This 103-year-old philosopher's to-do list will get you through self-isolation

Need to isolate? No problem! This philosopher is keeping the world posted on his isolation routine by Facebook.

Romanian Philosoher and activist Mihai Sora

Screenshot from this YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A79oPGfiWNI&app=desktop / UN FILM DE LUIZA ȘORA
  • Like everybody else, Romanian philosopher Mihai Sora is stuck inside.
  • He is keeping busy for a 103-year-old man, and keeping the world up to date on his indoor adventures with Facebook.
  • His to-do list is impressive, but not so impressive it can't be used by most people.

The social isolation necessitated by COVID-19 is difficult for a lot of people. Between being mostly stuck inside, having reduced contact with other people, and the creeping boredom that comes after you've done everything on your to-do list, it's little wonder that people are getting stressed out about it.

However, there are ways to make it a little more tolerable. A few good ideas for what do at home these days come from the Romanian philosopher Mihai Sora who, at 103 years old, is keeping the world posted on his social isolation practices via Facebook. According to the Calvert Journal, some of the items on his to-do list include:

  • Solving a Rubik's Cube
  • Painting his white fridge (inside and out)
  • Reading Proust
  • Starting to learn Swedish
  • Improving his Japanese
  • Writing in his "little Facebook notebook"
  • Drawing a flock of sheep
  • Clearing out his study
  • Learning how to use the washing machine
  • "Stoically" listening to French composer Pierre Boulez
  • Checking out planets discovered by NASA
  • "Training in general," as well as reading and using his exercise bike.

Meet Mihai Sora, one of the most interesting men in the world

Born in 1916 in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Mihai went to France for his PhD in philosophy as a young man. When the Nazis invaded, he joined the French Resistance. After the war, he was offered French citizenship but declined to return to his homeland, newly communist Romania. Unable to leave Romania after 1948 because of the aforementioned communism, he was unable to publish his work again for 20 years due to government censorship. To make ends meet, he worked day jobs, often getting fired for insubordination, and translated classic literature into Romanian.

After the fall of Romanian Communism, he served as the Minister of Education for a brief period. He resigned in protest against street violence between miners and anti-communist protesters. Now, in his golden years, he remains an activist. He even found the time to go to a few street protests at the age of 101.

His philosophy is also nothing to sneeze at—his first major essay, "On Interior Dialogue. Fragment from a Metaphysical Anthropology" was well received in postwar France, and his political philosophy has attracted a fair amount of attention.

How he is keeping sane during social isolation

In addition to accomplishing all this, Dr. Sora is keeping the world up to date on his isolation through Facebook posts. The posts include his observations of how nice the night sky is:

Musings on how weird it would be for aliens who show up when the streets are empty:

Notes on how to entertain children:

Mihai ȘORA

Updates on his art projects:

And reminders that this, too, shall pass and afterwards we should go for a nice walk in nature:

This might be the kind of social media influencer the world doesn't deserve but actually needs.

His posts and to-do list are particularly brilliant in that they are not fundamentally difficult or too foreign for most people to emulate. His to-do list includes chores, learning things he always wanted to but lacked time for, and doing things he already enjoys.

If you're stuck at home too, perhaps you should borrow a few of these ideas. Ever wanted to start learning a new language? You've got time for it now. Ever want to read the classics? Project Guttenberg is online, has thousands of books to choose from, and your schedule is clear. More creatively minded? That's fine; there are plenty of Bob Ross videos on YouTube to get you started in painting. There aren't a ton of great online resources for helping you clean out your study, but that's also a good idea of Dr. Sora's you should steal.

And don't forget to take his advice to look up at the sun, moon, and stars every once in a while. Just because you're stuck inside doesn't mean you can't wonder at the scope of the cosmos. Just because we're all a bit anxious lately doesn't mean we have to lose our sense of awe.

So, try some of his ideas for yourself. After all, if they are keeping a person with as exciting a life as Mihai Sora occupied, it should be enough to keep most people busy for a few more weeks.

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New research establishes an unexpected connection.

Reactive oxygen species (ROS) accumulate in the gut of sleep-deprived fruit flies, one (left), seven (center) and ten (right) days without sleep.

Image source: Vaccaro et al, 2020/Harvard Medical School
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  • Surprisingly, the direct cause seems to be a buildup of Reactive Oxygen Species in the gut produced by sleeplessness.
  • When the buildup is neutralized, a normal lifespan is restored.

We don't have to tell you what it feels like when you don't get enough sleep. A night or two of that can be miserable; long-term sleeplessness is out-and-out debilitating. Though we know from personal experience that we need sleep — our cognitive, metabolic, cardiovascular, and immune functioning depend on it — a lack of it does more than just make you feel like you want to die. It can actually kill you, according to study of rats published in 1989. But why?

