What is your personal philosophy?

Question: What is your personal philosophy?

Rob Riemen: Look, I don’t think I’m a true philosophical mind. I cannot be in those footsteps. But of course yes, I read things; and read things I became convinced about on certain levels. I mean related to philosophy of society, yes. Indeed this is the mindset of, I would like to say, liberal conservatives; liberal conservatives who . . . who are quintessential democratic minds, but do realize that the democracy cannot survive without a certain sense of aristocracy and a certain sense of – which is the title of my book – “The Nobility of Spirit”. “The Nobility of Spirit is the . . . it’s more fundementals. And yes, for that you need education, you need __________ and so on and so forth. So that’s . . . that’s . . . that’s one approach. The second, my more personal outlook of . . . of life and what can happen in life, Thomas Mann would say it’s a . . . it’s a pessimistic religious form of humanism – the fragility, the brokenness of our existence; and realizing as in ___________ of Wagner or if in India Jones and the Last Crusade, which is a retelling of the _______ for me – quite brilliantly done, I must say – life is a quest. Life is quintessentially a quest. And the meaning of life starts with the understanding that life is a quest. Now according to this myth of _________; according to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, it’s the quest for the grail, right? Because with the grail it’s eternal life and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Now brilliantly done by Spielberg . . . Brilliantly done by Spielberg is the ordeals of Indiana Jones to, I presume, that most of the people __________ watch Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Before he can get to the cup, he has to do three tests. The first test is to show courage or something like that; then to understand the name of God; but the third is that he is tested on faith. And so he is . . . You might remember he is on this Grand Canyon, and he has to make a step. And he . . . Nobody . . . You know if you do a step in the Grand Canyon, you fall to your death. At that very moment there is “zip!” a kind of bridge and he can walk. It’s a beautiful metaphor of what faith is. Faith is trust, nothing else. It’s trust – the ultimate form of trust. And then when he is there he finds the cup. Of course it’s not very beautiful. It’s a very simple wooden thing. It’s been told look, this is not for us human beings. We . . . We are . . . Eternal life here on earth is not for us. Now Thomas Mann has something more profound to say about this grail quest in the line of ___________. Because he says the grail is nothing else than an understanding that the quintessence of our life is an ________; is . . . are questions to which we will never find a definite answer. And everybody who promises you to give you the definite answer is a liar. Don’t listen to him or her. Now again, as long as we keep in mind that we will not . . . that the questions are essential, our __________; and what is it that we have to do; and how can I make my life meaningful; but that we will never find a true, complete, definitive answer to it. As long as that is the case, we will remain aware of, you know, that we . . . that we . . . that we should find out okay, so what is freedom? What is true love? What is true friendship, and so on and so forth? And will also be the big warning against all those fundamentalists, or idiots, or liars who one way or the other want to say, you know, I can promise you this or that. There are no promises. There are no promises. And then maybe . . . And the last thing is, and it’s the most personal level, Thomas Mann also wrote . . . He retold the story of Joseph and his brothers – the biblical story of Joseph who went down into the jail, ____________ went to Egypt and then saved the Jewish people. And Joseph has to learn in his life three things. The first thing is that he has to have the intelligence to understand the signs. Because next to all the facts we are dealing with, we have to deal with there is a kind of super reality which speaks to you in signs. Understand the signs. The second thing is you must have the strength to resist temptations, because there is always the temptation of take the easy way; don’t do this; be rational; don’t take this risk. Resist the temptations. That is the first thing he has to learn. Then you will have to have the courage to follow your path. Do what you have to do. Don’t compromise. Don’t listen. Have confidence and just go for it. That’s how I try. Mentally I’m pessimistic. By nature I’m optimistic. If I were really pessimistic, I would try to start a restaurant, or try to become a banker, or you know do something to get myself a nice or whatever life. No, listen. I don’t believe . . . This is what I learned from Popper the great philosopher on the open society. I don’t believe in historical ____________. I don’t believe that by necessity everything will go down. I don’t believe that by necessary . . . that by necessity . . . that by necessity all things will be eternal progress and all will be well. I don’t believe it. As I said, “we the people”. I believe in the concept of responsibility; and that at any moment as long as we are still a free and democratic society – which again America and the west is, right? I mean you can get rid of your administration. People risk justice. It’s still there. We have to use it right now, take our responsibility, and you know on all kind of levels start to do the work. And then of course well there is . . . then at least there is some hope. There must be hope.


Recorded on: 10/3/07

Riemen invokes Indiana Jones to explain his personal philosophy of life.

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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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