How should we reimagine society post-COVID-19?

Coronavirus has given us the opportunity to reframe and rethink society from its foundation.

JACQUELINE NOVOGRATZ: In this moment of global pandemic our first instinct was to pull inward, protect ourselves, our families. Fully understandable. And then we started to look around to ask what is the meaning underneath this virus that has impacted the entire world. The first thing that coronavirus has taught us all is that in spite of all of the strength that we hold as humanity, so do we have a deep fragility and that both are connected to our interdependence. We're fooling ourselves if we think that we're separate from each other. Coronavirus has taught us that we are truly part of an interconnected web. We've gone in the course of my lifetime from a world where people could live in small tribes and communities where everyone looked the same, knew each other, practiced the same kinds of culture, traditions, rituals, to a world that became interconnected. Where we could see each other across the world. Where we grew to a place where there were more cell phones on the planet than human beings. And then we moved from being interconnected to interdependent.

And intellectually we began to understand that no matter how high the walls might go, globally we still faced the same enormous issues. The coronavirus has laid bare the gaping wounds of our society that had grown too individualistic over the last 30-50 years and reinforced our interdependence in the most profound ways. And so has it opened the conversation for a rethink, a reset, a reimagining. How we built systems that go from putting money, power and fame at the center to systems that are shared humanity and the need to sustain the Earth at the center. It starts with a moral framework. As much as we need new technological solutions, new ways of thinking about the capital markets, new ways of redesigning every one of our systems, underneath it must be a moral framework.

For most of my life I was told I was too idealistic. That people didn't want to hear words like moral or dignity or goodness. And yet if I have learned anything in 35 years it is that we as human beings yearn to be good. We yearn to be seen. That is as fundamental to us as the fear that makes us pull in and want to protect, want to compete. Coronavirus has taught us that if we do not build societies that protect the vulnerable and poor we will not succeed as a world, not in an interdependent world. Coronavirus has taught us that competition is not going to get us to a place where we have the vaccines and tests and systems that we need so that we can beat this one enemy that we all share. Coronavirus has taught us that our systems are fully interconnected. Even if we find a way to solve clinical health issues they are so connected to our education system, to our prison system, to our social safety net. Not only inside countries but across countries. And so coronavirus and this pandemic has offered us all the opportunity to reframe our society whose building blocks must sit on a moral framework, a moral compass if you will, that puts our humanity at the center, a belief in human dignity not just for this generation but for every generation that follows us. And that means we have to take care of the Earth as well.

The good news is that all around us in every community that I have worked in, every country on the planet are role models, business models not just for today but for our collective future. These are business models that are fueled by role models who are in turn fueled by their moral imagination. Who are taking entirely new approaches to the way that we use our scarce resources and our most precious resources, our fellow human beings to create change.

  • There have been many lessons learned from the coronavirus crisis. According to Acumen founder and CEO, Jacqueline Novogratz, one of the primary lessons has been that humans are interdependent creatures in an interconnected world.
  • "The coronavirus has laid bare the gaping wounds of our society that had grown too individualistic over the last 30-50 years and reinforced our interdependence in the most profound ways," Novogratz says, adding that the current situation has given us a chance to rethink and rebuild society from a new moral framework.
  • Placing humanity and community at the center, focusing more on helping the poor and vulnerable, and engaging more in collaboration instead of competition is how our post-COVID-19 society will succeed.



Photos: Courtesy of Let Grow
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
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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.

Photo Illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Surprising Science
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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?

Sartre and Wittgenstein realize they were mistaken. (Getty Images)
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?

David McNew/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs

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

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