How do you contribute?

Question: How do you contribute?

Rob Riemen: The world is a big place. So if I very modestly can, you know, narrow it down to the Netherlands which is very small, not very important country in terms of the Nexus Institute. One of the things we discovered is there are a lot of things in . . . in the world of media and culture, there are a lot . . . And in education, a lot of things are going wrong on the side of the suppliers. I don’t want to insult anybody, but you know politics, producers, media moguls and so on and so forth . . . for whatever reason they think people are stupid. Or they consider themselves as not interested in certain things. And because they are not interested in it, they think that people are not interested in it. So why should we provide them with . . . It should be easy. It should be accessible, and so on and so forth. And with a lie we think that this is a form of democracy. It has nothing to do whatsoever with democracy. It’s a stupid form of marketing. My experience is that a growing group of people everywhere – also here in America – is hungry for quality, but in such a way that they don’t have the feeling that somebody is completely obtrusive, and tells them with a certain authority you have to think this or you must do that or whatever. So I wanted to create a forum where we can (A), raise the quintessential questions everybody is confronted with; (B) get the opposites together around the table, or at least a rich variety of people. And so one of the things we say is look, we are there to make life a little bit more difficult. Because at the end of the day you will not have any answers. But you will realize probably better what the premises are, what the consequences are, and that there are no easy answers to big problems, or to big questions. Already the awareness I think is an important thing, and the institute in the Netherlands is a huge success. Now a little bit more on my . . . on the level of me as an individual – the talks I am allowed to give at the Aspen Institute, the book I’ve been writing and working on. I hope that my contribution is that I can be helpful in giving back meaning to certain words, because that’s . . . that’s so important. One of the big influences of mass media, and in mass society, is that as we just discussed, you know words have lost their meaning, like “love”, like “friendship”. There is an enormous form of reductionism going on. And it is . . . which is a terrifying phenomenon. A lot of the . . . What we have had anti-Semitism, and in many ways there is still a lot of anti-Semitism in Europe and a lot of other places. In Europe we are also dealing with the phenomenon of anti-Americanism according to the latest polls. And also anti-Americanism is simply based on the fact that you are dealing with an enormous reduction of, you know, a complex reality. And this form of reductionism makes it one-sided, narrow minded. And we don’t longer have the capacity to understand what the idea of America is all about. Now this is the same for all kind of other words.

 

Recorded on: 10/3/07

 

 

 

Riemen hopes to raise essential questions about the quality of information, in some small way, restore meaning to language.

Photos: Courtesy of Let Grow
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The surprise reason sleep-deprivation kills lies in the gut

New research establishes an unexpected connection.

Image source: Vaccaro et al, 2020/Harvard Medical School
Surprising Science
  • A study provides further confirmation that a prolonged lack of sleep can result in early mortality.
  • 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."

Withdrawal symptoms from antidepressants can last over a year, new study finds

We must rethink the "chemical imbalance" theory of mental health.

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Four philosophers who realized they were completely wrong about things

Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?

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Culture & Religion

Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways. 

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Is there a limit to optimism when it comes to climate change?

Or is doubt a self-fulfilling prophecy?

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'We're doomed': a common refrain in casual conversation about climate change.

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