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Becoming Less Domesticated

How a change in a my sleep schedule made me reflect on how domesticate I am

It’s been 2 weeks since my first day in Italy and I still have a summer ahead of me. The fact that summer even hasn’t officially started, makes me even more delighted. During my first days however I had a disrupted sleeping schedule. I couldn’t stop passing out early in the evening, waking up multiple times during the night, and then rising up at 5 in the morning. These where consequences of jetlag that settled a couple days after my arrival to my summer house in the northern Lazio, Italy.

Now that I got used to the time, I go to sleep with the setting sun, and wake up at a time when it rises. I have never felt such an immense amount of delight from a sleeping schedule. On top of that delight, every morning I hear the birds chirping, the sun rays beaming through the right side of my room, and the cow bells ringing from the valley through which the Tiber river passes and eventually flows into Rome.

Due to jet lag that to a some extent, habituated me to go to bed early, I not only enjoy a sleeping schedule that I have not had in years, but also have become more interconnected with my internal and external natural processes. As the evening sun sets and I habituate my reading ritual, I feel the rush of melatonin levels that settle my mind and force me to put down the book and close my eyes. Having barely enough energy to keep my eye lids open, I put my book away and turn off the lights. Every morning, I typically remember how I tried to fall asleep the previous night. This time, these memories were nonexistent.

The point of these observations is to illustrate how a human body naturally grasps to natural cyclic phenomena even after its internal cycles have been distributed. The day/light cycle now has more influence on the time I go to sleep and the time I wake up. As a student who spends his academic years in New York City, I can notice how detached I have become from these environmental influences. Whatever dictated my sleep schedule, its force was nearly irrelevant. I rarely went to sleep before 1AM, and rarely woke up before 9AM. The sleeping schedule that I had during finals was probably the roughest for most of my internal biological processes. While working on projects that I felt a rush for, I worked on them till dawn with a zig-zag sleep schedule that bounced from 2 hours to 6-7 hours of sleep per day. The biological processes where at a such level of disregard that it disturbs me now that I have become more aware and considerate of them.

To reflect on what has occurred to me, I will put my observations in context with a book I finished reading a couple days ago. The book’s name is Marvelous Clouds written by John Peters, which is one of the most interesting reference books I have read. The book is about human relation with media which is a term that is definitely worth the book’s elaboration but it encompasses everything that ranges from Neanderthal cave depictions, to Google’s search results. The book is meant to push the reader to start looking at technology, media, and social interactions from a different perspective.

Among many other references that I found interesting in the book, one that I found to be very relate to my sleep schedule is the definition of a domesticated animal by a biologist named Helmut Hemmer. According to him, these are the criteria of a domesticated animal:

  1. Diversification of appearance.
  2. Decrease of motility.
  3. Increased floridness of sexual behavior.
  4. Diminishing importance of day-night and seasonal cycles.
  5. Decreased adaptability to stress and the requirement of life support from a more uniform, stable environment.
  6. Decreased timidity and an increase in social compatibility.
  7. Atrophy or hypertrophy of preexisting traits.
  8. “Decline in environmental appreciation” or “impoverishment of the noticed world”.1

After stumbling across these definitions, it was hard for me to not agree with the fact that these are indeed characteristics of a domesticated animal. But what struck me even more, is that how relevant these characteristics are for humans as well. I myself can claim the influence to all of those characteristics, with some being more or less predominant than others. But it can also be seen how these are very apparent characteristics of modern human beings. What is a characteristic of a domesticated animal has also become characteristic of a domesticated human being. Animals where domesticated by humans and humans domesticated themselves. The interesting part is that we might have domesticate ourselves prior to domesticating animals, but that is just an additional thought.

The point of this domestication example is that it leads me to the most important relation, namely the one that concerns the 4th point which is “diminishing importance of day-night and seasonal cycles”. As I mentioned previously, while being a student a city environment in New York, I started to disregard the day/night cycle. My sleeping schedule had become numb to these natural cycles, which is indeed a consequence of domestication.

Being in Italy, the signs of my domestication have become less apparent than they where before. My sleep schedule is now dictated by sounds and cycles of nature as apposed to alarm clocks and artificial schedules. I have become more influenced by natural cycles which I believe also translated into my well-being. Staying in contact with nature not only raised the level of appreciation that I have towards it, but also forces me to realize how interconnected a human being is with nature if one took a moment of notice. I’m sure most people come to similar realizations when they escape urban environments by spending a weekend in a Natural Park or visiting their elderly family members on holidays. But these experiences might not occur among individuals who don’t explore the world outside of their domesticated environments.

This leads to Hemmer’s last point, the “decline in environmental appreciation” that is caused from domestication. No matter the extent of which we humans domesticate ourselves, there is always hope that we won’t lose the ability to sense the necessity of nature for our well being. If there is no such hope in an age of climate change, pollution, and deforestation; I’m afraid there cannot be enough hope for humanity’s future either. We as an intelligent species, have the ability to have empathy for the environment that is outside our air-conditioned homes. If a domesticated animal becomes less influenced by the environment, it does not mean a human should chose the same path. A human being is hardwired to nature and it is a matter of individual experiences before we as a species are able to increase our collective empathy towards it.

  1. Helmut Hemmer, Domestication: The Decline of Environmental Appreciation, p. 92