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Sunrise, Sunset–Circadian Rhythms and a Nobel Prize

“(Men)
Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly flow the days
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers
Blossoming even as we gaze

(Women)
Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears”
“Sunrise, Sunset”, Fiddler on the Roof.

A well-deserved Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology was awarded today (October 3rd, 2017) to Jeffrey Hall, Michael Roshbash and Michael Young for their research on how our biological clock works—how we know to go to sleep and to rise with a new day.

Their research was conducted on fruit flies—easily accessible, but with enough common to all animal life that generalizations could be made. (I recall my undergraduate days at Caltech in the genetics lab, retrieving etherized fruit-flies to determine their dominant and recessive characteristics.) They found that there was a gene present that encoded a protein, a protein that accumulates during sleep and degrades during the day, thus acting as a clock to establish the “circadian rhythm” for all animal life on this planet.

Rather than giving a detailed account of their research (see the press release announcing the award) I would like to use this as a springboard to comment on God’s Providence and evolution. One of the anthropic coincidences, the unlikely events that enable carbon based life to exist, is the rotation of the earth, the alternation of night and day that enables climate, a life supporting temperature to be present. And to accommodate to that, there is a cycle for life.

Could life exist and not follow that cycle? There’s a wonderful science fiction trilogy by Nancy Kress, Beggars in Spain, about genetically modified humans who don’t need to sleep and become supermen. But is that possible? Isn’t sleep, “that knits up the raveled sleave of care”, a gift from God? I’ve wondered, do angels sleep, will we sleep in heaven, or will the fact of time be swept away by eternity, so that sleep and circadian rhythms become irrelevant?

Well, I hope I will  find the answer to that question in heaven.

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Bob Kurland, Ph.D.

Retired, cranky, old physicist. Convert to Catholicism in 1995. Trying to show that there is no contradiction between what science tells us about the world and our Catholic faith. Intermittent blogs and adult education classes to achieve this end (see http://rationalcatholic.blogspot.com/ and http://home.ptd.net/~rkurland). Extraordinary Minister of Communion, volunteer to federal prison and hospital; lector, EOMC.
Sometime player of bass clarinet, alto clarinet, clarinet, bass, tenor bowed psaltery for parish instrumental group and local folk group.

6 Comments

  1. “You are always dragging me down,’ said I to my Body. ‘Dragging you down!’ replied my Body. ‘Well I like that! Who taught me to like tobacco and alcohol? You, of course, with your idiotic adolescent idea of being “grown up”. My palate loathed both at first: but you would have your way. Who put an end to all those angry and revengeful thoughts last night? Me, of course, by insisting on going to sleep. Who does his best to keep you from talking too much and eating too much by giving you dry throats and headaches and indigestion? Eh?’ ‘And what about sex?’ said I. ‘Yes, what about it?’ retorted the Body. ‘If you and your wretched imagination would leave me alone I’d give you no trouble. That’s Soul all over; you give me orders and then blame me for carrying them out.” -CS Lewis

    Sleep might be a mercy from our Lord to limit the evil that we may do. Once freed from evil, we might be ever awake such that good works never cease.

  2. QUAERITUR: “I’ve wondered, do angels sleep, will we sleep in heaven, or will the fact of time be swept away by eternity, so that sleep and circadian rhythms become irrelevant?”

    RESPONSUM: God (and the angels) being outside of space and time are not subject to the Laws of Physics which exist in the created universe. There is no time (the fourth dimension) where God (and I assume the angels also) exist. Therefore, “…sleep and circadian rhythms become irrelevant.”

    QUAERITUR: “Could life exist and not follow that cycle?”

    RESPONSUM: Since God (and the angels) being outside of our four dimensional universe are alive, then the answer is yes.

    NOTA BENE: St. Paul writes in 1st Corinthians 15 the following which indicates that the bodies we will have after the resurrection of the dead will not be like the bodies we currently do have before the resurrection; from this I assume that our present Laws of Physics, Chemistry and Biology would not apply – no need for sleep and no circadian rhythms:

    42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

    If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.

    50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.

  3. The Gunpowder committee are the same geniuses who awarded a piece of metal to the metrosexual dunce for being “black” and not George Bush. Circadian rhythms have been documented and well understood in Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. Because some nerds chop up fruit flies to “find the answer” they are given lots of money and an international prize. These same foreign twits gave an award to Algore for a short-lived lie that was popular among the ill-educated.

  4. Dan A, I am 99% sure that the committees that judge for the science awards are not the same as those who make the decision for the Peace Prize. And I strongly disagree with your assessment of the relative worth of Chinese folk medicine and genetics. The genetics research gave us an understanding of how the circadian rhythm works. Whatever Chinese folk medicine did, it did not yield an understanding of mechanism.

  5. I will add to what Dr. Kurland wrote that Ayurveda pseudo-medicine is based on pagan Hindu practices. See the following and note the Pentagram on the right margin part way down the page.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayurveda

    Additionally, Chinese holistic “medicine” is similarly based, having been highly influenced by pagan Buddhism.

    Now that said, I am sure there are some Ayurveda and Chinese remedies that work, but the discovery of those remedies was purely happenstance and not based on the scientific method which Jeffrey Hall, Michael Roshbash and Michael Young used in their study of how our biological clock works.

    And yes, Nobel Prizes in Science are very different than Nobel Prizes in “Peace.” That said, Al Gore does merit some kind of award for being able to dupe so many millions people into accepting anthropogenic global warming while he jets around the world, spewing forth that dreaded greenhouse gas CO2 whithersoever he goes. 😉

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