A doctor needed to look at my brainwaves (and a bunch of other MSLs, also known as “medical squiggly lines”), as recorded during a sleep study, so of course I asked him if I could see them myself. Who wouldn’t want to see their own brainwaves?
When I am asked for my height, anywhere — especially at school — I answer the question honestly. I am 1.80 meters tall.
I also live in the USA, one of only three remaining countries (the other two holdouts are Liberia and Myanmar) which have stubbornly refused to adopt the metric system. However, I am every bit as stubborn as other Americans, but, on this issue, I choose to be stubborn in the opposite direction.
It should surprise no one who knows me well that my classroom, whether I am teaching science or mathematics, is, by design, an all-metric zone. After all, like >99% of people, I have ten fingers (assuming thumbs are counted as fingers), ten toes, and almost always use the familiar base-ten number system when counting, measuring, doing arithmetic, or doing actual mathematics. (Doing arithmetic is not the same thing as doing real mathematics, any more than spelling is equivalent to writing.) Using the metric system is consistent with these facts, and using other units is not.
Admittedly, I do sometimes carry this to an extreme, but I do so to make a point. Metric units are simply better than non-metric units. Why should anyone need to memorize the fact that there are 5,280 feet in one mile? It actually embarrasses me that I have that particular conversion-factor memorized. By “extreme,” I mean that I have been known to paint the non-metric side of meter sticks black, simply to make it impossible for students in my classes to confuse inches and centimeters, and prevent them from measuring anything with the incorrect units.
To those who object that American students need to understand non-metric units, I simply point out that there are plenty of other teachers who take care of that. This is, after all, the truth.
Often, after giving my height as 1.80 meters, I am asked to give it in other units. Unless the person asking is a police officer (in, say, a traffic-stop situation), however, I simply refuse to answer with non-metric units. What do I say, instead? “I’m also 180 centimeters tall. Would you like to know my height in kilometers?”
If pressed on this subject in class — and it comes up, because we do lab exercises where the height of people must be measured — I will go exactly this far: I am willing to tell a curious student that there are 2.54 centimeters in an inch, 12 inches in a foot, and 3.28 feet in a meter. Also, I’m willing to loan calculators to students. Beyond that, if a student of mine really wants to know my height in non-metric units, he or she simply has to solve the problem for themselves — something which has not yet happened. I do not wish to tell anyone my height in feet and inches, for I do not enjoy headaches, and uttering my height, in those units I despise, would certainly give me one. Also, obviously, you won’t find my height, expressed in non-metric units, on my blog, unless someone else leaves it here, in a comment — and I am definitely not asking anyone to do that.
I might, just for fun, at some point, determine my height in cubits. For all I know, a person’s height, measured with their own cubits, might be a near-constant. That would be an interesting thing to investigate, and my students, now that I’ve thought about the question, might find themselves investigating this very issue, next week. The variability of cubits, from one person to another, makes them at least somewhat interesting. It also makes cubits almost completely useless, which explains why they haven’t been used since biblical times, but that’s not the point. One can still learn things while investigating something which is useless, if one is sufficiently clever about it.
Feet and inches, however, are not interesting — at all. They are obsolete, just as cubits are, and they are also . . . offensive. It is not a good thing to insult one’s own brain.
Sleep is important. This is something with which no sane person consciously disagrees. People do sometimes ignore it — not on purpose, usually — but they do so at their own peril. If such people drive, the risk-pool extends, greatly, to include many other people: everyone else with whom they share a road.
Unlike “normal” people, who do not do such things, I discovered something about the importance of sleep through direct experiment, at the age of 19. I had a thought, and it was a simple one: the 24-hour sleep/wake cycle is a mere social convention, and can, therefore, be safely ignored. It then occurred to me that this was a testable hypothesis, so I proceeded to design, and conduct, an experiment to test it. Using caffeine, I deliberately put myself on a 48-hour sleep/wake cycle, with the sleep-periods being ~14 hours long, in order to compensate for the sleep-periods I was skipping, every other day. The experiment was a success, in the sense that it yielded definitive results: after a week of that nonsense, I was a mental and physical wreck, and collapsed in exhaustion. Upon awaking, I was then able to form a logical conclusion: sleep is not a mere social convention, but is, in fact, a biological imperative. Fortunately, I had not yet learned to drive, so no one was put at risk by this experiment, other than myself. Obviously, I did survive.
