20.35: Notes on Caffeine

ℹ️ This is not a newsletter, nor is it a weekly update one can expect to be delivered every Sunday. These are just random thoughts or ideas I come across and pin down during the week.

Notes on Michael Pollan’s Audible Original 1,3,7-Trimethylxanthine or How Caffeine Created the Modern World.

We humans, seem to have a unique desire to complicate things.

Caffeine was a molecule originally develop as a mechanism for the plants to “defend” themselves against insects and other natural agents.

Which party is then getting the best part of this symbiotic arrangement? Or, how much credit should we give us for a plant that we use might be actually using us.

Arabs delivered the grains roasted so Europe couldn’t steal the “recipe”.

In the 1660 a dutch businessman stole some and brought it to the Netherlands. Distributed through the company of East India Company, it ended up in Java, where it was also grown — hence Mocha, Java.

It seems as if during the the 1600s each citizen was culturally required to daily consume one item from “each side” of the colonies — which in the case of Britain were tea and sugar.

From a cultural and societal standpoint, the coffee industry was deeply ingrained with slavery and oppression.

Coffee created a culture that coffee itself maintained.

  • Appeared by the time clocks incorporated the minute hand — not by chance.
  • Brought focus beyond circadian rhythms — allowing for the “night shift”.
  • Replaced alcohol in factories and pubs as a cultural drug.

How come it gives us energy since it doesn’t have any calories? Does coffee break the law of thermodynamics 🤯

Caffeine is a tiny molecule that fits nicely into one of the receptors of our CNS. Hence blocking the neuromodulator that would naturally bind to that receptor to activate it.

  • This neuromodulator is called adenosine — a depressor that also slows down the pace at which neurons fire, which removes “the brakes” that enable sleep. As adenosine builds up in the brain we start to fill more unfocused and sleepy 😴 — the so called sleep pressure.
  • Caffeine prevents adenosine of doing its job by getting in its way. But, adenosine is still there, it just can’t bind to its receptors.

During deep sleep low frequency waves are sent back from the frontal cortex in a process to sync the many brain cells. A sort of clean up for the mind, moving today’s learnings to a more permanent storage.

There is a global lack of sleep both in terms of quantity and quality across society. Caffeine is the tool we use to fix the problem it creates by itself. It hides the problem from our awareness.

We use caffeine to fix the sleepiness produced by the poor quality of our sleep, in itself, produced by coffee.

Coffee is not creating “free energy” — it is just borrowing it from the future. And we will eventually pay it, with interests, that can be measured in terms of quality of sleep.

Caffeine is just a way to achieve a certain state of mind.

First published on August 30, 2020