Is this just more quantum quackery?
The title Quantum Nutrition begins an uphill battle. For the past few decades, ‘quantum this’ or ‘quantum that’ has had a tendency to have an air of — if not actually be — quackery. Thus, the phrase quantum nutrition might seem like a gimmick or scam, as both words are individually overused and abused in the modern world. Here, however, quantum nutrition is intended to fulfill its true etymological [or literary?] meaning in both senses. First, the word quantum [true?] signifies smallest, essence, or fundamental, the smallest and most indivisible possible. Thus, this work is intended to look at the very smallest or most fundamental forms of what we are studying, namely nutrients. Second, the work is intended to apply principles of modern quantum physics (quantum mechanics) to the study of nutrients, such as the of wave-particle duality or the uncertainty principle.
Where is the “quantum”!?
Other than this organization of nutrients based on their subatomic status, critics may argue that the “quantum” is quite lacking in this first volume. This is actually intentional, for several reasons, first, and most importantly, the author’s own ignorance. When I reviewed my mathematics as an adult some years ago, I barely began calculus, let alone studied in enough to become familiar with the required formulas utilized in quantum mechanics.
Second, this volume is intended to be a “primer” for both the author and the modern global public. It provides a general framework or direction for what I fully expect to be a lifelong pursuit. While specific thoughts or points might be bold or extraordinary, this first volume is intended to be highly conservative in its overall thesis and scope: the grouping of nutrients based on their sizes: subatomic, atomic, molecular, and even larger, with the explicit caveat that we are only aware of a small fraction of molecular nutrients.
Its existence as a “primer” for readers serves a third, very practical matter: is there enough interest in this sort of unbiased, cold-and-calculating discussion of nutrition to, as they say, put food on the table? In other words, will more books of this nature sell? Or must the author find another source of income, and leave this intellectual pursuit to the side, hoping that some more passionate soul investigates the matter?
Where are the predictions?
Theoretically, in science, the data points come first. The observations begin our work. After one observation or a million, then, a hypothesis are formed. We ‘test’ these various hypotheses both by investigating whether the data points fit their predictions and by forming new investigations (hypotheses) to test them. The more self-critical of our hypothesis we might be, the stronger those which survive. Moreover, in the bigger picture, an idea which creates a multitude of hypothesis and explains vast amounts of data has a term altogether its own: a theory.
Gravity is a good theory because it forms various testable hypothesis about the motion of objects, large and small, past and future, although the theory is imperfect. Germ theory is a good theory because it makes useful hypothesis about many contagious diseases, from measles to the flu virus to Ebola, although it does not account for metabolic and genetic diseases, which have no infectious germ-causes. No theory will explain all the data, and a theory can never be disproved, but the data will always point in the direction of this or that better theory over worse theories.
Note that this is also true of individual hypothesis. Popular modern astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is fond of the example hypothesis, “cell-phone calls (phone-to-ear) cause brain cancer.” Indeed, there are a few data points showing a minor association between brain cancers and cellular phone use with the handset, while in talk mode or otherwise active, held to the ear. On the whole, however, most of evidence does not support that hypothesis. There may still be — and probably are — risks or dangers to the brain from emitted electromagnetic radiation by modern technology such as these phones. But those risks do not support the idea that phone usage causes brain cancer, and certainly not in the way that cigarette smoking generally causes lung cancer. Here, too, the hypothesis, like the theory, cannot be disproved, rather the data can only support alternate explanations.
So is Quantum Nutrition really a theory? Where are its hypothesis? What predictions does it make? Any?
Sadly, we must remember that this first work is a mere Volume I. It represents an introduction, a cursory overview, a perspective shift to viewing nutrients by size, and ignores many other conventions from modern nutrition. There are, I think, scores of minor hypothesis and predictions laced throughout, sometimes explicitly described and sometimes not. The most focused examples are in Part IV: Cellular Nutrients & Beyond’s final section, Future Volumes. I should be honored if readers come away with more than a few new ideas and perspectives after reading it, but I shall not feel disappointed if many readers are critical.
One other alternative defense is in order, at least against the criticism that this thesis is not truly a theory. I shall defer readers towards the idea alluded to in this section’s first sentence, namely, that in science, the data are separate from the process of explaining them. In the modern idea of science, as taught to our schoolchildren: the data come first, then the hypothesis and theories, then experiments to test these ideas, followed by more data, a refinement of hypothesis and theories, and so forth, ad infinitum. This serves as a nice myth perpetuated to both children and undergraduates alike, but the more years one spends in the adult world, the more the truth should be obvious: we are ever co-observing co-explaining data, and attempts to argue that one or the other comes first, or exists in a cute cartoon cyclic image, are simply fallacious. One work which discusses this is Koestler’s The Act of Creation, already quoted in the Preface. He writes,
But the collecting of data is a discriminating activity, like the picking of flowers, and unlike the action of a lawn-mower; and the selection of flowers worth picking, as well as their arrangement into a bouquet, are ultimately matters of personal taste.[Koestler, Arthur, The Act of Creation, The Anchor Press, 1964, p. 233.]
The machine cuts everything in its path without discrimination. The human selects various wildflowers and omits others based on desires and goals, and further arranges them according to other intellectual ideas, even periodically trimming and maintaining.
Koestler is arguing what most adults, less-indoctrinated by such dogma, have known for as long as this idea has been regurgitated, namely that it is entirely wrong. Data are selected or accepted and hypothesis are pursued just as subjectively as they are pursued and accepted or revised objectively. Despite the to our youth, we are just as subjectively passionate and possessive about our ideas, and those prejudices show every time we include or exclude some data. Science is quite young.