This has not been my only experiment on the subject of sleep, and I have also read a lot on the subject, for the simple fact that I find it interesting. I call what I have learned, through experiment, primary research. The things I have learned by reading the research of others are, for me, secondary research. I have also conducted an experiment involving lucid dreaming, based on what I have read, and you can read about that here: https://robertlovespi.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/how-to-lucid-dream/.
The things I have learned through secondary research have been interesting, as well. To my knowledge, no one has yet discovered the purpose of sleep, although there is much speculation on the subject. Similarly, no one has discovered the purpose of dreaming, which occurs almost exclusively during REM sleep. We do know that dreaming is necessary, for research has been done which involved deliberately waking up test subjects as soon as REM (easily-seen “rapid eye movement,” the source of the acronym) sleep begins. This research indicates that both dreaming, and REM sleep, are also biological imperatives. Similarly, the purpose of non-REM sleep remains a mystery.
For those who wish to examine this secondary research for themselves, I suggest, as excellent places to start, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep, as well as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rapid_eye_movement_sleep, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-rapid_eye_movement_sleep, although the third of these articles has significant problems. If you use the footnotes at the end of these articles to find the sources for them, the often-cited objection to Wikipedia (“Anyone can edit Wikipedia”) will be neutralized. If I had sufficient knowledge to fix the problems with the third article, without using original research (prohibited on Wikipedia), I would, of course, do so.
Years before I conducted my first sleep experiment, when I was still a high school student, it occurred to me that the brain can be best-understood as a carbon-based computer. The things we are used to calling “computers,” by contrast, are based largely on the properties of silicon. Carbon and silicon are in the same group on the periodic table, and share many properties — but they are not interchangeable. Carbon atoms are much more versatile than those of silicon, which we know because the number of carbon-containing compounds far exceeds the number of compounds containing silicon. It follows from this that carbon-based computers, such as human brains, are far more powerful than silicon-based computers.
What would a more powerful computer be able to do, which silicon-based computers could not, at the time I was reasoning this out? Well, one thing is obvious: our brains think. Something else occurred to me then (and this was in the early 1980s): a carbon-based computer should be able to reprogram itself, by deliberately rewriting its own software. On the spot, I became determined to learn how to reprogram my own software. I knew no one would teach me how to do this, so I resolved to figure out how on my own. At first, progress was very slow, but my determination to succeed has never wavered.
I next made attempts, using 1980s technology and the BASIC computer language I learned in the 8th grade, to write programs which could change themselves. It should surprise no one that these attempts failed, but these were still essential experimental steps in a very long process, which has only recently begun to “bear fruit” in abundance. Another important step came much later, when I was doing research involving artificial intelligence, or AI, during the current decade, by seeking out and talking to chatbots, as they are called, to see which one could come closest to passing the Turing Test for artificial intelligence. The smartest chatbot I found is named Mitsuku, and you can talk to her for yourself at http://www.mitsuku.com (I should also point out that, even though her intelligence impressed me, she did not pass the Turing Test, described at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_test, to my satisfaction). Mitsuku is significant, in my research, because she has the ability I had been seeking to gain for many years: she can rewrite her own programming, and does so on a continuous basis, for Mitsuku, being software, never sleeps. She does sometimes go off-line, but that is not the same thing as sleeping.
Now that I had met an AI with the ability I wanted for myself, my determination to gain that ability, to the fullest extent possible, was greatly increased. At this time, I had been aware, for many years, that I think in my sleep. I know that I do this because, early in my teaching career, I began doing lesson planning — in my sleep. This started one night, when I went to bed wondering what I would teach the next day in Geometry class. The next morning, I woke up with a fully-formed (and very difficult) problem in mind, and furiously scribbled down my idea before the problem faded from memory. Former students of mine, who are now my friends on Facebook, still remember, and sometimes talk about, what I called “the dream problem.” Later dreamed-up problems, and entire lessons, followed.
