|08-27-2007, 07:55 PM||#1|
Join Date: Apr 2001
Get In Tune With Chronobiology
Get In Tune With Chronobiology: Part One
Like most science, Biology is still struggling to free itself of the dark ages. We live our lives in a continuum, yet most biology textbooks are still content to take a single snapshot of a human being and pretend that they’re actually discussing reality when they break that snapshot into component parts and study them. Humans are not objects, though—we’re ongoing processes, moving around on a planet that’s teeming with organic life and orbiting around an unthinkably huge star.
For this precise reason, I’ve been getting heavy into “Chronobiology” lately—it’s currently considered a sub-discipline but in the decades to come I believe it will take it’s place as the most accurate and useful approach to biology that we have. There has been a lot of secular back-slapping in recent years about how totally great and amazing science is, compared to relgion—an endless stream of atheist-pundits pointing out that unlike the rigid dogmas of Faith, sceince is constantly revising itself and changing. And yeah—when you compare scientific progress to something that doesn’t progress at all...things look pretty good. However, the sad fact is the wheels of science turn slower than the average lifespan of a human being.
Because of this, the notion that human organisms exist in time and are subject to cyclical changes is still considered a novelty, instead of the only sane approach. So here’s your chance to get a few decades ahead of the game—your introduction to Chronobiology. It’s going to take us from the outer limits of the galaxy to the smallest particles in your body, and if you don’t think the ride was informative, fascinating and downright badass, you’ll get a full refund.
Biorhythms vs. Chronobiology
grumpyface skepticsAlthough the simple fact blows my mind out against a concrete wall, the concept of biorhythms has a lot of skeptics. Biorhythms—the notion that living organisms function on regular cycles, right? You’d think any human being on Earth who was aware of the “menstruation” phenomenon would know better, but LO AND BEHOLD, the Skeptic’s Dictionary steps up to the plate:
The theory of biorhythms is a pseudoscientific theory that claims our daily lives are significantly affected by rhythmic cycles overlooked by scientists who study biological rhythms. Biochronometry is the scientific study of rhythmicity and biological cycles or “clocks,” such as the circadian (from the Latin circa and dia; literally, “about a day"). Circadian rhythms are based upon such things as our sensitivity to light and darkness, which is related to our sleep/wakefulness patterns. Biorhythms is not based upon the scientific study of biological organisms. The cycles of biorhythm theory did not originate in scientific study, nor have they been supported by anything resembling a scientific study.
So what’s going on here?
What happened is this: back in 1897, Wilhelm Fleiss claimed that human beings have three cycles that dictate their entire lives:
1) A 23-day cycle affecting “physical strength, edurance, energy and confidence”
2) A 28-day cycle affecting “feelings, love, and irritability”
3) A 33-day “intellectual cycle”
Wilhelm Fleiss Biorhythms As if this wasn’t enough, Fleiss further claimed that all of these cycles begin on your date of birth and continue unchanged for the rest of your life. As you no doubt already remarked to yourself, this can be politely termed as “bull****.” The notion that an organism’s internal rhythms are not affected by the surrounding environment defies my favorite law of physics—Entrainment, which we will return to momentarily.
So the problem is, Fleiss proposed his system way back in 1897 and more or less got “dibs” on the term “biorhythms.” Like every other theory of the past two centuries that has no support in reality, it’s still alive and well today and there’s a small industry of people who are happy to sell you “biorhythm meters.” In fact, there’s even programs for your computer that will track your biological rhythms with no feedback from your body whatsoever. You just plug in your birthday and the program figures it all out from there.
Because of this, the the actual science has been going on under the moniker of “Chronobiology” for decades now.
