Standing, Sleep, and Stereotype Threat

Part of my long self-experimentation paper was about a connection between standing and sleep. If I stood a lot (more than 8 hours), I slept better.

Why might this be? I argued that if you use sleep to maintain muscles, you will begin to need sleep to maintain muscles. (And the more you use a muscle, the more maintenance it needs. Thus the stand/sleep connection.) Catherine Johnson describes here a parallel process: Because men opened doors for her (in college), she began to need them to open doors for her. In situations where she was stereotypically expected to be weak, she actually became weaker (mentally).

However much sense this makes it is not part of conventional thinking. Should we fight against germs by killing them? Of course, says the conventional problem solver. The notion that germs might keep us strong isn’t part of the discussion. Let me be more explicit: If you make everything clean you may begin to need everything clean. The overwhelming evidence for the hygiene hypothesis shows that this line of thinking is reasonable.

So that’s three examples of a general principle, an advanced version of “use it or lose it”.

If you think this is somehow obvious, let me ask: What about terrorism? Should we simply try to eliminate it? Or is the question of how to respond more complex?

7 Replies to “Standing, Sleep, and Stereotype Threat”

  1. In terms of terrorists, they have only made Israel stronger, exactly analogous (homologous?) to your germ-health theory. I’d also phrase the theory “whatever doesn’t kill us will only make us stronger.”

    About fulfilling the prophesy, as in the woman who claims to have become dependent on men opening doors for her, the same hypothesis has been put forth to account for differences between men and women in things like math. Women aren’t expected to be able to do well at math, and lo and behold, more often than not they don’t. While that’s currently changing (I hope!) in our societies’ educational system, there’s a lot of inertia to overcome. Also fitting this theory, girls are supposed to be afraid and say “eek!” at spiders, snakes, mice, etc. I’ve often thought that girls aren’t inherently predisposed to be more afraid of creepy crawlys (that’s the technical term) than are boys, but that our culture reinforces such behavior and so girls “buy into” it. They receive positive social feedback early in life for exhibiting such squeamishness.

  2. “Fluctuat nec mergitur” – fluctuates but does not sink.

    This is an excellent insight and intimately related to Nassim Taleb’s Black Swan principal. In general, accepting or encouraging short-term volatility (“use it”) will increase robustness against the unexpected. On the other hand, trying to minimize volatility will increase the risk of unexpected, kurtotic, collapse.

    Humans have a natural tendency to prefer the latter, unless forced to do the former due to environmental constraints (forced to exercise by hunting fugitive game). It takes conscious effort to introduce a little acute stress now again to improve our overall robustness when the real thing hits.

  3. I agree with the hygiene hypothesis but encouraging peaceful and (maybe vocal) public dissent should be better for the long term stability of the organism.

    Terrorists can be considered like the common virus etc but wait what if the virus is potentially able to lead to death. Israel has become stronger by fighting boldly against terrorists but then what if in the future some of those terrorists get hold of a WMD?

  4. “Israel has become stronger by fighting boldly against terrorists but then what if in the future some of those terrorists get hold of a WMD?”

    God forbid it should happen, but a society that, like Israel, has fought against terrorism at the cost of hundreds or thousands of lives would be better able to survive a massive attack killing tens of thousands than one that hadn’t suffered previously. I hate to be critical of the U.S., ‘cos they are so often unfairly slagged, but it seems to me that Britain handled the 60,000 dead of Blitz better than U.S. did the 3000 dead of 9/11. Still, if 1930s Britain had suffered a similar attack in peacetime it might have been equally traumatic. By the worst raids came, they were hardened. It’s worth noting that the earliest bombing raids of the war (Rotterdam, Coventry, or, even before the war, Guernica) are the ones that have remained burned in the historic memory, the later ones less so. (OK, not the late, ultra-massive raids on Germany and Japan, or the atomic bombs, but they were really at a different level of destructiveness.)

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