Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Wayback Machine


Once again we see evidence that our modern lifestyles are completely at odds with the "natural" rhythms of our biology. It seems we naturally want to sleep in stages rather than a single block. From BBC:

The Myth Of Eight Hour Sleep
In 2001, historian Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech published a seminal paper, drawn from 16 years of research, revealing a wealth of historical evidence that humans used to sleep in two distinct chunks.

His book At Day's Close: Night in Times Past, published four years later, unearths more than 500 references to a segmented sleeping pattern - in diaries, court records, medical books and literature, from Homer's Odyssey to an anthropological account of modern tribes in Nigeria.

Much like the experience of Wehr's subjects, these references describe a first sleep which began about two hours after dusk, followed by waking period of one or two hours and then a second sleep.

"It's not just the number of references - it is the way they refer to it, as if it was common knowledge," Ekirch says.

During this waking period people were quite active. They often got up, went to the toilet or smoked tobacco and some even visited neighbours. Most people stayed in bed, read, wrote and often prayed. Countless prayer manuals from the late 15th Century offered special prayers for the hours in between sleeps.
I think that a huge part of our health and social problems are derived from artificial light, which has only been widespread a century or so. Our exhaustion, our excessive work, our insomnia, our anxiety, etc. This seems like a good time to repost this: The Big Sleep:
President Sarkozy’s 19th-century predecessors would have been amazed that such comparatively small adjustments are treated as matters of economic life and death. They, too, were worried by the snail-like progress of the French economy, and wondered how to compete with the industrial powerhouse of Britain. But they were faced with something far more ruinous than unemployment.

Economists and bureaucrats who ventured out into the countryside after the Revolution were horrified to find that the work force disappeared between fall and spring. The fields were deserted from Flanders to Provence. Villages and even small towns were silent, with barely a column of smoke to reveal a human presence. As soon as the weather turned cold, people all over France shut themselves away and practiced the forgotten art of doing nothing at all for months on end.

In the mountains, the tradition of seasonal sloth was ancient and pervasive. “Seven months of winter, five months of hell,” they said in the Alps. When the “hell” of unremitting toil was over, the human beings settled in with their cows and pigs. They lowered their metabolic rate to prevent hunger from exhausting supplies. If someone died during the seven months of winter, the corpse was stored on the roof under a blanket of snow until spring thawed the ground, allowing a grave to be dug and a priest to reach the village.

The same mass dormancy was practiced in other chilly parts. In 1900, The British Medical Journal reported that peasants of the Pskov region in northwestern Russia “adopt the economical expedient” of spending one-half of the year in sleep: “At the first fall of snow the whole family gathers round the stove, lies down, ceases to wrestle with the problems of human existence, and quietly goes to sleep. Once a day every one wakes up to eat a piece of hard bread. ... The members of the family take it in turn to watch and keep the fire alight. After six months of this reposeful existence the family wakes up, shakes itself” and “goes out to see if the grass is growing.”
Our diets have changed too. From Slate - The Real Caveman Diet: Did people eat fruits and vegetables in prehistoric times?
Russian scientists claim to have grown a plant from the fruit of an arctic flower that froze 32,000 years ago in the Arctic. That’s about the same time the last Neanderthals roamed the Earth. This particular plant doesn't produce an edible fruit analogous to an apple or nectarine, but rather a dry capsule that holds its seeds. Did hominids eat fruits and veggies during the Neanderthal era?

They definitely ate fruit. Last year, paleoanthropologists found bits of date stuck in the teeth of a 40,000-year-old Neanderthal. There's evidence that several of the fruits we enjoy eating today have been around for millennia in much the same form. For example, archaeologists have uncovered evidence of 780,000-year-old figs at a site in Northern Israel, as well as olives, plums, and pears from the paleolithic era. Researchers have also dug up grapes that appear to be 7 million years old in northeastern Tennessee (although, oddly, the grapes are morphologically more similar to today’s Asian varieties than the modern grapes considered native to North America). Apple trees blanketed Kazakhstan 30,000 years ago, oranges were common in China, and wild berries grew in Europe. None of these fruits were identical to the modern varieties, but they would have been perfectly edible.
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Vegetables are a different story. Many of the ones we eat today have undergone profound changes at the hands of human farmers. Consider the brassicas: Between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago, humans took a leafy green plant and, by selecting for different characteristics, began to transform it into several different products. Modern kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi are all members of the same species, derived from a single prehistoric plant variety. Wild carrots may predate human agriculture, but they’re unpalatable and look nothing like the cultivated variety. The earliest domesticated carrots were probably purple, and the orange carrot emerged in the 17th century. While legumes predate the dawn of man, modern green beans are a human invention.
Almost everything we eat is novel. Ancient humans hunted wild game and caught wild fish, and gathered plants from the landscape. As the article describes, the fruits and vegetables today are a result of human selection, and mostly grown in denuded soils. We eat caged, domestic animals usually raised under horrendous conditions in factory farms, not wild animals. And we mainly base our diet around highly processed wheat and soy foods. It it any wonder we're all sick? The modern, industrial lifestyle is a killer. Too bad there's no way out.

1 comment:

  1. No way out at this moment in time, unless you grow/raise your own food. That sort of agrarian/hunter life will return after the industrial age comes to an end, as it surely and inevitably will.
    What happens between now and then is the interesting part. How much more damage will we do? Will we avoid some sort of Armageddon with the weapons of mass destruction we have created. How will it all unravel? No one really knows.
    I've finally come to terms with the angst of not knowing and have embraced the here-and-now because that is really the only thing we have control over.

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