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Do not operate this marriage while drowsy

When married women have trouble falling asleep at night, it makes for a tough next day on the homestead, according to a recent study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Whether because of insomnia or other delays getting to dreamland, neither the husband nor the wife are as happy the next day if she sleeps poorly.

Sleep studies usually look at individual sleep patterns, but this one looked at the interaction of couples from both sides. Some of the results were surprising: a hard day didn’t affect that night’s sleep as much as a bad night’s sleep affected what happened the next day. The quality of the wife’s sleep had more effect on the marriage than the husband’s.

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I’m dreaming of a large coffee

Photo: Flickr/Zach Inglis

Too much coffee under stress can do more than just make you jittery. It can make you hallucinate songs – namely, those by Bing Crosby.

A study released this week by researchers at Melbourne, Australia’s La Trobe University measured the effects of caffeine and stress on 92 participants. Under varying stress and caffeine levels, the participants listened to white noise on headphones. They were told that among the white noise, they might hear Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas,” and when they did, to press a button. Those who consumed higher amounts of caffeine reported hearing the song more often.

However, “White Christmas” was never played.

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Some science for ESP, at least when sex is involved

A new paper by a Cornell psychology professor emeritus argues that humans might have an as-yet-undocumented evolutionary ability: when it comes to sex, it seems we can predict the future.

The paper, by Daryl J. Bem, describes a series of simple experiments conducted on hundreds of Cornell undergraduates. Each test attempted to prove the existence of extrasensory perception (ESP) — the ability to predict the future. And Bem’s findings were statistically significant. He concluded that, to some degree, ESP does exist.

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If we erase our memories, do we erase ourselves?

About 270 years ago, the Scottish philosopher David Hume, in his seminal work “A Treatise of Human Nature,” offered what was, at that time, a radical notion of human identity: that the “self,” as we conceive of it, is not a single spiritual or psychological entity, like a “soul,” but rather a collection of discrete sensations and impressions — a “bundle,” as he called it. Connections between these individual perceptions give rise to the idea of a continuous “self.” And memory gives that self lasting force.

What, then, is a self without memory? Or, rather, what would happen if we were to remove some memories and add others? By Hume’s account, the bundle would change, and so necessarily would the self. We would be different people, in small but significant ways.

David Hume depicted in a painting by Allan Ramsay

These days, this thought experiment lives mostly in the minds of college freshmen taking their first philosophy seminars. But increasingly, the idea that altering one’s memory could alter one’s self is gaining relevance outside the confines of the Ivory Tower, as new scientific advances offer the promise of re-engineering one’s brain chemistry — and, possibly, re-engineering one’s self.

The most recent example is an announcement by two scientists at Johns Hopkins University that they may have discovered a way to erase traumatic memories from the mind by removing certain proteins from the amygdala, the brain structure that processes memory and emotional reactions.

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Fairs in 50 states

The Minnesota State Fair. Photo: Tom McNamara

Over Labor Day weekend, I had the chance to attend the Minnesota State Fair for the first time and let me just say — that’s one awesome fair, don’t-chya-know. There was a giant slide, an all-you-can-drink milk bar (be still, my dairy-loving heart), and I happened to be there the night Garrison Keillor brought his hometown Anoka High School Marching Band to the annual Prairie Home Companion show, live from the Grandstand. Read All »