Why Early Rising is Good for Your Health: Lessons from Aristotle to Latest Science

by Rajeev Kurapati
“Early Morning Bengal Village" Watercolor Painting by Samiran Sarkar

“Early Morning Bengal Village” Watercolor Painting by Samiran Sarkar

The philosopher Aristotle asserted, “It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.” Many centuries later, Benjamin Franklin (who believed that, “When one has learnt by experience the value of any good habit, it is his duty to recommend it to others to the best of his ability”) in his memorable meditation on Early Rising: Natural, Social and Religious Duty (free download from archive.org) published in 1855 observed,

Besides the promptings of nature and instinct within us, which we should do well to obey, there are strong reasons to be deduced from the physical constitution of the atmosphere and light, and from the chemical influences which these exercise upon the functions of animal life, in support of the assertion that early rising promotes bodily health. Mankind, in general, are little aware of the powerful agencies in nature, whereby the atmosphere is continuously purified and renewed, and the animal and vegetable worlds are sustained in healthy and vigorous existence. Those agencies are for the most part secret and silent in their operations, escaping the observation unless it be particularly directed to them.

sunrise1Today we know this to be true as science has come to a similar recognition. A growing number of studies are proving the health benefits of exposure to early morning sunlight. In one study, researchers discovered that when people are exposed to sunlight or very bright artificial light in the morning, their nocturnal melatonin (a hormone that helps control your sleep and wake cycles) production occurs sooner, and they enter into sleep more easily at night. Melatonin production also shows a seasonal variation relative to the availability of light, with the hormone produced for a longer period in the winter than in the summer. The melatonin rhythm phase advancement caused by exposure to bright morning light has been effective against insomnia, premenstrual syndrome, and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

The melatonin precursor, serotonin, is also affected by exposure to daylight. Normally produced during the day, serotonin is only converted to melatonin in darkness. Moderately high serotonin levels result in more positive moods and a calm yet focused mental outlook. Indeed, Seasonal Affective Disorder has been linked with low serotonin levels during the day, as well as with a delay in nighttime melatonin production.

When people are exposed to sunlight or very bright artificial light in the morning, their nocturnal melatonin production occurs sooner, and they enter into sleep more easily at night.

With our modern-day penchant for indoor activity and staying up well past dusk, nocturnal melatonin production is typically far from robust. “The light we get from being outside on a summer day can be a thousand times brighter than we’re ever likely to experience indoors,” says melatonin researcher Russel J. Reiter of the University of Texas Health Science Center. “For this reason, it’s important that people who work indoors get outside periodically, and moreover that we all try to sleep in total darkness. This can have a major impact on melatonin rhythms and can result in improvements in mood, energy, and sleep quality.”

For people in jobs in which sunlight exposure is limited, full-spectrum lighting may be helpful. Sunglasses may further limit the eyes’ access to full sunlight, thereby altering melatonin rhythms. Going shades-free in the daylight, even for just 10–15 minutes, could confer significant health benefits.

Those in the ancient East used to get up in the morning and do “Sun-salutations.” There is no denying that there are definite health benefits with such a ritual. In this regard, we learn from what our ancestors, a sentiment observed by William Osler in Aequanimitas, “The foolishness of yesterday has become the wisdom of tomorrow.”

sun-salutation-chart

The light we get from being outside on a summer day can be a thousand times brighter than we’re ever likely to experience indoors.

For this reason, it’s important that people who work indoors get outside periodically, and moreover that we all try to sleep in total darkness. This can have a major impact on melatonin rhythms and can result in improvements in mood, energy, and sleep quality.

Benjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706 – April 17, 1790) defines early rising as before sunrise after six to seven hours of sleep.

Benjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706 – April 17, 1790) defines early rising as before sunrise after six to seven hours of sleep.

Continue reading

Question Everything: How Francis Bacon Changed Our Study of Nature Forever

by Rajeev Kurapati

In the ancient past, material knowledge and spirituality went hand in hand, in fact all knowledge was a synthesis of the two. Medical knowledge was no different.

Art by Freydoon Rassouli. In many ancient traditions, dreaming is understood to be the link between matter and spirit.