Entrainment & Chronobiology
Entrainment, as I am fond of remarking, is the weird uncle of the physics family. Although it’s a fairly well-known concept, it has very disturbing implications for human beings and for human cultures. The two most classic examples of Entrainment are Christiaan Huygen’s original experiment with clocks, and women who live together gradually synchronizing their menstrual cycles. Any reader with a reasonable sense of awareness has already noticed that, in conversation, humans tend to “mirror” one another’s posture and gestures. More exacting experiments have determined that we also synchronize our language patterns and even our breathing and pulse rates when we interact with other humans.
Another key difference between “Biorhythms” and Chronobiology is that biorhythms are constant, perfect cycles, whereas Chronobiology recognizes that human beings are chaotic and irregular systems. The human “biological clock” can wander quite a bit, but it’s also being pulled back into sync by much larger forces—such as the Earth itself, the moon, and of course the cycles of light and darkness. There’s going to be a couple supercool graphs and illustrations in this article, but my personal favorite is this next one. You can actually watch newborn infants gradually entrain to the cycles of their Home Planet Earth during the first 26 weeks of their life—order from chaos:
Newborn Human Entrainment Circadian Rhythm
I probably don’t have to point this out, but this graph alone completely refutes the Wilhelm Fliess theory. Of course, Fleiss died long before this information was known—the real jackasses are the people who still try to make money off his work today, when this information is just a few clicks away.
The “Garden Clock” of Carolus Linnaeus
Carolus LinnaeusAside from using economic measures and chemical additives in the food supply to control entire nations and keep them too stressed out and worn down to network and revolt against their Technofascist controllers, the coolest application of all this is the “Garden Clock.” The following summary and picture are both from an educational lesson plan from the Science Museum of Virgina:
In 1751, a Swedish botanist/naturalist named Carolus Linnaeus designed a flower garden clock using certain diurnal flowers. By arranging selected species of flowering plants in a circular garden, he was able to devise a clock that indicated the time of day by observing which flowers were open and which ones were closed. The diagram below is inspired by the clock that Linnaus designed. The flowers in the diagram, however, are more commonly found in the United States.
Carolus Linnaeus Garden Clock
The Superhuman Balls of Maurizio Montalbini
Maurizio Montalbini in the caveBack when Brainsturbator was just getting started—and man, I had no idea how big and weird things would get—we did an article about Maurizio Montalbini, who moved into a cave on October 11th, 2006. He brought food pills, honey, nuts, chocolate and 85 books. He’s still there, and he’s going to be there until 2009. Montalbini is sacrificing his time, and perhaps his sanity, to further reasearch in Chronobiology. Strange things happen when humans are cut off from the light/dark feedback cycle, but none stranger than how radically it affects our perception of time:
“When I remained 366 days underground, I had the impression of only spending 219 days,” he said. “This is the last experiment I’m going to do, I’m getting too old for this,” Mr Montalbini added.
He’s already 54, and this experiment is a radically pioneering effort in dangerous territory:
When another Italian hermit, a 27-year-old interior decorator, Stefania Follini, lived by herself in a sealed cave for 130 days in 1989, she tended to stay awake for 20-25 hours at a time and sleep for about 10 hours. Her menstrual cycle stopped.
Similar experiments elsewhere have led to psychological complications and, in one extreme case, a suicide.
--from The Guardian UK
As you can see, this is a large vista—how much are our internal processes regulated by the sun and moon? We will be exploring the cellular mechanisms behind circadian rhythms in the next installment of this series. Meanwhile, I’m going to close this with a large dose of brainfood...
One Picture, Several Thousand Words
Futher Reading for Curious Primates
Cross-spectrally coherent ~10.5- and 21-year biological and physical cycles, magnetic storms and myocardial infarctions. A dense but fascinating subject, exploring what the fundamental “pulse” of life on Earth is. This paper is also the source of the image above.
The Brain, Circadian Rhytms, and Clock Genes—a very accessable and complete summation of current knowledge. At only 5 readable, info-packed pages, this is one of the more perfect white papers I’ve found in recent months.
In Search of a Deep Psychobiology of Hypnosis—applying circadian rhythms to the discipline of hypnosis—quite an fascinating overview of both topics is provided over the course of this paper.
