Shall We Do Without Sleep Some Day? by Arthur Brisbane

Story type: Essay

A half-developed being like man, hanging midway between primitive barbarism and ultimate perfection, should study the insect tribes which appear to have realized the possibilities of development in their line.

The study of the ant and the bee, the spider and the scorpion should fill us with hope. We should say to ourselves:

“If these tiny fragments of life can develop so highly, what may not WE hope for in the way of ultimate possibilities? Our beginning is so much more full of promise than the beginnings of our tiny insect brothers.” —-

This writer, taking his own advice, which is most unusual, has been trying to get acquainted with some insects in the hope of cheering himself and getting new ideas.

From the female scorpion we acquire fresh veneration for the possibilities of maternal devotion.

The mother of the Gracchi has been well advertised because she preferred her sons to jewelry. The Russian mother who feeds herself to the wolves, instead of throwing her boy over the back of the sleigh in the usual way, is also highly praised. But their devotion shrinks to nothing when compared with that of any poor mother scorpion of Mexico’s sandy tracts.

As soon as her young scorpions arrive, they climb to her back, half a hundred of them or more. She moves about with them, protecting them, avoiding danger, giving them the sunlight. Meanwhile they are feeding on her body. Her movements get gradually slower and slower; finally they cease. The young scorpions depart leaving the mother scorpion simply an empty shell. We should dislike to see any such exhibition of tenderness among human beings, but we can’t help admiring the scorpion.

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Mr. Scorpion, placed as was Captain Dreyfus, would sting himself to death. They are a determined race. —-

Spiders who construct tiny balloons with little cars all complete are wonderful creatures. They cross chasms in their balloons, throwing out bits of trailing web which seem to act as rudders. In their little way and in a perfectly adequate fashion they have solved aerial navigation, which still puzzles us. We admire spiders and kill only those with yellow stomachs, which are “poison.” —-

But up to the present we have found the ant the most interestingly suggestive creature. He has developed and understands stirpiculture–the improvement of the race by careful breeding–which with us is as yet mere theory, and as we look down at the ant, we look up to him because the strangely active creature manages to do without sleep.

We human beings drowse through thirty years of our threescore and ten, but the ant is awake and working all the time.

If the ant has managed to live without sleep, if he has acquired the faculty of lifelong wakefulness, why should we not do as much in time? We take it for granted that sleep is essential, as we take everything else for granted. We used to take it for granted that the earth was flat, but we have stopped that. Sleep was at one time forced upon man and other animals.

The earth in its rollings turned away from the sun once in every twenty-four hours. In the darkness of the beginning man said to himself: “If I go walking around, I shall fall into a hole, so I shall lie down and wait until the sun comes again.”

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He did as all the animals did before him for millions of years. Since that time, man has conquered darkness. Why should he not ultimately conquer sleep?

We know that thin men, nervous, highly organized, do with far less sleep than others. We know that old age requires less sleep than youth.

Can we not cultivate and develop the characteristics which make sleep less necessary? Higher races of apes have abolished tails.

Can’t we abolish sleep? —-

As old age needs less sleep than babyhood, so in our maturity as a human race we shall probably demand less sleep than now in our racial babyhood. Perhaps none at all will be needed.

If that happens our lives will be doubled in value, they will be complete. The hours of sunlight will be devoted to examination and admiration of nature’s beauties on this earth.

The hours of darkness, given up to sleep no longer, will be devoted to the study of space, to investigation among other worlds.

That kind of life will be worth while. Bear in mind that we shall only really begin to live on this earth when we shall have settled all the little social and material questions here and shall have begun in earnest the study of the universe in which we are a speck.

The days of the future will be given up to artistic enjoyment of the beautiful. The nights will be devoted to intellectual development and research.

Man will LIVE.

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