When Ravi Nath asks people if jellyfish sleep, he finds that everyone thinks they know the answer. Roughly half say yes, and half say no. Some scientists assert that only mammals and birds could be said to truly sleep. Other people think that even plants have something akin to sleep. “Every person we’ve asked has an opinion,” Nath says. “Even a 10-year-old kid has a response.”
Nath has an answer, too. Along with his friends and fellow California Institute of Technology students Claire Bedbrook and Michael Abrams, he put a jellyfish called Cassiopea through a gauntlet of clever experiments, which confirmed that they do indeed enter a sleeplike state. Every night, they become less active and less responsive. They can be easily roused from this state, but if they’re deprived of their slow periods for too long, they become even more inactive and unresponsive the next day—as if they were reeling from an all-nighter. And if the trio are right, their discovery has big implications for understanding both how sleep evolved—and why.
Why We Sleep by the neuroscientist Matthew Walker – my ill-chosen small-hours reading material – is filled with startling information about the effects of suboptimal shut-eye levels. It’s not a book you should even be thinking about in bed, let alone reading. If it weren’t too unsettling to permit sleep in the first place, it would be the stuff of nightmares. The marginalia in my review copy, scrawled in the wavering hand of a man receiving dark intimations of his own terrible fate – “OMFG”; “This is extremely bad!” – might seem less appropriate to an affably written popular science book than to some kind of arcane Lovecraftian grimoire.
As I grew older, I kept returning to the movie again and again, across three decades of growing up, a process of maturation that now (in my late thirties, even after decades of studying and teaching Buddhism) may still just be getting under way. Many other people I know went through a similar process with The Princess Bride. As the movie aged, and as those of us who were the Grandson’s (Fred Savage’s) age grew up (or tried to), it caught on, and became enshrined as an irrefutable staple of Generation X culture. The mixology-obsessed cocktail bar down the block from my Brooklyn apartment serves a mezcal-based drink (though brandy would be more appropriate) called the Inigo Montoya. The glass even comes with a toothpick sword across the rim, exacting heroic revenge against a six-sectioned slice of orange. The bar is one of many establishments I’ve been to that reference the movie on their menus.
Start on the humble evening shift. 3:30 to midnight. Training mode — you know, like when the manager stands beside the register watching the kid count change. Most everything in the TV industry is on a rush schedule. Most things air “in a couple days.” I am ready to be a cog in the industry, but the industry is not ready for me, for reasons I don’t yet accept. There are rare shows with long turnaround times, and these are the shows that trainees like me do.
Saddle up to the workstation: 13-inch color TV, desktop with hardware interface that makes F2 pause and makes F3 forward a frame and makes F4 play and makes F1 reverse. The familiar qwerty keyboard, once the conduit to prose description, dialogue, imagery, is now a command center, a piece of interfacing hardware like a steering wheel. It controls the VCR.