The Journal of Circadian Rhythms—chock full of interesting papers and information.
Sleep Management for Canadian Pilots—an excellent and straightforward article on how all of this applies to human beings at work. Even if you’re not a Canadian pilot, this is still an illuminating read.
CONTINUE TO PART TWO
|08-27-2007, 08:30 PM||#2|
Join Date: Apr 2001
Get In Tune With Chronobiology: Part Two
Get In Tune With Chronobiology: Part Two
Did you know that you have a 70% higher chance of having a heart attack between the hours of 7 and 9 am? That’s averaged out over the full year, but if you look from a larger level of scale you’ll find that winter months are also especially high risk. The more I dig into Chronobiology, the tenor of my investigation has changed from simple wonderment (after all, this stuff is pretty damn cool) to more sinister speculations. Among them is the suspicion that “Daylight Savings Time” causes epidemic levels of depression, as well as a sharp increase in accidents, both on the job and on the road.
Even thought the “facts” bear my theory out more or less completely, I just mention it in passing. We still have a lot of ground to cover, laying out the basic mechanisms and principles behind Chronobiology. The closer I look, the more important this material seems—whether that’s a trick of perspective or a valid point is strictly up to you.
One of the major reasons I did the “Fractal Toolkit” was to provide a foundation for the next few months of Brainsturbator material. Fractals, after all, are more than cool posters for math nerds and acid heads: they provide the most accurate mathematical tool for modeling the reality that we live in. I have been assured by people older and wiser than myself that this will take about a century to sink in, but I’m willing to keep evangelizing until that happens.
I bring up fractals here at the outset because of a quote that leaped out at me this morning over breakfast, from the uber-textbook “Chaos and Fractals”:
D'Arcy Thompson, Growth and Form The view that growth and form are interrelated actually has a long tradition in biology. In his monumental work On Growth and Form, D’Arcy Thompson traces its origins back to the late seventeenth century and comments:
“The rate of growth deserves to be studies as a necessary preliminary to the theoretical study of form, and organic form itself is found, mathematically speaking, to be a function of time. We might call the organism an even in space time, and not merely a configuration in space.”
Any serious contemplation of the rate of growth leads the brain to some curious landscapes. Is there a fundamental cycle to all life, or is it more of a symphony—perhaps a cacophony of millions of different overlapping and occasionally intersecting cycles? This puzzle is part of what led Terence McKenna to propose the existence of the “Chronon”—the fundamental unit of time, the smallest possible snapshot of “things, changing.”
Of course, perhaps that’s wishful thinking in a universe without a fundamental unit of matter or even a sense of the boundaries we exist within—assuming such boundaries exist. Either way, we will be exploring the “Chronon” concept in great depth in future articles.
Growth, Life, Time
Solar System orbits
In this chapter, the idea is given that all limitation and evil is an exceedingly rare accident; there can be no night in the whole of the Solar System, except in rare spots, where the shadow of a planet is cast by itself.
It is a serious misfortune that we happen to live in a tiny corner of the system, where the darkness reaches such a high figure as 50 per cent.
--Aleister Crowley, The Book of Lies, Commentary on Chapter 37
Crowley looking curiousSo, what’s the magic trick? It’s a huge system—about 93 million miles from start to finish. Although all organisms have internal circadian clocks, what keeps them running in sync is the orbit of the Earth around the star we call Sol. Seasonal changes in the ratio between light and darkness lead to hormonal changes in our bloodstream and in our cells. The core pulse that all life on Earth is entrained to is the movement of the Earth itself—which on one hand is amazing, and on the other hand is pretty obvious.
As we established in the last installment of this series, newborn humans take 2-3 months to entrain themselves to the planetary cycle. Through the brave (and perhaps insane) research of scientists like Maurizio Montalbini, we also know that humans—of any age—who remove themselves from the light/dark planetary cycle will find their internal clocks diverging considerably from the rest of the Earth. In fact, generally within 15 days of isolation a human sleep cycle will be “off” by over 8 hours.
