Science never sleeps. At least so it would seem at my Alma Mater, Northwestern University, where dream researchers have demonstrated the power of sleep to eradicate pre-existing fears and phobias.
When I read this, I was reminded of Mia Farrow's glittering definition: "Life is about losing everything, gracefully." She said this sometime after her broken marriage with Frank Sinatra, but I wonder if these researchers had this in mind when they started to grapple with the problem of our fears and phobias. We are all subject to them throughout our lives as they track us like hounds in the night. If only we could use those nights to free us from those torments.
Neuroscientist Daniela Schiller sums up this research in Nature.com: "We used to think you need awareness and conscious understanding of your emotional responses in order to change them..." But if the dream researchers are right, a patient may be taught to confront these while asleep.
If the hypothesis appears far-fetched, perhaps it is no more so than many of the current research which repeatedly concludes we humans are essentially evolved matter which can be treated, manipulated and re-engineered like most other rubrics of matter on the planet. Find the right gene, the correct lobe, the proper chemistry, and voila a possible cure or correction is available.
This pattern of research is consistent in today's scientific disciplines from neuroscience to biological science. The ancient & medieval notions that humanity was far more than mere matter -- somehow a part of a larger and more sublime scheme of existence -- generally prevailed until several generations ago when great trail blazers like Darwin and Einstein looked beyond the old curtains.
Their work has been breathtaking. Mind liberating. A giant leap for human knowledge. If I get the chance to meet up with these researchers at our next Northwestern Reunion here in Evanston, I am going to buy them a champagne cocktail, and implore them as fellow university graduates: While we may indeed be much lower than the angels we once saw ourselves as, may we still see ourselves higher than the apes and the dolphins.
Because if not.....why are we all here dressed to the nines and sipping champagne?
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