drghirlanda

Neuroscience, evolution, and culture

Tag Archives: winter

Semester på vinter!

In Swedish, winter is not referred to as the cold season. It is den mörka årstiden – the dark season. For a tourist, snow-covered Stockholm around Christmas is a fairy tale, but to live and work with 6 hours of daylight is not everyone's piece of cake. Winter depression is estimated to affect 5-10% of the Swedish population (compare to about 4% for diabetes). Many more people do not meet criteria for a clinical depression, but still feel depressed mood and fatigue to varying degrees (Katia's and Anna's experiences).

Den mörka arstiden's toll on Swedes is acknowledged explicitly or implicitly in many ways. There are several school breaks during the winter so that families can travel (traditionally, they went skiing even further up north, nowadays Thailand and the Canary Islands are the preferred destinations). Working hours are slightly longer in winter than in the summer, so that the brief summer can be enjoyed more fully (the workday is officially set at 8 hours and 10 minutes between mid-September and mid-May, and at 7 hours and 30 minutes the rest of the year). And so on.

I think there is a better solution: reverse summer and winter vacation so that there are two-three months of vacation in winter and one in summer. This would enable people to escape the darkness. Many people effectively do this already, thanks to the fact that work schedules are often very flexible in Sweden. There are, however, important exceptions, like schools and universities. The majority of the population is affected by school and academic schedules: kids in school, their parents, University students, and anyone who works in education. These persons cannot take vacation when they like. Those among them who suffer from light deprivation cannot take vacation when they would need it for their health. Some people are so disabled in the winter that they have to take extended sick leave, which is paid by the State, when they could on vacation (and in good health) on their own budgets.

If you live in Sweden, and are interested in reversing winter and summer breaks, drop me a line at dr.ghirlanda@gmail.com. I just saw a documentary about Howard Zinn, so I believe that if we organize we can do anything. And remember, Sweden switched from left-hand traffic to right-hand traffic overnight, on September, 3rd, 1967.

Catching Extra Time

Here I am on the Riva di Ca' di Dio in Venice visiting the 53rd International Art Exhibition. The black shirt and the tie entitle me to comment on the artworks with authority.

The shiny cube I'm leaning on is a showcase for Nikola Uzunovski's My Sunshine project. Nikola, an applied artist, wants to improve the quality of life at northern latitudes (or deep mountain valleys). The problem with these places is that, although they may well be wonderful in all other respects, they get light for a rather short time in winter. In the best of cases, lack of sunlight makes you a bit sleepy, in the worst case it makes you clinically depressed.

Nikola's solution is a device that lengthens the day: a mirror that floats up in the sky, electronically controlled to shine the sun's image on an otherwise dark spot on earth.

How does it work? Simply, the device exploits the fact that up in the sky the day lasts longer than at the earth's surface – as shown in the diagram at left (please do not blame Nikola for that). The mirror, floating inside a helium filled balloon, reflects 90% of the afternoon rays onto the earth below creating a virtual sun.

My sunshine is a step toward bringing Italian climate to Swedish civilization – the Eden of humanity. Bringing Swedish civilization to Italian climate, unfortunately, remains a daunting challenge for artists and scientists alike.