Art by Freydoon Rassouli. In many ancient traditions, dreaming is understood to be the link between matter and spirit.

Matter was studied and understood through this loaded concept called the spirit. But this led to much speculation, numerous doctrines and theories came into being. Lineages were established – in the west, the Aristotle’s theories dominated philosophy. Hippocrates and Galen’s theories dominated medicine. Medical books were frequently written with terms pertaining to the union of the soul and flesh.

But after a while, certain elements of the religious establishment started to control the study of every aspect of matter, every aspect of the study of nature. Doctrines became rigid; study of human biology was stalled and there was no advancement in medicine. Dissections and experiments were prohibited in the name of religion. All knowledge was controlled by the precepts of what religions preached. The spirit side was dominating the study of matter.

Up until the 17th century, all the work done was the work of great masters like Aristotle, Plato, Hippocrates, and Galen – the knowledge passed down by generations of sincere followers of past wisdom.

But in the 17th century, several individuals found this approach was not working to understand the bodily functions. So, we had to separate spirit from matter. Matter has to be studied using quantifiable evidence – the human body was seen as a collection of mechanisms which could be studied using chemical reactions, physical laws, and mathematical equations.

Spirituality and philosophy are concerned with subjective experience so cannot be quantified, and therefore not a subject of scientific study. Spirit and matter, therefore, cannot go hand in hand in the study of nature. The separation thus happened around 17th century.

Old methods should die, writes Francis Bacon, who many attribute as the founder of the scientific approach. He proposed methods for a new beginning. He listed unsolved problems in every field of human endeavor. He thus became the prophet of this new institution called science.

Francis Bacon actually called this the “new philosophy.” This was different from any other philosophy because it aimed at practice rather than theory, in search of proof, rather than a doctrine, something concrete rather than speculation. Knowledge, according to him is not an opinion, but a work that has to be verified. Knowledge should have utility and power, he declared. Here, for the first time, was the voice and tone of modern science.

Francis Bacon, Viscount St Alban by Unknown artist oil on canvas, after 1731 (circa 1618). © The National Portrait Gallery, London.

Francis Bacon, Viscount St Alban by Unknown artist oil on canvas, after 1731 (circa 1618). © The National Portrait Gallery, London.

Science is aimed at practice rather than theory, in search of proof, rather than a doctrine, something concrete rather than speculation.

The scientific method emerged as the universal equalizer for all those who wanted to study nature. One peculiarly unique attribute about this scientific method is its process of investigation. The celebrated physicist Richard Feynman candidly articulated how the experimental method works:

Suppose if your experiments prove your theory to be true, it doesn’t mean that your guess is absolutely right. It is simply not proved wrong. Because in the future, there may be a wider range of experiments and a wider range of computations that may prove your theory is wrong…. You can never prove a theory to be right.

Feynman’s assessment remains true. Today, a typical scientific discovery relies on three factors: First, a hypothesis (an intelligent guess); second, the ability to test and re-test the hypothesis in a reputable, controlled experiment; and third, publication of the results. Anyone who correctly follows the steps laid out in a particular study design, no matter who they are, must be able to say, “Yes, I got the same result.”

Since then every claim we make had to be put to the test. For instance, if we claim that brushing our teeth twice a day, once in morning and once before bedtime, is better for the health of teeth, this claim should be validated. Only if it passes the grind of scientific study is it deemed appropriate to follow this practice – of brushing twice a day. If it fails, the habit would be simply discarded.

In this world of science, there is no room for existential questions such as – why have we come into this world? What is the nature of self? What is the goal of life? What is the basis of ethics and morality? These existential questions cannot be quantifiable and therefore cannot be tested.

The words spirit, or god were never to be written in any respectable scientific journal.

This was the birth of what we call Classical Mechanics, as founded by Isaac Newton. Nature behaves according to certain predetermined laws and by discovering those laws we can understand nature and its functions. “Spirit” has no place in this study. In other words, there are laws in nature, but a law maker is not necessary for those laws to function.

Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica - Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy is a work in three books by Isaac Newton, in Latin, first published 5 July 1687. The Principia states Newton's laws of motion, forming the foundation of classical mechanics, also Newton's law of universal gravitation. The Principia is regarded as one of the most important works in the history of science.

Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica – Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy is a work in three books by Isaac Newton, in Latin, first published 5 July 1687. The Principia states Newton’s laws of motion and Newton’s law of universal gravitation, forming the foundation of classical mechanics. The Principia is regarded as one of the most important works in the history of science.

"Plato is my friend, Aristotle is my friend, but my greatest friend is truth." - Isaac Newton (1642-1727). Cambridge University Library holds the largest and most important collection of the scientific works of Newton.

“Plato is my friend, Aristotle is my friend, but my greatest friend is truth.” – Isaac Newton (1642-1727). Cambridge University Library holds the largest and most important collection of the scientific works of Newton.

The founders of scientific method, in the 16th and 17th centuries felt that the universe is similar to a clock-like machine, independent of any law maker. The scientific community loved this idea, not because they truly believed in this assumption, but because only through such assumption, we were able to let go of ourselves of the iron fist of religion that was chocking the study of nature. And so it was reluctantly omitted from all scientific endeavors.

This approach worked. We discovered many mechanisms of nature, and invented many instruments that makes our lives comfortable. For over three centuries, scientists believed that the laws of nature are absolute, and by discovering them, we can understand nature and its functions.

After a while, scientists started to discover that these laws of nature weren’t as absolute as was originally theorized. They discovered that what we can perceive about the universe is grossly limited. The forces of the universe that is not yet reachable to human mind has come to be known as – the dark energy – the unknown force that is not reachable to the scientific study. Instead of calling it the “universal energy,” they called it “the dark energy.”

Many scientifically educated modern day gurus try to rationalize a synthesis of these two approaches – science of matter and the knowledge of spirit into one.

On the other hand, it feels that we may find a medium where we can reconcile the differences. We have surprised ourselves from time to time what the human mind is capable of. May be, we will at some point reconcile the differences between matter and spirit.


In all honesty, I feel that it is impractical to synthesize these two into a unified approach. This is because science, as a branch of studying nature was created to rid of the subjective theories and doctrines from the study of nature. Science and spirituality are two separate approaches to understand our nature and ourselves.

Carl Sagan (November 9, 1934 – December 20, 1996) relentlessly advocated skeptical inquiry and encouraged applying the scientific way of thinking to everyday life. He believed that scientific thinking refines our intellectual and moral integrity.

Carl Sagan (November 9, 1934 – December 20, 1996) relentlessly advocated skeptical inquiry and encouraged applying the scientific way of thinking to everyday life. He believed that scientific thinking refines our intellectual and moral integrity.

 

Mastering the Art of Learning

by Rajeev Kurapati

It was the fall of ’95 when I found myself surrounded by 136 other ambitious and nervous new medical students, bracing ourselves for orientation. While my peers and I shared a certain air of confidence, it was hard to miss the palpable anxiety (tinged with self-doubt) that filled the room.

The distinguished professor welcomed us by defining medical professionalism: 

Commitment to patient-centered care, intellectual honesty, social responsibility, and advocacy,

she explained. However true the sentiment, we knew what was really expected of us is that we would amass knowledge with single-minded devotion. Over the years, we all shared one common and constant goal: be a sponge of seemingly infinite knowledge. 

Twenty years later and the process of learning continues. As students (even as early as grade school), we’re governed by standardized testing and validated by our GPAs—all the while rarely, if ever, being tested on our understanding of what it takes to be an open-minded, lifelong learner. Decades of education taught me one thing above all others: the art of learning to learn.

In the era of No Child Left Behind and the questionable efficacy of cumbersome testing, we’re slowly coming to the heavy realization that perhaps we’ve not yet learned how to learn. Armed with the facts and figures, most of us are never taught how to successfully digest not only what we hear in the classroom, but also how to absorb the world around us as engaged learners.

Telecommunications pioneer Richard Hamming, author of The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn, offers suggestions about how to succeed in the lost art of learning. Here are ten rules based off of his advice encouraging anyone to be their best self through the simple act of accumulating knowledge:

1. Concentrate on fundamental principles rather than facts.

Structure your learning so that you’re able to ride the information wave, not drown in it.

