Conscious Dark in Vertebrates: Sleep and Sleeplessness

Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul
Av. Paulo Gama, 110 – Farroupilha, Porto Alegre – RS, 90040-060, Brasil

Received Date: June 04, 2018; Accepted Date: June 21, 2018; Published Date: July 2, 2018

Citation: Eduardo CRL, Almeida DA, Da Cruz A, Steiner F, Greenhall L (2017). Conscious Dark in Vertebrates: Sleep and Sleeplessness. International Journal of Science and Arts, 4:2. doi: 11.1266/9945-3210.5499714


Genetic research has demonstrated a relationship in human DNA to that of the elephant shark—enough similarity to tie us closer to it than to our nearer relations, the teleosts, with which we share skeletal similarities. Synaptic plasticity in the brain is a necessary component of higher functioning, including experiential memory and learning [1]; the neuronal circuits involved in these processes are revitalized in sleep, during which the receipt and processing of sensory information (predominantly visual) is curtailed. While non-sleeping vertebrates—including sightless troglobionts, sharks, and teleosts exhibiting sleep-equivalent states of nonactivity—do not appear to require sleep revitalization of the neuronal circuits, their need for rest is satisfied via alternate means, like dynamic stabilization, schooling, and the overall low visual engagement elicited by environmental homogeneity. Based on available data, “One can speculate that the first land vertebrates had progressed no further toward sleep than a state of restful waking” [2]. Considering that the tetrapods likely first left the water due to improved vision that allowed them to see prey on land [3], and that visual systems in the brains of nurse sharks are homologous to those found in higher vertebrate groups [4], the evolutionary road to higher consciousness does seem to pass through a synergy of vision of sleep.

What happens to that consciousness without sleep? It is inconceivable to consult an unconscious state, yet each step toward the vanishing point—both in terms of the discrete human mind and as a species—is to approach a levelling “gene-emptiness” that might reveal sleep’s ultimate role, on which there is no current consensus.
The Alpha Crucis spent twelve days at sea over two excursions to a dual purpose: 1) Observe tagged sharks in rest states along the Fernando de Noronha archipelago and the Atol das Rocas; and 2) Observe the effects of prolonged wakefulness and limited visual stimuli on the physiology and psychology of human volunteers.

KEY WORDS: Vision and sleep, buena vista hypothesis, synaptic plasticity, consciousness


From Dec. 1, 2017, through Dec. 15, 2017, we evaluated changes in personality and memory in 30 k-anonymous (k = 3) healthy adult volunteers over 72 hours of wakefulness at sea. Volunteers were without sleep disorders. Caffeine was prohibited. Volunteers had submitted beforehand to a testing battery of psychological diagnostics, including projective (Rorschach and TAT), objective (MMPI-2), and semi-structured tests (RISB). Thirty volunteers A = {x1, x2, x3, …, x30} composed the wakefulness set. Volunteers wore electrophysiological monitoring devices for the study’s duration. Volunteers recorded thoughts and experiences in journals and sat for interview. Blood pressure and blood chemistry was checked for subtle changes in physiological functions. The psychological testing battery was reapplied at interval. Puzzles were given, including symbol memory, spatial, motor, and numerical. All testing occurred above deck. Our goal was to create additional subsets in VAR modeling to observe if and when quantitative/qualitative changes occurred, and whether those changes clustered. For symptoms occurring, volunteers were arranged in groups (+1, +2, +3, …, +56) to indicate the hour of wakefulness (beyond the typical 16-hour benchmark) in which symptoms manifested and observations occurred.


Apart from rises in blood pressure due to deprivation, seven symptomatic subgroups C, D, E …, I manifested (Figure 1). Unresponsiveness was the common experimental conclusion, such that universal set {A} could be thought of as an empty/infinite set, as the timeline was of sufficient length to erase personality delineation.


What follows is a tiny sample of over 600 pages of exchanges between the research team and volunteers. Late stage interactions were often recursive in presentation, silence manifesting as its perfect form. This was most evident in the transcriptions of volunteers’ unguided writings. Due to the erosion of the researchers’ authority brought on by volunteer fatigue, some interactions were not prompted by diagnostic approach. As such, the trial broke its planning mold. This, along with other factors beyond the researchers’ control, makes the latter stages of the research a wandering plane of fragments as fascinating as they are aimless—bits of wreckage converging to vanish beyond the observer’s gaze.
Full texts of these sessions are available upon request via email—please send inquiries to All names used are pseudonyms.


