Friday, December 12, 2008

Lucid Quality

I had my first lucid dream the other night, or at least, the first that I remembered anyway. It was rather banal: I dreamed that I’d gotten up and eaten breakfast, realized that I was asleep, and then returned to my dream where I was attending a musical at the Smithsonian or something. When you describe a dream to others, it never sounds as profound as it was in the moment. It’s all about how it registers to the dreamer. At least, the dream seemed to mean something to me…at the time. Sometimes a good deep sleep feels so damn good that I wonder whether sleep is the purpose of life.

It’s become a hippie cliché to go around saying things like, “How do you know that reality isn’t just a dream…man?” This line of thought was started by Descartes (“it’s possible…that all those images, and in general all that relates to the nature of body, are merely dreams or chimeras.”), who went on to create objective realities as widely applicable, exacting, and sobering as the Cartesian coordinate system. Suffice it to say, I tend to think of myself as more in touch with reality than with pseudo-intellectual dead-end ideas. But just the notion of a lucid dream – where you realize in your sleep that you're dreaming, but you keep dreaming – it does make you think, doesn’t it?

This quote has been on my mind for a few months now, it’s from an interview with the Flaming Lips:
We like to sleep. Who doesn’t? I hate it when we run into these people who are like “I hate TV, and I hate sleeping, and I hate these things” because they want to show you how serious and how hard they work all the time. But I don’t trust them. I don’t. People who don’t like to sleep - I don’t trust that they value anything. (i-tunes Original)

To some degree I’m sure we’ve all taken up that mentality at least at one point in our lives: If I could just cut back on my sleep I could accomplish so much more in life. I remember thinking that way at some times in college.

Nowadays it strikes me as ass-backwards. Maybe you have to go through a prolonged period of receiving good sleep to realize that. Or maybe you have to go through a period of getting terrible sleep. But the notion that spending time to sleep is somehow holding you back – even if you’re a busybody – seems paradigmatic of so many logical fallacies in life. On the one hand, you can see exactly why some people would think that way, and on the other hand, it's easy to tell why it's so incorrect. This is why I've recently starting thinking that deep sleep is an end in life, rather than a means toward an end.

Treating sleep as your enemy gets at a very basic error in human life: Confusing quantity for quality. It’s tough because quantity and quality often overlap, each affecting the other. But too often the focus is on quantity, if only because it’s easier for the mind to grasp.

Consider two completely different areas where quantity is severely mistaken for quality:

Obesity and dieting. How often have you heard that if you consume more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight? This maybe true in the most technical sense, but in everyday life, the body lives on more than just calories alone. The logical implication from this overemphasis on calories is that you could go on a sugar-only diet, and if you ate nothing else, and limited your intake of sugar, you’d lose weight. But it’s just not that simple. The body demands a variety of nutrients. And under various idiosyncratic conditions, the body requires more or less amounts of food. One of these conditions, interestingly enough, is sleep: It’s thought that insufficient sleep increases appetite, likely blunting satiety. Not to mention other things that affect calories required, such as menstrual periods, stress, age, muscles, the common cold, and the weather. Just focusing on calories in and calories out is a gross oversimplification, a paradigm that loses more than it contributes.

Government-created jobs and inflation. Anyone reading this blog with any regularity knew this was coming, but it’s the exact same thing: Creating new jobs to stimulate the economy, without thought of the necessity for these jobs, is once again a focus on quantity over quality. Captain Capitalism's blog has a great post about how a job is valuable to begin with because of the necessity that exists in getting it done. The Captain goes further to point out that artificially creating jobs is just like inflation. In the real world, jobs and money are valuable because of their quality, not their quantity. Diminishing quantities of jobs are usually due to their diminishing qualities (e.g., demand), not the other way around.

These are just 2 areas, but they highlight the importance of well thought-out long-term solutions over quick-fixes. Indeed, in the short-term, you can lose weight pretty well by eating less calories, and you can improve the economy by creating jobs and money out of thin air. But these fail in the long-term: When you eat less, your metabolism decreases so that your body holds onto its fat. And when an economy has an unnecessary amount of jobs and paper money, more of it becomes useless. As these examples demonstrate, there are real world implications of mistaking quantity for quality, and often the end-result is the exact opposite of that desired. Indeed, these are the sort of short-term solutions that people come up with when they’re short on sleep.

It's never just about the bottom line. Never. We're born and we die. Just looking at the bottom line, net result: zero. It's always a question of what occurs in between the input and the output. A human body takes in calories and it expends them, just as a corporation takes in money and it spends money. Somewhere in the middle is a creation of quality.


Media (in order of appearance)

Photo: (1) krakow: dream of mirrors, 01/28/2008, by smiff; (2) Dream on, dream on., 07/27/2007, by Porcelaingirl; (3) Organic tea nutrition fact sheet, 12/29/2005, by Bruno Girin; (4) Steel Worker Houston Texas 1, 04/03/2006, by billajacobus1; (5) le morning dream, 11/19/2008, by boris.

Video: (1) Music video from xxJustChloex, of the song
Vein of Stars, by The Flaming Lips, from the album At War with the Mystics, released in 2006. Sphere: Related Content

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