The Biology of Time
Heartfulness eMagazine|October 2021
DR. SATCHIN PANDA is a leading expert in the field of circadian rhythm research. He is Associate Professor in the Regulatory Lab at the Salk Institute, a Pew Scholar, and a recipient of the Dana Foundation Award in Brain and Immune System Imaging. His book, The Circadian Code, has helped many people to regain their energy, sleep well and lose weight. Here he is interviewed by UDAY KUMAR on how he developed the ideas in his book, and what inspired his research.
DR. SATCHIN PANDA
Q: Good morning, sir. It’s very nice to see you. Thank you so much for taking the time. I believe in karmic coincidences, and one day I was thinking that there should be something around the circadian code, not a complex research paper but something simpler for the common person to read and understand, beyond superstition and ritual, which really explains the science. Then I discovered your book, and I was very happy.

Thank you.

Q: The more I read it, the more I can feel your sincerity in putting the contents across.

Yes, it is difficult because being a scientist it’s always hard to simplify and at the same time not to lose the facts.

Q: Yes, it’s a very fine line. I wanted to talk to you about your circadian clock app. I've personally been using it and it’s a very comprehensive app! It covers a lot of things.

But first, can you talk a little more about your childhood, especially time with your grandparents?

It’s pretty well described in the book, and as an idea it’s immense. Only in retrospect, after studying circadian rhythms, could I understand the difference between the way my paternal and maternal grandparents lived their lives. My maternal grandfather was working for the Indian Railways in a small town in Odisha so at times he had to do the night shift. He had access to relatively good health care. My paternal grandfather was a farmer, who lived on a farm and didn’t have access to health care because it was a small village in the middle of nowhere. The end stages of their lives were very different. My maternal grandfather, who ate better food and had better access to health care, succumbed to a neurodegenerative disease. He died earlier than my paternal grandfather, who lived in sync with Nature. He didn’t have electricity, he slept well, and he ate a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables. I guess the only thing he bought from the market was salt. I can’t remember anything else, not even jaggery.

In retrospect it was interesting to see how these two lives played out. I think that also gave me some early insight into the seasonality of plants and flowers, and it brought some curiosity. Most of science talks about how x affects y, but it doesn’t talk about timing. So, I realized that maybe the biology of time would be the next frontier in science. That's why I decided to work on the biology of time.

Q: Beautiful! I love the phrase “biology of time.” I also noticed the way the time with your grandparents nurtured a natural curiosity in you. You talk about this even in your TED talk, for example, your sister telling you that the frog comes up at a certain time. I thought that was just fascinating.

Back then, we didn’t have the time displayed everywhere. In those days, perhaps we had one watch in the house. It is interesting that animals and plants keep track of time to fifteen minutes accuracy, or even five minutes accuracy, irrespective of what time they go to bed and wake up in the morning.

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