Hour +33

KIM: “Every time I start to relax you knife me from paradise. ‘Close your eyes. Wake up.’ I can’t see anyway. I’m blindfolded in the dark and my eyes are closed. Which darkness do you want me in? It’s a maze of nothing. It’ll never be so beautiful. You should try banging garbage can lids. See if I’ll come. If I can find you.” [STAMPS FEET]


Hour +36

KIM: “I would like you to throw this in the water. That’s where it came from. This is a relative. We’re in the same death-grip confusion.”

INTERVIEWER: “Do you feel you can solve it?”

KIM: “No one can. I separated from my [SIGNIFICANT OTHER] three weeks ago. Lightning like an axe through the mountain. We make puzzles to break puzzles.”


Hour +40

I’m maybe blind like water. Like I’m waiting room music, background rain jangle checking my skeleton for errors I’m an eclipse corona brain braining a tarn bright yellow vanish my spine chandelier’s million u-drop prisms collide in a dream yawn yawning blue catastroke like the man o’ war praying on paralyzed slats that’s a man and a woman for you—enmeshed slo-mo neuropathy and ice castles grow kingdoms in sunlight bone. Who am I? The ocean. The breeze. Reach in. My teeth steam as nails. Let’s see an expensive movie and forget it. The reason is the reason. Texas is the reason! Who cares. Out swim my disinfected research babies.


Hour +20

HENRY: “I’m trying to imagine what sleep is like. You’d be like an animal. Is my mouth open?”
INTERVIEWER: “It isn’t.”
HENRY: [CLOSES EYES] “I’m biting a shark’s lip, its jaw—I don’t want to hurt it but it’s like we’re biting each other, one of us has to let go. I can feel what it feels like to bite it, my teeth sinking. We’re looking at each other. We don’t want to hurt the other one. Am I moaning?”
INTERVIEWER: “Are you asleep right now?”
HENRY: “I think so.”


Hour +50
I am so together so together what’s it like to look at these paintings? Swim next to one and not know what will happen, is it alive and what year, like every time we turn on the news we’re at risk of mirror flooding


Hour +53
HENRY: “I would like a painkiller.”
INTERVIEWER: “Is something wrong?”
HENRY: “I’m still hot. I’m like a van at Wal-Mart.” [MOPS BROW] “Animals can’t ask. They can’t roll the window down, can’t tell you. My mom calls—she wants to ask me should she defrost a chicken or whatever and I lose it, like this is the last straw. What for? If I stare at the water long enough I’ll know. Isn’t that true? I’m talking a million years. Someday maybe it’ll rain raw chicken. Call the cops if you want. Like we’re sailing around Wal-Mart. She raised me. The water doesn’t care. But at some point I’ll know. I’ll die. Won’t I?”


Hour +52

INTERVIEWER: “I most regret…”

JUNE: “Oh God.”

INTERVIEWER: “My health is…”

JUNE: “Indoor doors.”

INTERVIEWER: “If I were king…”

JUNE: “I’ll endure a blindfold.”

INTERVIEWER: “My father…”

JUNE: “In here.”


Hour +56

The IUCN Red List the entirety of which now covers more than 70% of the earth’s surface can be seen where I threw it fluttering in updrafts pages of me as littoral zone assessments rising disguised as seabirds still thinking of my father hooking the boat yo-yo sleeping like me narcotized in dark becoming who I am never falling behind and extremely tired by the end

1. Anggono, V., Huganir, R.L. (2012). Regulation of AMPA Receptor Trafficking and Synaptic Plasticity. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 22(3), 461-9.
2. Kavanau, J. L. (1998). Vertebrates That Never Sleep: Implications for Sleep’s Basic Function. Brain Research Bulletin, 46(4), 269-79.
3. MacIver, M., Schmitz, L., Mugan, U., Murphey, T. D., & Mobley, C. D. (2017). Massive Increase in Visual Range Preceded the Origin of Terrestrial Vertebrates. PNAS, 114(12):E2375-E2384.
4. Luiten, P.G. (1981). Two Visual Pathways to the Telencephalon in the Nurse Shark (Ginglymostoma Cirratum). Journal of Comparative Neurology, 196(4), 539-48.


Jason Kane has had work appear in Juked, Press 1, Pear Noir!, New Dead Families, Gone Lawn, and Hobart. His collection of fiction and prose poetry, DEEP SKY OBJECTS, is available–more info at He lives and Tweets in Pennsylvania (@JasonKaneActual).

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