t didn’t happen during his appearances on Stephen Colbert’s show or his walk down the red carpet in April as one of Time’s 100 most influential people of 2017. It has happened during meetings, seminars, and panel appearances from Beijing to Boston: Renowned biologist George Church nodded off.
It’s no secret that he has narcolepsy, the condition defined by sudden bouts of sleep. He lists it as part of his personal history, intriguing his fans enough that “How does George Church manage his narcolepsy?” is a question on Quora, a question-and-answer website. But because he has never discussed it in depth, the question has gone unanswered.
STAT is happy to step into the breach: He doesn’t eat from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and stands whenever possible. “I have to constantly shift my weight and balance,” stimulating the nervous system in a way that prevents nodding off, the 6-foot-5 Church said.
Japanese people of all ages are more likely to carry a gene that predisposes them to react more strongly to stressful events than people outside of Japan. The brains of many Japanese people were found to shrink in response to the tsunami – specifically within the orbitofrontal cortex, a region in the brain associated with emotional regulation, indicating the severity of post-traumatic stress disorder. And in a 2008 study, Japanese infants were found to react to the pain of being inoculated with more cortisol than American infants did, though they also whined less than the Americans.
Stress could also explain Japan’s famously low birth rates: Exposure to stressful environments is correlated with lower sperm counts, ovulation issues, and other issues of reproductive functioning. High levels of chronic stress and cortisol decrease sex drives in women, and in Japan, a full 45 percent of women reported they were “not interested in or despised sexual contact”—and more than 25% of Japanese men feel the same way.
Before you send in the taste police, I’ll concede the following: sometime in the past twenty years, standing ovations have indeed become de rigueur. They were once the exception, not the rule, a groundswell of communal enthusiasm that indicated a rare night at the theatre. As Brantley points out, this is still more the case in London. (Ah, those discerning Brits!) But applause is a custom, and the custom, at least in the United States, has irrevocably changed.
The reason, I’d conjecture, is the soaring price of theatre tickets. The average Broadway ticket now costs a hundred and nine dollars, and the highest-priced seats for megahits like “Hamilton” and “Hello, Dolly!” can reach the eight-hundred-dollar range—not to mention that resellers sometimes charge more than a thousand. Long-running shows rely ever more on out-of-towners willing to spend big on a Broadway show. After investing that kind of cash, perhaps theatregoers are quicker to leap to their feet as a form of self-justification: for these prices, I’d better have had a “superlative experience.”