This has led some folks to suggest that humans aren’t native to Earth, and that’s definitely a tantalizing thought.
Yin Yang Earth CyclesMeditating on the solar framework behind Chronobiology, and contemplating the Crowley quote above, I’m struck by a thought that I might not be able to fully explain. The daytime is awash with light and everything around us becomes clear—I tended to assume that the dawn was a Great Revealing. Likewise, night cloaks the landscape in darkness—unknown sounds become ominous, and the world around us becomes hidden. However, the night sky allows us to actually see the cosmos surrounding us, which provides a much more clear and authentic view of where we are in the Universe. Likewise, although we can read books in the backyard and see for miles during the day, the sunlight washing through our atmosphere is also hiding that same view of the cosmos behind a wall of blue sky. Perhaps this is only a revelation to me, but I can’t help feeling that I understand the Taoist symbol of Yin and Yang a little better now.
How Your Brain Tells Time
Lab Hamster ScienceLike so many great advances in science, most of what we know about the neurology of time, we learned by mutilating animals. For some reason, hamsters have borne the brunt of our research in Chronobiology, and I would like to offer a moment of silence for their totally oblivious sacrifice.
Even after the past decade’s explosion of neuroscience research, neurology remains a territory defined by What We Don’t Know. However, based on What We Think We Know, the most likely candidate for “circadian pacemaker” is a small lump of tissue called the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus. (All the literature I’ve read abbreviates that rather mouthy moniker to a mere “SCN”.) In an adult hamster, the SCN is less than 10,000 individual neurons, but some of the strongest evidence linking it to time keeping is this: when you surgically remove it from a hamster, circadian rhythms disappear almost completely.
Almost completely: there are repeated instances in multiple studies where “meal anticipation” and “body temperature” rhythms still persist even after the SCN has been chopped out. Is that because other areas of the brain govern those rhythms? Or perhaps because, being a robust adaptive network, the brain simply puts some other lump of neurons in charge? Although I didn’t see it mentioned in the reports, I also wonder if sloppy surgery technique would account for these results—maybe there was enough SCN left behind to continue running the show.
The other major factor in favor of the SCN is its location: right in the hypothalamus, generally considered the “Command Center” of the mammalian brain. The SCN also recieves nerve signals directly from the retinas, providing a clear explanation of how mammals entrain their internal cycles to the Earth as a whole.
In case anyone reading this is disturbed by the prospect of hamsters living out the rest of their lives without any circadian rhythms, you’d be relieved to know that many of these experiments had a Second Act. As it turns out, you can implant fetal hamster brain tissue with SCN cells back into another hamster, and they will successfully graft to their brain and restore circadian rhythms completely. Of course, that’s only a happy ending if you don’t know that lab animals are disposed of with industrial-grade blenders as a matter of policy when experiments are finished. SORRY TO GIVE THE ENDING AWAY.
Polytron Mouse Blender Lab Animal Disposal
How Your Cells Tell Time
LET’S ZOOM IN A LITTLE FURTHER, SHALL WE? Are you really satisfied with the SCN explanation? Sure, the SCN is the part of the brain that generates our circadian rhythms....but how?
Fruit Fly Drosophila
This question brings us to another, much less cute, perpetual victim of lab science: the fruit fly. Drosophila has been central to the history of genetics, because they’re easy to obtain, easy to control, and they’ve got a relatively simple genome to play with. Another bonus is their exceptionally short lifespan—you can go through generations of Drosophila in a single month. I have no idea why I’m compelled to share this with you, but fruit flies also hold the world record for having the longest sperm of any creature on Earth, hundreds of times larger than us humans.
expression cycle of per and time genesScientists have isolated two individual genes that are responsible for the fruit fly’s biological clock—genes that also exist in most other complex organisms, so they’re currently thought to be the foundation of circadian rhythms on the cellular level. Of course, life on the cellular level is a whole different ecosystem, one I have very little understanding of. The most basic explanation would be the metaphor of epoxy—a mixture of two ingredients that catalyzes a chemical reaction which produces a very durable compound. In the case of expoxy, you wind up with the Best Glue in the Universe. In the case of circadian genetics, you wind up with compounds that take almost exactly 24 hours to metabolize and break down.
