Sleepy ‘Ordinary Ethics’

It has often struck me how the most common ethical issues surround us like smog, yet we never see them. And how science and some fairly simple and uncontroversial values could go a long way to solving them.

How should we eat? What kinds of friends should we have? Should we take drugs? How should we pick our partners? What kinds of sexual behavior should we engage in? Tiger Woods recently publicly confessed to being a sex addict in need of rehab. Not everyone shared his newly confessed morality on sex. The leader of the Raelians claimed that Woods’ behaviour was perfectly normal and the problem lay with his wife’s attempts to reign in his natural and normal tendencies (Elin needs therapy, not Tiger, says guru Rael, The Australian, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/breaking-news/elin-needs-therapy-not-tiger-says-guru-rael/story-fn3dxity-1225834623374). How should we resolve such conflicting claims? These are all examples of ordinary ethics.

Perhaps the most mundane ethical issue is how we should sleep. I recently wrote a short blog on the value of the 15-20 min siesta (http://juliansavulescu.typepad.com/blog/2010/02/what-is-my-cognitive-enhancer–sometimes-people-ask-me-which-enhancers-do-you-use–despite-having-defended-doping-in.html) and it turns out that my personal experience has scientific validity. A recent study (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/23/health/research/23beha.html?em) has shown that “young adults who slept for 90 minutes after lunch raised their learning power, their memory apparently primed to absorb new facts. Other studies have indicated that sleep helps consolidate memories after cramming, but the new study suggests that sleep can actually restore the ability to learn.”

The siesta is, as I argued in my blog, of important practical significance. Yet Northern European societies are structured in a way to shun this basic health and performance benefit. We would make better decisions and be better people if we slept more wisely. It is time that our ordinary choices, or omissions to choose, became more ethically and scientifically informed.

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One Response to Sleepy ‘Ordinary Ethics’

  • Jesper Östman says:

    Yes, if you by “ethically … informed” mean informed by utilitarianism. 😉

    I also enjoy my 15-20min naps. However, we cannot conclude from the study above that it will give us the same benefits as a full sleep cycle.

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