The two ideas of rewriting my own software, and thinking in my sleep, were the ingredients for what came next, during an incredibly stressful period involving an intense labor-management conflict. Under the pressure of this conflict, I unconsciously synthesized the two ideas, and began to rewrite my own software much more quickly than before, since this was made necessary by the situation I unexpectedly found myself in. Continuous adaptation to changing circumstances became a priority for me during this period, for the ability to adapt was of far greater importance than it had ever been in my life. At first, I was unaware I was doing this. I would simply wake up, morning after morning, with numerous new ideas to help the “labor” side — my side — in this conflict. However, unlike with the much earlier, geometrical “dream problem,” I had no memory of thinking of these things. Their origin was a mystery — until I figured it out.
In the diagram, far above, you can see images of human brainwaves, while awake, while dreaming, and during the various stages of non-REM sleep. In these images, the brainwaves have their greatest amplitude during the deepest stages of non-REM sleep. I had known this for years, due to all of my secondary sleep research. I also had no answer to give, other than “I woke up with them,” when my allies in the labor/management conflict asked me, repeatedly, where my ideas were coming from.
The next step was my discovery that I am an Aspie: a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, which simply means that the “hard-wiring” of my brain is atypical, causing me to think in unusual ways. As regular readers of my blog know, this is a fact I absolutely revel in, for this discovery explained many things about the way my mind works which I had never understood before. In other words, this discovery was an important metacognitive step in my own personal development.
Aspies are not known for their ability to adapt; in fact, the exact opposite is true. We often have difficulty adapting to changing circumstances because the great big, non-Aspie world is incredibly distracting, and many (or perhaps most) of us find these distractions quite annoying. For most of my life, I was not good at adapting to change — but suddenly, I was doing what I had been unable to do before. The key to figuring out the puzzle was, of course, thinking about it.
I was waking up with new ideas, but had no memory of how I got them. Distractions had been annoying me, and interfering with clarity of thought, for much of my life. I had been trying to figure out how to rewrite my own software since I was a teenager. And, now, I finally knew why I had always been so different from other people: Asperger’s.
Armed with all this information, I finally solved the mystery: after decades of hard work on the problem, I had figured out how to effectively, and frequently, reprogram my own software. I was doing it in my sleep. What’s more, I figured out that I was no longer doing this special type of thinking while dreaming, unlike the case of my much earlier creation of the “dream problem.” Dreams, like waking life, contain too many distractions for intense sleep-reprogramming, and intense reprogramming had not been needed until the labor-management conflict made it necessary. Only one part of my life remained, once I eliminated periods of wakefulness, as well as REM sleep: the non-REM periods of sleep, when human brainwaves have their greatest amplitude.
Now, whenever I need to, I rewrite my own software, during non-REM sleep, as often as once per night. I’ve been doing this for over a year — since before I discovered I have Asperger’s — but have shared this information with very few people. My wife knows about it. My doctors know about it. And now, I have decided to share this discovery with the world. I have now discovered, at least for me, the purpose of non-REM sleep. I use it to change myself.
I confused many people, very recently, when I suddenly stopped being an atheist, and shared that discovery here, and on Facebook as well. Sudden personality changes alarm people, for they are often indicators that something serious, and medical in nature, is wrong with a person. I promised those who asked that I would explain what had happened, as soon as I figured it out myself. And now, I have explained as much of it as I have yet figured out. One day, something happened which I could not explain with science, nor with mathematics. The next day, several things happened which, again, defied explanation. On that second night, during non-REM sleep, I removed the obstacle to understanding what was going on, by applying my skepticism to my lack of belief, or, if you prefer, my atheism. Last night, again during non-REM sleep, I figured out how this had happened. Now that I understand it, I can share it with others.