As time marches forward, the amount of knowledge in the world grows exponentially—doubling about every 20 years. But our brain can only process information at a rate of around 60 bits per second, and our minds aren’t getting faster even as the information load skyrockets. It’s easy to get lost in details, so focusing on fundamentals is key.

Set aside reading time—indulge in your own fields of interest as well as exploring new developments in areas outside of your immediate preoccupation.

2. Learn from those around you.

As people gravitate away from trade jobs, more individuals are graduating from college than ever before. The number of science doctorates earned each year alone grew by nearly 40% between 1998 and 2008. It’s important to balance competition with the company of people who can motivate and inspire us. Learn from the success of others. Hamming says it best,

Vicarious learning from the experiences of others saves making errors yourself.

Let the achievements of others provide you with a sort of roadmap. Young or old, there are always going to be people who are wiser and more accomplished than you—make these people your allies and learn everything you can from them.

3. Focus on the future. Learn from the past and move on. Live in the present.

The landscape of the world is fast changing, transformed by digital revolution and explosive growth of disruptive ideas in almost all human endeavors. While we can’t predict what will happen next, we can be ready to adapt to change. Learning from the past is important also, of course, to ensure yesterday’s mistakes aren’t repeated. In this race toward the future, we lose the present. As Seneca observed,

The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today… The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.

4. Make it personal.

Always find how your learning impacts you personally. Whether you work a corporate job, run a small business, or maintain an academic career, don’t let your job or degrees box you in. Grow to be a well-rounded, best version of yourself. Structure your learning efforts according to some general direction in which you want to move. Having a vision is what separates leaders from followers. Goals evokes passion, which encourages you to want to learn, not feel like you simply have to.

5. Trial and error is key.

Finding what style of learning best suits you is a process filled with trial and error. How to learn can’t be discovered through words—we have to try different techniques to stumble upon what works best. Rely on your teachers but think for yourself too. Never be afraid to question and challenge the status quo.

6. Make the best of your working space.

The workplace continues to evolve rapidly—with trends like communal workspaces and working from home sweeping the nation. Surprisingly, people tend to do their best work when working conditions aren’t ideal. Don’t let your surroundings distract you from the task at hand. One tip to make the best of your office, if you have one, is to leave your door open often. It may seem counterintuitive, but while you may occasionally be more distracted, you’ll also be able to stay plugged in to what’s most important: ensuring that you’re working on the right matters.

7. Only you can put in the time it takes to learn.

To quote Hamming,

I am… only a coach. I cannot run the mile for you.

Even for those inherently talented, there is no substitute for effort. Don’t wait for or rely upon luck. Remember the old adage: Luck favors the prepared mind.

8. Work on what matters.

If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, to do great work, you must ask yourself: What is the most important problem in the society that desperately needs resolution? That’s how you make a difference. This focus will motivate you while also ridding the distractions of trivial matters.

9. Strive for excellence.

Sometimes learning is hard—really hard. Don’t let that deter you from what you want to achieve. There is no greater pay-off than living the life you always imagined, and there is no greater joy than discovering things for yourself. Put in the time to learn and always focus on how you learn best.

!915,November 4. Einstein aged 36, having just completed the two-page masterpiece that would catapult him into international celebrity and historical glory, his theory of general relativity, Einstein sent 11-year-old Hans Albert: "These days I have completed one of the most beautiful works of my life, when you are bigger, I will tell you about it." Source: Posterity: Letters of Great Americans to Their Children

1915,November 4. Einstein aged 36, having just completed the two-page masterpiece that would catapult him into international celebrity and historical glory, his theory of general relativity, Einstein sent 11-year-old Hans Albert: “These days I have completed one of the most beautiful works of my life, when you are bigger, I will tell you about it.”
Source – Posterity: Letters of Great Americans to Their Children

Continue reading

Only Obstacle To Unconditional Love

by Rajeev Kurapati

Loving someone with absolutely no expectations sounds like a utopian idea. To say we love one another as we love ourselves cannot be true unless there is an intrinsic reward, whether direct or indirect. That’s not to say we are not loving individuals, it is simply that our most basic makeup is to be self-serving. The key to understanding if unconditional love is feasible or not is to understand the very nature of our mind.