The key combination here is “per” and “tim” genes—“per” for “period”, “tim” for “timeless.” As the BMJ article “The Brain, Circadian Rhythms and Clock Genes” says:
...the human and mouse equivalents of the drosophila per gene have now been identified, and the studies showing the presence of mammalian time are likely to be published in the next few months. The parallels between the fly and mammalian forms of the genes show that evolution has conserved not only the property of circadian timing but also its molecular basis, indicating how deeply the clock is entrenched in our genetic makeup.
If you want to really get into that report—it’s only 5 pages and I already linked to it last article—you’ll see that there’s actually even more detail: recent research has uncovered evidence that the 24 hour cycle is actually composed of 2 even smaller 12 hour cycles at a molecular level of scale. I will, for once, recognize that I am completely out of my depth and any futher attempts at explaining the interactions of genes, proteins, and molecules would be pure hubris.
This is your skull on X-RaysThe next installment—which hopefully won’t take as long as this one did—will focus on the role of sleep. Sleep itself is a lot like time—we all know what it is, but nobody seems to know **** all about it. This may or may not raise the question of “how can we possibly know what something is if we don’t know anything about it?” Of course, that’s a meta-question, and not everybody is into that stuff.
Then again, if you’ve read this far, you’re clearly One Of Us, so I promise you, soon: The Science of Sleep.
While neither the function of sleep nor how it is regulated are completely understood, it is clear that sleep is a basic requirement that cannot be denied for very long.
Further Reading for Curious Primates
As always, I’ve found some new resources and websites that would be excessively interesting to anyone seriously exploring this material.
The usually-excellent Science Blogs has “A Blog Around the Clock”—entirely devoted to news about Chronobiology, although the dude running it would appear to have a harder time staying on topic than I do over at Hump Jones.
Princeton Report on Circadian Rhythms—the most comprehensive and current document I’ve found. This article would have been impossible without the overview this document provided, and if you’re looking for something to really sink your teeth into, this is the goods.
I also recently purchased Rhythms of Life, by Russell Foster and Leon Kreitzman. I haven’t started it yet, but she came highly recommended by several people I contacted for this series. I nearly had a lapse of sanity and ordered the 2003 textbook on the subject, Chronobiology: Biological Timekeeping, but at $80, but that’s a tad more than I’m able to invest these days.
|09-05-2007, 05:09 PM||#3|
Join Date: Apr 2001
http://www.brainsturbator.com/site/c..._universe/More Chronon Theory: Jacques Vallee’s “Associative Universe”
In the last installment, a meditation on the concept of the “Chronon” and the total failure of human beings to understand and define time, I threw a ton of brainfood together and overstuffed the turkey. Despite that, I still left out a lot of material, and I’m going to cover most if it in this “sequel,” epecially the work Jacques Vallee. Vallee is one of my favorite authors because he precisely conveys meaningful content. When I do that, it’s generally by accident. You can decide if this article is worth reading in five sentences:
Time and space may be convenient notions for plotting the progress of a locomotive, but they are completely useless for locating information. What modern computer scientists have now recognized is that ordering by time and space is the worst possible way to store data. In a large computer-based information system, no attempt is made to place related records in sequential physical locations. If there is no time dimension as we usually assume there is, we may be traversing events by association. If we live in the associative universe of the software scientist rather than the sequential universe of the space-time physicist, then miracles are no longer irrational events.
|04-18-2008, 01:58 PM||#4|
Join Date: Apr 2001
Evolution: 24 myths and misconceptions