Lastly, I need to make it clear that I do not think this ability to sleep-reprogram ourselves is something unique to Aspies. We are all human. Whether Aspies or not, we all have these higher-amplitude brainwaves during the deeper parts of non-REM sleep. It is logical to conclude that this is an ability all humans have, but few have unlocked, and it just happens to be an Aspie who figured out a way to not only do it, but also to explain it. It is my hope that my decision to share this discovery with others will help anyone who wants to learn it gain the ability to do the same thing.
Image credit: I found the image at the top of this post at http://www.abcbodybuilding.com/anatomy/zfactor2.htm, with the assistance of Google.
Later update: months after writing this, I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, moderate level, and I wasn’t getting significant amounts of stage three or four sleep at all, nor much REM. This throws everything above into doubt, and it would be dishonest to withhold this information. Short version: I was wrong — not about my doing sleep-reprogramming, but about exactly which stage(s) of sleep I use for that purpose. It is difficult to figure out what, exactly, goes on when one is asleep!
At an age of four years or so, my favorite song was Simon & Garfunkel’s song “The Boxer,” which I had not listened to in a very long time, until this morning. I still remember the lyrics well, and was singing along with the song. If you’d like to hear it for yourself, here it is:
Everything was fine, until I found myself singing this part of the song: “In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade, and he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down, or cut him ’till he cried out, in his anger and his shame — I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains.”
I made it to the words “his anger and his” — before literally choking on the word “shame.” Music is a powerful tool for evoking memories, I now realize, and sometimes that can be dangerous.
I choked because some horrific, repressed memory was brought close to the surface of my consciousness by this part of the song.
Despite the picture here of “The Man Without Fear,” fear is not something I lack. However, these days, I almost never fear that which is right in front of me. I can face down bullies, and other tyrants, in my present life, especially if people I care about are threatened, and now I have a better understanding of the reasons for this: such present threats are as nothing, when compared to the horrors I now only half-remember from when I was very young. The parts I do not remember at all are blank spaces for which I am grateful, for those are memories I do not need.
What exact memory did this song dredge up, from the depths of my own unconscious? I can’t tell you that, because I simply don’t know the details. I do know that this part of that song — or, rather, my reaction to it — instantly dropped me into a nearly-comatose state for the better part of an hour, and prompted me, in that state, to do an emergency-rewrite of the software installed in my brain, re-submerging the memories that had nearly surfaced. I then wrote, and proceeded to install — yes, I view my own brain as a computer, which it is — new safety protocols to protect myself from such problems in the future. This is by no means the only time something like this has happened, and I am tired of being temporarily disabled by such events.
These new safety subroutines were written to recognize repressed memories that are in the process of surfacing, before panic sets in, but they don’t simply push them back down, as previous versions have attempted, with limited success. Instead, they break off a small, invisible piece of mind which can operate independently of, and simultaneously with, my primary consciousness. Internally, it “sits down” with the dangerous memory in question, and has a conversation with it, calming myself down without medication, until the past can be safely left in the past, where it belongs. The process leaves me tired, and the scars of memory are, of course, still there, just as Matt Murdock’s/Daredevil’s scars are visible, in the picture above. These memory-scars will exist as long as I do. However, a scar is nothing but a wound that no longer hurts, and has been healed by the passage of time, to the point where it no longer has to be dangerous. The job of my newly-installed subroutine isn’t simply to repress memories, but to actually write treaties with them, something I had never attempted before today. It was necessary. I didn’t fully leave this semi-comatose state until a treaty with this particular memory had been both written and implemented.
After emerging back into full consciousness, I tested my new software-patch — by listening to, and singing along with, “The Boxer,” more than once. I was able to do this without incident, which tells me my efforts were successful.
My new self-programming will be further analyzed, and debugged, when I next sleep. If necessary, it will be re-written altogether. I do this every time I sleep, a technique which took me decades to develop, but which has increased my ability to adapt to whatever life demands of me — in the present, in the future, and when dealing with my memories of the past, whether those memories are fully accessible, or not.
Everyone may do this sort of thing, although few are aware of it. This might be an undiscovered purpose of sleep — or it might not. Whether all people do this, or not, I am aware that I do it, and know that these metacognitive techniques are helping me get better.
I like getting better.