A new study answers that question, and in an unexpected way. It appears that the sleeplessness/death connection has nothing to do with the brain or nervous system as many have assumed — it happens in your gut. Equally amazing, the study's authors were able to reverse the ill effects with antioxidants.

The study, from researchers at Harvard Medical School (HMS), is published in the journal Cell.

An unexpected culprit

The new research examines the mechanisms at play in sleep-deprived fruit flies and in mice — long-term sleep-deprivation experiments with humans are considered ethically iffy.

What the scientists found is that death from sleep deprivation is always preceded by a buildup of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) in the gut. These are not, as their name implies, living organisms. ROS are reactive molecules that are part of the immune system's response to invading microbes, and recent research suggests they're paradoxically key players in normal cell signal transduction and cell cycling as well. However, having an excess of ROS leads to oxidative stress, which is linked to "macromolecular damage and is implicated in various disease states such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, cancer, neurodegeneration, and aging." To prevent this, cellular defenses typically maintain a balance between ROS production and removal.

"We took an unbiased approach and searched throughout the body for indicators of damage from sleep deprivation," says senior study author Dragana Rogulja, admitting, "We were surprised to find it was the gut that plays a key role in causing death." The accumulation occurred in both sleep-deprived fruit flies and mice.

"Even more surprising," Rogulja recalls, "we found that premature death could be prevented. Each morning, we would all gather around to look at the flies, with disbelief to be honest. What we saw is that every time we could neutralize ROS in the gut, we could rescue the flies." Fruit flies given any of 11 antioxidant compounds — including melatonin, lipoic acid and NAD — that neutralize ROS buildups remained active and lived a normal length of time in spite of sleep deprivation. (The researchers note that these antioxidants did not extend the lifespans of non-sleep deprived control subjects.)

fly with thought bubble that says "What? I'm awake!"

Image source: Tomasz Klejdysz/Shutterstock/Big Think

The experiments

The study's tests were managed by co-first authors Alexandra Vaccaro and Yosef Kaplan Dor, both research fellows at HMS.

You may wonder how you compel a fruit fly to sleep, or for that matter, how you keep one awake. The researchers ascertained that fruit flies doze off in response to being shaken, and thus were the control subjects induced to snooze in their individual, warmed tubes. Each subject occupied its own 29 °C (84F) tube.

For their sleepless cohort, fruit flies were genetically manipulated to express a heat-sensitive protein in specific neurons. These neurons are known to suppress sleep, and did so — the fruit flies' activity levels, or lack thereof, were tracked using infrared beams.

Starting at Day 10 of sleep deprivation, fruit flies began dying, with all of them dead by Day 20. Control flies lived up to 40 days.

The scientists sought out markers that would indicate cell damage in their sleepless subjects. They saw no difference in brain tissue and elsewhere between the well-rested and sleep-deprived fruit flies, with the exception of one fruit fly.

However, in the guts of sleep-deprived fruit flies was a massive accumulation of ROS, which peaked around Day 10. Says Vaccaro, "We found that sleep-deprived flies were dying at the same pace, every time, and when we looked at markers of cell damage and death, the one tissue that really stood out was the gut." She adds, "I remember when we did the first experiment, you could immediately tell under the microscope that there was a striking difference. That almost never happens in lab research."

The experiments were repeated with mice who were gently kept awake for five days. Again, ROS built up over time in their small and large intestines but nowhere else.

As noted above, the administering of antioxidants alleviated the effect of the ROS buildup. In addition, flies that were modified to overproduce gut antioxidant enzymes were found to be immune to the damaging effects of sleep deprivation.

The research leaves some important questions unanswered. Says Kaplan Dor, "We still don't know why sleep loss causes ROS accumulation in the gut, and why this is lethal." He hypothesizes, "Sleep deprivation could directly affect the gut, but the trigger may also originate in the brain. Similarly, death could be due to damage in the gut or because high levels of ROS have systemic effects, or some combination of these."

The HMS researchers are now investigating the chemical pathways by which sleep-deprivation triggers the ROS buildup, and the means by which the ROS wreak cell havoc.

"We need to understand the biology of how sleep deprivation damages the body so that we can find ways to prevent this harm," says Rogulja.

Referring to the value of this study to humans, she notes,"So many of us are chronically sleep deprived. Even if we know staying up late every night is bad, we still do it. We believe we've identified a central issue that, when eliminated, allows for survival without sleep, at least in fruit flies."

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