Airing TONIGHT on PBS - NOVA: What Are Dreams?

NOVA: What Are Dreams? airs on PBS stations in the US tonight, Tuesday, November 24. This is a terrific documentary on dreams, packed with specifics on the science of sleep. If you've ever wondered about sleepwalking, why we dream, or why sleep is necessary, this is the documentary for you! Note: after the air date, the entire program will be available for streaming for one full week on the Nova: What Are Dreams website.

I'm a big fan of NOVA, the science program aired on PBS stations in the US. I recently got an advance look at tonight's program, What Are Dreams?, and I think it's awesome. It's very reminiscent of a Radiolab episode on dreams from 2007 (you may remember it as the "dreaming about Tetris" episode), as the NOVA team interviews many of the same scientists, though they are further along in their research at this point. The difference is that this is NOVA, so you get to see scientists in the lab, as well as bizarre video of people sleepwalking, video of rats running mazes, and so on. This adds a new dimension that the Radiolab program lacked (although the Radiolab episode is very much worth listening to -- it's a classic.)

Discussed in this NOVA program: REM sleep and "NREM" sleep; how people waking up from different stages of sleep feel about themselves (hint: waking up from REM makes you feel like you're a pretty crappy person!); how REM/NREM sleep ratios may affect depression (!); REM Sleep Disorder -- a frightening brain disorder in which your body is not paralyzed during dreams, so you act them out; the (surprisingly brief/recent) history of sleep research; how sleep studies work (electrodes all over your head!); dreaming about videogames; how "sleeping on a problem" actually improves performance the next day; and how rats dream about running through mazes.

Here's a trailer:

Remember, it airs TONIGHT, Tuesday, November 24, on PBS stations in the US. Check your local listings for the time, though is most markets it's at 8pm.

See also: 5 Full Episodes of NOVA, Inside Oliver Sacks's Brain (As He Listens to Music), My Sleep Apnea: The Sleep Study, and Sleepwalk With Me.

What Pop Culture Gets Wrong About Dissociative Identity Disorder

From the characters in Fight Club to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, popular culture is filled with "split" personalities. These dramatic figures might be entertaining, but they're rarely (if ever) scientifically accurate, SciShow Psych's Hank Green explains in the channel's latest video. Most representations contribute to a collective misunderstanding of dissociative identity disorder, or DID, which was once known as multiple personality disorder.

Experts often disagree about DID's diagnostic criteria, what causes it, and in some cases, whether it exists at all. Many, however, agree that people with DID don't have multiple figures living inside their heads, all clamoring to take over their body at a moment's notice. Those with DID do have fragmented personalities, which can cause lapses of memory, psychological distress, and impaired daily function, among other side effects.

Learn more about DID (and what the media gets wrong about mental illness) by watching the video below.

Scientists Reveal Long-Hidden Text in Alexander Hamilton Letter

Age, deterioration, and water damage are just a few of the reasons historians can be short on information that was once readily available on paper. Sometimes, it’s simply a case of missing pages. Other times, researchers can see “lost” text right under their noses.

One example: a letter written by Alexander Hamilton to his future wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, on September 6, 1780. On the surface, it looked very much like a rant about a Revolutionary War skirmish in Camden, South Carolina. But Hamilton scholars were excited by the 14 lines of writing in the first paragraph that had been crossed out. If they could be read, they might reveal some new dimension to one of the better-known Founding Fathers.

Using the practice of multispectral imaging—sometimes called hyperspectral imaging—conservationists at the Library of Congress were recently able to shine a new light on what someone had attempted to scrub out. In multispectral imaging, different wavelengths of light are “bounced” off the paper to reveal (or hide) different ink pigments. By examining a document through these different wavelengths, investigators can tune in to faded or obscured handwriting and make it visible to the naked eye.

A hyperspectral image of Alexander Hamilton's handwriting
Hyperspectral imaging of Hamilton's handwriting, from being obscured (top) to isolated and revealed (bottom).
Library of Congress

The text revealed a more emotional and romantic side to Hamilton, who had used the lines to woo Elizabeth. Technicians uncovered most of what he had written, with words in brackets still obscured and inferred:

Do you know my sensations when I see the
sweet characters from your hand? Yes you do,
by comparing [them] with your [own]
for my Betsey [loves] me and is [acquainted]
with all the joys of fondness. [Would] you
[exchange] them my dear for any other worthy
blessings? Is there any thing you would put
in competition[,] with one glowing [kiss] of
[unreadable], anticipate the delights we [unreadable]
in the unrestrained intercourses of wedded love,
and bet your heart joins mine in [fervent]
[wishes] to heaven that [all obstacles] and [interruptions]
May [be] speedily [removed].

Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler married on December 14, 1780. So why did Hamilton try and hide such romantic words during or after their courtship? He probably didn’t. Historians believe that his son, John Church Hamilton, crossed them out before publishing the letter as a part of a book of his father’s correspondence. He may have considered the passage a little too sexy for mass consumption.

[h/t Library of Congress]


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