Our mind is built to compartmentalize, making it difficult to experience oneness among all beings – the goal, though, is to learn to recognize the innate connectedness we all share.

This realization is the root of unconditional love – knowing that it is the very same life flowing through us all that allows us to love without hesitation. With this awareness, all of existence will now be in your affection. It’s only when you view the world around you as polarized from yourself that fear-breeding division occurs.

Love is not what you do. Love is what you are. The only obstacle to unconditional love is not recognizing this.

Continue reading

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Stress

by Rajeev Kurapati

We all experience varying levels and lengths of stress, triggered by an array of scenarios – some logical, others not. Managing this powerful emotional and physiological response to adverse or demanding circumstances comes more naturally to some, but can certainly be taught to even the most nervous of them all. The first step to controlling stress is to know your own personal anxiety, down to its deepest core. What causes your stress? What alleviates it? What affect is it having on your mind and body and what can you do to stop it?

To assist you on your journey of stress-discovery, here are five truths about stress that you may not know – but definitely need to be made aware of.

1. Stress is contagious.

Anyone interacting with someone who’s stressed, especially for prolonged periods of time, has an increased risk of being affected by empathetic stress. Caregivers and family members of chronically stressed individuals are most at risk here, but even watching TV shows involving confrontations of stress can transmit the tension. This empathetic stress negatively impacts the immune system and is toxic to the mind and body in the long term. Know your limits when it comes to how much stress you can healthily expose yourself to. Also, be cognizant of how your worry may be negatively impacting those around you.

If you reach out to a sorrowful friend, a mourning parent, or a downhearted colleague who has suffered a sudden reversal of fortune or fate, be careful not to be overcome yourself by the apparent hardship. Remember to discriminate events themselves and your interpretations of them. It is not a demonstration of kindness or friendship to the people we care about to join them in surrendering to negative feelings. We do a better service to ourselves and others by remaining detached and avoiding unnecessary emotional reactions.

Still, if you are associated with someone who is depressed, stressed or hurt, show them kindness and give them a sympathetic ear; just don’t allow yourself to be pulled down.

2. Stress is detrimental to Sperm.

Stress can and will seep into every facet of your life if you let it, including the bedroom. Stressed men are found to have fewer, slower sperm, which can diminish fertility. While not conclusive yet as to how stress affects the quality of semen, it is possible that stress may trigger steroid hormones known to blunt levels of testosterone and sperm production.

3. Two stressed people equals less stress.

Seems counterintuitive, yes. But, when especially stressed, it is extremely helpful to share your feelings with someone who is having a similar anxious reaction to the same situation. Consider giving a presentation at work – perhaps nothing will ease your stress more than talking it out with a colleague who is undergoing the same scenario. Studies show that there is tremendous benefit gained by conversing with others whose emotional response is in line with your own.

4. Optimists are better at regulating stress.

A glass-half-full mentality may be the ticket to a more stress-free life. The “stress hormone” cortisol tends to be more stable for those with positive personalities. Pessimists have difficulty regulating their emotional and physical responses to particularly stressful situations. Optimists tend to be more solution-oriented and thus better react to the stress hormone – allowing it to amplify their get-up-and-go attitudes.

5. Not all stress is bad.

While stress is oftentimes the enemy, we can’t ignore its ability to push us to optimal alertness and performance. Short, but significant bouts of stress cause our brains to proliferate new nerve cells that improve mental performance. Stress hormones are an incredible adaptation that provide us with the ability to remember not only anxiety-ridden situations themselves, but more importantly, how we deal with them – ingraining us with the power of resiliency, allowing us to be ready for whatever life may throw our way. Like most things in life, stress is only beneficial in small doses. Chronic stress leads to increased risk of chronic obesity, heart disease and depression.

Stress is like spice – in the right proportion it enhances the flavor of a dish. Too little produces a bland, dull meal; too much may choke you.” – Donald Tubesing

Socialhyperrealism from artist Aleksandr Alyonin

Socialhyperrealism from artist Aleksandr Alyonin

Continue reading