Friday, 19 April 2013

The New Bats

Bats are the only mammals capable of flight.
According to the Wikipedia, there are over 11.116 different species representing one quarter of all mammal species in the world. Besides that, they come in various shapes and sizes, they have a fantastic capacity for environmental adaptation, they have one of the most varied diets amongst mammals and have a sophisticated system of echolocation.
I don’t know which of these characteristics is more enviable. Is it their flight? Is it their sonar? Or perhaps their sleep duration of twenty hours per day? In fact despite their prolonged sleeping hours, they have been tranquilly surviving for millions of years.
Is it envy? Yes, I would say so because nowadays I give consultations to patients of all ages with their sleeping habits upside-down. They go to bed after 6am, and get up in the middle of the afternoon!
They sleep by day, to be awake by night, the night long working, playing, chatting, and surfing on the web, producing or creating something, or simply watching television with more or less zapping.
They are young, teenager or young adults, they are middle aged persons, in creative professions – or not, they are retired elderly who let themselves lull by the night.
Social life - It’s not easy. Health - It’s certainly hard, since, and I will say this often, sleeping by day entails to special and serious health concerns.
Why? We are not bats, or mice, or owls. We are human beings and we were made, genetically and physiologically, to live by day, and the presence of electrical light will not convince our body otherwise.
The day-night regulation, called circadian regulation, was precociously acquired during the evolution of life on Earth by blue bacteria, called cyanobacteria, who wanted to avoid the sun induced mutations in their reproduction cycles. This circadian organisation capacity exists throughout all living beings, in both animals and plants.
It is so old, so intrinsic, and so essential, that electric light will not thwart it.
Back to the bats - these fantastic flying animals had a huge impact on many cultures: if they are a symbol of happiness and longevity in Chinese tradition, and in Cinema, Batman is a saviour, in most cultures these extraordinary animals are associated to something grim, to sadness, to vampires and to death; and in Western Africa, some consider them to be the representation of a “torn soul”.
I have an enormous admiration for bats, but I must say that most bat men and women I have encountered had some sort of angst and sadness, as if something in them was actually “torn”. 

Professor Teresa Paiva
Lisbon April 19th 2013


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