Saturday, August 20, 2016

Operation Sandman: Night 4: “Death, so called, is a thing which makes men weep, And yet a third of life is passed in sleep.”

The purple thing on his head
is a pad I use to rest my arms on
when I'm typing. The blur in front of his face
is his tappers.
I was looking at an article that talked about the evolutionary basis for sleep and came across something that struck me as silly; people think scientists can't be dumb, but they can, and this is an example:

At first glance it would seem that sleep is a bad idea. In most environments animals face the prospect of being consumed by other creatures if not constantly alert to the danger around them. Being unconscious for long periods of time would not seem to offer a selective advantage. And yet most animals seem to sleep in some form. It may be that sleep offers the benefit of conserving energy while focusing on repair of the body, in order to allow an animal to utilize maximum energy while awake for survival purposes. In addition, predator and prey animals generally develop a symbiotic relationship. This is necessary because a predator that developed the ability to hunt 24 hours a day would rapidly deplete all the prey that serve as food. Not only would the prey animal be driven to extinction but so would the predator. Sleep helps even things out.

That is silly for a number of reasons. First, I am not sure that saying "an evolutionary basis for sleep" is even a reasonable thing to say. I mean, I say it, but I'm a lawyer, not a scientist. To suggest that we evolved an ability to sleep is to suggest that at some point we didn't sleep.

Secondly, predators don't hunt every second that they are awake. A predator who didn't have to sleep wouldn't necessarily hunt any more than a predator that sleeps 8 hours a night.

Thirdly, if "sleep helps even things out" that suggests that predators developed -- evolved -- sleep as a method of not extincting themselves by hunting out an area, or prey in general. That seems like the longest possible way to get where you want to go. Say some animal -- sabre-toothed tigers, maybe -- got the ability to never sleep, and began hunting nonstop, cleaning out its hunting area. That animal wouldn't just lay there and die, it would begin to roam farther for more food. This is what deer, for example, do: when their habitat gets all humaned up, they simply range farther and farther (and more into human territory, too.) So evolution might favor an animal not sleeping. But if the goal is to not have to constantly roam into other animals' territories, then evolving to essentially drop dead for 8 hours a day seems much, much harder than evolving to, say, stop hunting when you don't need food.

And, fourthly, "sleep helps even things out" suggests that the prey was already sleeping -- because the predators are 'evened out' by sleeping. So this guy imagined a world where prey have evolved to sleep, despite the obvious disadvantage that puts an animal at in a world where predators do not yet sleep, and then predators, in an effort to deliberately limit their intake of prey, evolve a similar ability. It's an evolutionary version of that one Xmas Eve in World War I where they all played soccer.

Evolution can't explain everything. No one scientific concept can explain everything. That's why people's hunts for a 'cause' for autism -- or insomnia, for that matter -- is so difficult. When a human condition can take so many different forms, it almost certainly isn't purely genetic. Consider height: people have a wide variety of height, and build. Some tall people are very skinny; others are broad. Some people have the capacity to reach six feet, maybe seven feet -- but because of their nutrition, for example, they may only reach 5'6". I am the tallest person in my entire extended family, a good two inches taller than every relative I have.

Autism may be like height: there may be a capacity, in every person, to have the particular combination of neurological, physiological, and psychological traits that make a person autistic. Sensory sensitivity, for example, may be worse in some people than others: the boys only like to wear certain kinds of clothing and are partial to certain kinds of blankets. I myself have come across clothing, as an adult, that I can't stand to wear -- it makes my skin crawl. So we are all three of us sensitive, but I may be better at tuning it out.

We were talking today about why Mr F doesn't sleep, and how he got like this. Mr F, I have lately been saying, escalates. Both boys do, to an extent, but Mr F has a worse problem with it. Here's an example: Starting early last school year, in the third grade, when he came home, Mr F would get off the bus and on his way up the stairs to the porch would stop and pull a bit of bark off a tree.  We didn't think much of it. After a few days, he stopped and pulled bark off two trees. Then one day he also stopped and grabbed a handful of dirt from the edge of the porch and flung it.

Soon, on his way inside, he was stopping at three trees to try to pull bark off, throwing a handful of dirt, taking both our mats off our porch, and taking the sign that says "The Pagels" off the wall and tossing it into the plants. These things crept up, and by the time they became problematic, we were trying to stop him. On many days, if I was working from home, I would take a break and go help Sweetie, sometimes physically carrying Mr F past all these things. Sweetie would try taking him in through the garage, or holding his hands all the way up the walk.

He still sometimes tries to do that, even though it's August and we don't really use the front walk in the summer.

So two years ago, Mr F got upset that we were gone for a night on our anniversary, and after that he wanted someone to sit in the room with him while he fell asleep. Over the past two years, he's slowly moved from that to wanting someone in there all night long with him, even after he falls asleep.

We don't know why he escalates, any more than we know why he taps forks to calm himself down or only eats a certain kind of cheese puff.

A predator almost certainly wouldn't spend all its time hunting, even if it didn't have to sleep, ever. Animals don't hunt for sport and don't waste food. A predator that suddenly found itself unable to, or not needing to, sleep, might use some of the extra time to get more food and grow stronger.

Predators, animals in general, don't seem to live the kind of complex lives we do. Even a 9-year-old boy, living in a quiet house in a suburb in Wisconsin, has a life that is mind-bogglingly complex. Today, we went to a library one town over, a new library where Mr F had never been. He enjoyed it at first, but grew restless after we'd been there a while. We took him swimming at the indoor pool he likes, where the pool was more crowded than usual and, at one point, when he saw a pool toy he liked I had to stop him from using it because it belonged to a little girl playing nearby. His mom left for an hour to go to her exercise class this morning; his dad left for a half-hour to go walking at night. At 5:20, he wanted to play tickling, but 5:20 was dinnertime and the rule is that we don't play during dinnertime. He doesn't eat dinner with us, and doesn't like the food we eat. When he was told he couldn't play tickle he tapped the picture for "Mom's Room" to go hang out there; he likes to climb under the blankets and lay very still, giggling. He was told he had to wait 10 minutes.

Who knows what he makes of all that? Sometimes, if I have a lot on my mind, I can't get to sleep. I lie awake and think about cases, or worry about money or the car or my sons. Sometimes I can't get my mind to shut off. Once, in law school, I spent an entire night sitting up watching movies because I couldn't even get sleepy. We think kids' worlds can't be complicated or confusing, but even if you're not autistic, there's a lot of stuff in the world to figure out.

But it's 9:13 p.m. and he's been in bed now for nearly twenty minutes. I've been sitting in the hall the whole time. When he came up to bed, he looked a little sad as I tucked him in and said I would be out in the hall. I left his door open, but he can't see me from his bed. He hasn't made a sound at all.

1 comment:

Andrew Leon said...

Sometimes, scientists are too smart for their own good and try to come up with reasons for things don't have "reasons;" some things just are. Or they make things more complicated than they are.

So did he stay asleep?
Inquiring minds want to know!