Brain Dropping #93
“More light!” said Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe on his death bed. Today, November 26, we put all the lights on in the house to ward off the emotional blahs. There’s a snowstorm brewing and the sky is veiled and glowering. Gail is sitting in front of a full spectrum light as she eats breakfast. She and my son Jonah get a case of the SADs this time of year and rely on artificial light to make up for gloomy, gray skies hiding the sun. I’m not sure about my own reaction to the absence of the sun, but it certainly does not make me spill over with joyful energy.
We are creatures of light whose biology has been conditioned by eons of the rising and setting of the sun. The beat of our cycle of awakening and sleeping, the circadian rhythm, has a profound effect on our vital functions. Folks who work at night know exactly what I’m talking about. To work my way through college I had a job as a Night Counselor at The Wiltwyk School for Emotional disturbed Boys. It was required of me to stay awake all night to give comfort to boys having nightmares and to change the sheets of the bed wetters. No matter how much sleep I had gotten before arriving at the school, when two a.m. arrived I could not keep my eyes open, and often fell sound asleep sitting in a chair while a friend punched the time-clock at proper intervals. This low ebb of energy at the nadir of the circadian cycle is particularly troubling for airline pilots.
Dr. John Ott studied the effect of light on human behavior and concluded that artificial light which mimicked the full color spectrum of the sun was effective in combating Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.
He found that full-spectrum light was so biologically potent that, when fluorescent bulbs in a public school classroom were replaced with full-spectrum bulbs, many behavior disorders such as hyperactivity and “acting out” significantly declined. Amazingly, so did tooth cavities.
With good reason we worship light. Just imagine the horrors lurking in the impenetrable darkness the cave dweller must have conjured up. Five hundred years before Jesus declaimed:- “I am the light of the world! He who walks in darkness knows not where he goes!”- Ahura Mazda, the Zoroastrian god of light and wisdom was worshiped in the Persian Empire of Darius The Great. In 1909, In homage to that God of antiquity, General Electric trademarked the Mazda incandescent light bulb. If the Emperor Darius had been around he probably would have sued for copyright infringement.
Much to my bewilderment, Quantum Mechanics has shed a new light on light, identifying it as both a wave and a particle. Every schoolboy now knows the speed of light – 186,282 miles per second – and that it is a universal constant which can not be exceeded, and that time slows as the observer approaches the speed of light. George Gamov in his “ABC’s of Physics” gives this example: “If one of two identical twins was able to travel at the speed of light to Alpha Centauri and back, when he returned he’d be younger than his brother.”
My favorite quip about light comes from stand-up comedian Steven Wright: “If you are traveling in a car at the speed of light and you turn on your headlights – would anything happen?”