about the paper title “A sweater unraveled” (which I have not read).

I thought about someone holding up a pile of yarn and saying “Look at my sweater!!!” Someone might say “We say ‘Look at my sweater!!!’ when displaying an unraveled sweater; therefore the yarn is the sweater, even though it is unraveled.” That doesn’t seem right. I’d say it is more complicated than that.

For one, one might argue that what is meant is “Look what happened to my sweater!” or “This is all that is left of my sweater!” In neither case is it implied that the yarn is the sweater. I think one could argue that because these meanings seem roughly interchangeable, “what we say” seems ambiguous in its logical implications.

Another interpretation of this gesture also doesn’t really seem to support the view that “what we say” settles the matter. It might make sense to say that we do consider the sweater to be the pile of remaining yarn, but not because of the interjection “Look at my sweater!!!” It seems reasonable to make some set of claims about “the sweater” being a functional concept that covers the pile of unraveled yarn. For example, the owner may handle the pile in a special way that suggests it is not “just” a pile of yarn, especially if she thinks it can be repaired, returned to a store, used in a lawsuit, etc.

You could make such arguments. But then you’d probably only want to if you were paid to be a philosopher. And only others paid for similar reasons would probably want to read such things.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The conversation frame

A kind of implicit pattern I have become more aware of recently is the quid pro quo nature of conversation. It is insidiously difficult to break out of this pattern. It is practically true that to say anything at all with an audience (actual or potential) is to accept this game. Why?

Most of the time people say things and they implicitly await the reply. Literally or figuratively, they leave space for the reply. In a verbal dispute, they are left at the mercy of the reply at that moment. By merely awaiting the reply, they already lend it credence. “Your turn.” The reply is the reason everyone has fallen silent momentarily.

Furthermore, by awaiting the reply and then allowing it to emerge in full, we force ourselves to deal with it. This is a burden we give ourselves by accepting the conversation frame. This is work we have created for ourselves, though the interlocutor is a crucial player in the game.

Of course, in a verbal dispute, we could act like the reply is not worth our attention and refuse to respond. Yet this is still a kind of response. Such specious insouciance is already belied by our awaiting the reply, allowing it to emerge, and considering whether to "respond" or not. So, to a certain degree, by the very existence of the reply, we are already losing in such disputes. Besides, acting like one is merely ignoring the reply is a dangerous proposition. Doing so is often taken by interlocutors and onlookers as lacking a response. It looks like a loss.

More often, of course, the choice is to construct one’s own response to the reply. This affords it still more credence. It is work to come up with a response. It is dangerous in an argument, since the longer the verbal tennis continues, the greater the opportunity for sudden and devastating loss. And just by staying in such a dispute for an extended period suggests holistically that the conversation, and the opinion of your opponent, are worth (at least some of) your time and effort.

To break out of this pattern, as I suggested, is difficult. One basic issue on which to gain clarity is: “Why am I saying anything at all?” It may be that you want to engage in dialogue, in which case there is not as much reason to consider breaking the pattern. Seeking feedback, even when it is risky, can be valuable.

Sometimes, though, saying something has value in itself. We may want only to express things. We may want to think things out in words. We may simply want to say things that we know are true. Given such circumstances, it is worth asking ourselves: "How likely is it that a reply to what I am saying is something that I will value?" Sometimes this question impels us to remain silent; other times it demands that we find ways to break the dialogic pattern.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Goodbye, Herman

I started to watch “Hello, Herman” this morning but I had to switch it off. It was really awful. I have huge respect for Norman Reedus from “The Walking Dead.” Even his fantastic acting could not save this film. He was so much better than all the other actors involved that it reminded a bit of those straight-to-video action flicks Oscar-nominee Eric Roberts starred in during the 90s.

And the subject matter had the makings of something worth seeing too. Reedus is a vlogging journalist--named Lax Morales? Seriously?--who accepts an exclusive interview offer from a high school spree shooter. But the journalist has a touchy past involving a white supremacy group, and these details slowly emerge during the film.

But there were too many huge flaws. Principally, the spree shooter kid is a terribly-drawn character played by a weak young actor. His dialogue is all over the place and so unrealistic that you have no sense of who or what he is supposed to be. Most of the time he comes across as just an Evil Villain (tm) more appropriate to a comic book flick than a serious drama. Mix in the horrible title, lazy directing choices like the use of stock footage and continuity errors, and it became clear fairly quickly that I had better ways to use my time that watch this.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

"Inspiring" circle bait

A lot of the Google+ circle “requests” (since it is not a de dicto request) I get come from people whose postings are what I call “Luminous Fantasy Realism” (LFR) images. These are software enhanced photo-paintings that share a certain aesthetic, if not subject matter.

LFR images are somewhat limited in scope. They use a bright light sources or reflections thereof; lots of whites, yellows, and oranges and hardly any dark colors (except those necessary to depict edges); and subject matter of striking natural scenes, like forests with light coming through the trees, waterfalls, mountain vistas, etc. There are rarely animate individuals depicted, although more than one individual may appear as long as these animals (or people) function mainly as composition elements rather than the focus.

The subject must always remain The Awe. Or, more cynically punned: The Fawe.

Notably, the individuals who post these things usually 1) mainly post these images and almost never post informative articles; and 2) tend to have thousands of people who have circled them (i.e., chosen to follow the postings of these individuals.

I never circle these LFR posters simply because there are a lot of them and I don’t want my feed cluttered with a bunch of faux-inspiring images. But the more I have seen of them, the more suspicious I have become of the intent. I mean, who posts only such things? Who quests the infinities of the Internet and returns from the journey to offer us only this?

Whether or not they have an agenda, one thing is clear: a lot of people are buying into it. Again, thousands usually circle these people. It is as if the LFR crowd as discovered an exploit, a nearly perfect form of circle bait.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


When I was thinking about opening up FB a while ago, it struck me again that it is mainly this huge time suck that is almost always unsatisfying. I always expect (or at least hope) that something worth my time will appear. Instead I wade through reams of things to be ignored or which are mildly amusing at best. Meanwhile the minutes seem to rush away unnoticed.

I am sometimes tempted by links that I would never seek out on my own. The usual reason is that I am checking out something that is recommended by a person whose judgment I have some respect for. But time and again the links are not worth my time. They are not about things that interest me, or they are of poor quality. Many of these things are not links at all, but can be absorbed on the same page. I waste time looking at and reading these things, like memes. There are sometimes quite a few of these.

I suppose this social factor is really what is behind a lot of these phenomena. I get pulled into much more time wasting and recurring feelings of listlessness because of this implicit expectation about the relative value of the interests of people I like. 

And I don’t think such expectations are normally wrong. Instead, there is another factor unique to FB in play: there is a subtle pressure to post something, anything. Based on some of the things I have seen posted, many people must feel like anything they find mildly amusing is appropriate to post. Thus I see today, for example, someone I would not expect posting a Gawker “story” about funny photos of Toronto’s crack smoking mayor. And I don’t blame the poster (much) because it seems to me like the context encourages such behavior. It’s the same way one shouldn’t look down on a person when they act mildly silly to entertain an infant. FB infantilizes social interaction in an only somewhat metaphorical way.