Artificial Nature: Fake Sun and Its Real Benefits

In my fleeting studies of biomimicry, I had developed the impression that true biomimicry was a result of a careful study of something in nature that yielded a desired effect, followed by the intricate development of products using engineered physical and chemical structures to mimic this function.  This was quite an uppity conclusion, and I have since reopened my eyes to what is important, which is function.  I have also, in my own eyes, encompassed biomimcry into a broader category, which is artificial nature.  There are two sides to this category: the functional, and the not.

Fake house plants: NOT OK.

Fake house sun: I will accept this as a good thing.

What is the basis of my differentiation?  Essentially, whether a product that emulates a natural phenomenon, functions to be integrated into a biological cycle, or whether it exists independently of any cycles.  The fake plant does nothing (Please, tell me if I’m wrong!)  The fake sun, known as a Light Box, mimics outdoor light.  As an important part of melatonin production, the presence of light reduces melatonin levels.  This is important because concentrations of melatonin in those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder  (SAD) “were found to be 2.4 times higher than in the average population,” (1). While house lights may be bright enough for the general population, those who suffer from SAD can show significantly reduced symptoms if exposed to higher frequencies of light for defined periods of the day.  In a clinical study, 75% of participants “showed major improvement of depressive symptoms,” (2).  In some treatments, the light is placed by a person’s bed, starting out dim in the early hours of the morning and slowly becomes brighter to mimic sunrise.

So, while the Light Box has almost zero biological relationship to the actual sun, the important part is that this fake little representation of nature actual has very real benefits, in that it can help regulate sleep cycles due to melatonin’s response to bright light, and help reduce depressive symptoms in sufferers of SAD.  The product becomes integrated into our biological cycle, and it is therefore afunctionalapplication of artificial nature into our daily lives.

 

(1) Káradóttir R., Axelsson J.  “Melatonin secretion in SAD patients and healthy subjects matched with respect to age and sex.” Department of Physiology, University of Iceland, Reykjavik. Nov. 2001.   http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11768433

(2) “Q & A on Bright Light Therapy”. http://www.columbia.edu/~mt12/blt.htm.

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