Thursday, November 01, 2012

Science & SF Tidbits: Nov. 1: Biology of Politics and Sci-Fi Sleep

Today's suggested links:

Science In My Fiction » Sleeping Fiction »

In science fiction, characters are rarely depicted as having a need for sleep. Sure they are put into suspended animation while traveling long distances or as the plot requires, but what is often overlooked are the biological functions of sleep. Studies have suggested that sleep may be important for learning, properly regulating our metabolism, our personalities, our health, our moods, and probably more.

A pretty common science fiction trope is that you can quickly learn by being fed information while sleeping. While there isn't good evidence that that is really possible, even now you can buy recordings that claim they can change your habits (like your desire to smoke) by simply listening while sleeping. So how might (science fictional) pills that replace the physiological need for sleep work - would they also be able to replace the psychological and learning processes that sleep provides as well? Something to think about.

Image: Astronauts Richard "Dick" Truly and Guion Bluford sleep on the space shuttle Challenger. Truly sleeps with his head at the ceiling and his feet to the floor. Bluford, wearing sleep mask (blindfold), is oriented with the top of his head at the floor and his feet on the ceiling. Source: NASA (public domain)

Nature News » Biology and ideology: The anatomy of politics

Do your genes or your physiological state affect the way you vote? Or is your environment and upbringing the deciding factor? Studies of the political and ideological leanings of twins suggest that there is at least some biological component to our politics. Whether that is more important than the influence of family, education and the way information is provided to us is still up in the air.

But I find the results of one study particularly interesting: people who have high levels of the stress hormone cortisol are less likely to vote at all. It makes me wonder if people who are under a lot of stress due to poverty, or because they live in an area affected by a natural disaster, or because their beliefs or lifestyle are different enough from their neighbors that they feel ostracized are indeed less likely to vote. That seems like it could significantly affect election results.

Read the linked articles for more details. 

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