"Blessed are the sleepy ones," writes Nietzsche, "for they shall soon drop off." Sleep is an extraordinarily, albeit profoundly odd, phenomenon, yet we seem to accept prolonged nightly blackouts w
This week we're staying up and thinking about Sleep. We spend so much of our lives asleep, but we philosophers have had very little to say about it. Maybe that's becayse Philosophy is mostly about things we’re conscious of -- our experiences, our choices, our beliefs. We’re mostly NOT conscious when we sleep, so you might wonder who cares, really.
Well, philosophers care about what makes us who and what we are. So is sleep is a big part of who we are? I’ll give you dreaming as philosophically interesting. How can we distinguish wakeful consciousness from the dreaming variety? What do dreams reveal about the unconscious mind? Those are great questions.
But philosophers also care about the nature of the well-lived life -- so can you live well if you don’t sleep well. At the very least, sleep is like brushing your teeth or going to the bathroom … important, but basically housekeeping. Nobody lives to sleep -- we sleep to live. And though I do love a good night’s sleep, when they tell the story of my life, sleep won’t figure as a significant trope. "Here lies Ken Taylor. He slept!"
That said, think about how you sleep… when you sleep … how often you sleep… who you sleep with … These all play huge roles in the stories of our lives. Think of sleeping with another person -- a symbol of intimacy and connection. Sleeping with the wrong person? A betrayal! Sleeping too much? A sign of sloth or depression. Sleepless nights? The pangs of a troubled heart. Sleep matters. Not just biologically, but narratively!
So let's grant the instrumental value of sleep. What, then, do we make of its intrinsic value? Imagine the day comes when we’re all post-humans -- when we transcend mere biology, merge our consciousness with computers, and become virtual beings? Ask yourself, will we still care about sleep when it does? Or suppose I offer you a pill. Take it just once, you get all the benefits of a good night sleep on a recurring basis. You never have to lose consciousness again. Would you take it?
Some people certainly wouldn't. They WANT their daily break from consciousness. They want to DREAM. And they want to feel the JOY of waking up in their comfy bed, next to their love, ready to take on the new day.
But what if I see the pill as offering me more life? Instead of 60 years worth of living in a 90 year span, I get the full 90. Think of the articles I could write with that extra time! Does that make me like the little kid who never ever wants to fall asleep, who doesn’t want to miss any of the fun. Do I just need to grow up, or is sleep is just a necessary evil? Tune in to find out wher our guest, Deirdre Barrett, comes down on the value of sleep.