Thus, this first volume aims to be honest from the start, so it is hereby announced: Quantum Nutrition: Volume I argues in support of a theory. Worse, the data have been cherry picked, and references included to support the theory! If all I earn from this admission is the respect of a few grown-up schoolchildren, I accept that fate! Having noted that, we may turn to the even grander philosophical criticism (or question) that the very idea of such a merger of two sciences is impossible.
Quantum nutrition is impossible! (Or: science as an exercise in futility)
Note: In this section, almost every use of the phrase “quantum nutrition” applies the introduction’s first definition of the word quantum; namely, meaning “fundamental,” “smallest part,” or “indivisible,” rather than the specific application of quantum mechanics to the study of nutrition. Thus, the phrase “quantum nutrition” might be translated to the phrase “studying the simplest, smallest parts that nurture us.” Throughout the rest of the book, the phrase uses both definitions of the word quantum.
In this final section on criticisms, I shall argue for the most critical idea against the present thesis. By arguing against the work itself, I therefore hope to simultaneously defend against the attack.
In an intellectual sense, Quantum Nutrition is doomed to fail. In other words, if judged according to its own intellectual matrix, this first volume of Quantum Nutrition is a failure. This may strike readers as one of the most oddly printed sentences by an author in his own work, especially one somewhat academic in nature. But I must be honest. It is doomed to fail because it is impossible to categorize nutrients based on their spatial size, or their temporal position, or by any other characteristic or metric! Quantum mechanics teaches us that it is impossible to know everything about any fundamental particle; indeed it teaches us that the more certain we are about one property, the more uncertain we become about another. And this is of fundamental, far more discrete subatomic particles. What of complicated atoms, or the more elaborate physical structures which we are studying here? Nay, the very idea of a discrete nutrient is absurd, doomed to fail.
There might be a dozen specific reasons why the goals of quantum nutrition are unattainable, but two stand out clearly. The first is that nutrition is not solely about the nutrients themselves, nutrition is about the relationships between them. And while relationships — social, nutritional, or otherwise — are worth studying, with enough particles, they quickly become infinite in number.
The number of possible relationships of three entities which may interact with each other is only three or four: A, B, and C only combine as AB, AC, and BC, or, if we allow all three letters, ABC. A, B, C, and D combine only to AB, AC, AD, BC, BD, CD if we allow only two connections; and if we allow three, adding the combinations ABC, ABD, ACD, and BCD; and the combination ABCD if all four are allowed. Thus, four entities gives us 6 combinations in pairs, 4 triplets, and 1 quadruplet.
The numbers remain manageable by a human up to perhaps a dozen letters, and for our computers with hundreds or thousands of letters, if not more. But these examples are only if we allow one instance of each letter in our study of relationships; the real world does not function as such. Also, are we studying the possible combinations between these letters, or the relationship of A-to-B? In other words, how do we define a relationship — is it merely a combination of two entities? More semantics!
Moreover, particles are far more complicated than letters or symbols. If we allow for multiple instances of the same entity (adding such possibilities AAB, AAC, BBA, etc., to the list), consider the hundreds of known nutrients, that various relationships overlap and interact, space-time as a concept, and continue such honest thinking, the possibilities explode astronomically. How many atoms of magnesium interact with calcium? How many interactions and relationships are relevant? All of these investigations are worth studying — and many will likely prove groundbreaking publications in future years — but we cannot ultimately know even the number of potential relationships between nutrients, let alone study them.
But we may study the most important relationships between nutrients. Indeed we already are: we know iron is better absorbed in conjunction with ascorbic acid, and forms of vitamin K help “carry” the mineral calcium to the cells in which it is needed most. The universe is worth knowing, but we need not study all of it at once to focus on the strongest relationships between certain nutrients. There is much to learn by focusing on the parts, however disconnected from the whole they may be. Here the study of nutrition connects with human culture: all cultures combine different foods in different ways, usually local and seasonal. Why? These cultural questions — often studied — form the basis for countless scientific investigations and knowledge.
These relationships might be between two individual nutrients, or might include various overlapping matrices of nutrients, entire foodstuffs like garlic and onion with liver, turmeric and pepper, or more complex relationships. Here quantum nutrition actually shouts to us that it is perhaps a more complex field than quantum mechanics — and almost perversely so!
Again, nutrition is about relationships.
The second reason quantum nutrition is impossible is that nutrition is about context. For the modern reader with a diet rich in fresh fruits, ascorbic acid — also called vitamin C — is but a tasty, citrus-y molecule, whether by supplement or food. It is an important nutrient for the body, but it is hardly lifesaving. But for a hypothetical astronaut, unable to receive the last two running resupply shipments of supplements and foodstuffs including this vitamin, ascorbic acid is a lifesaving molecule. A kiwifruit or lemon might save her life, revitalizing a waning, fatigued soul floating in the depths of space, whereas for us it might sit on our kitchen counter, slowly rotting for days before being remembered, half salvaged from invading insects.
The importance of ascorbic acid exists only in context. It is time-sensitive, and may be anywhere from an essential lifesaving nutrient for the astronaut, to a “vitamin” only according to some dusty textbook for the suburbanite with a refrigerator full of excess fruit. Likewise, a pregnant mother back on earth with a growing nutritional problem resulting from insufficient vitamin A intake might birth her child blind. Yet a different woman, a modern urbanite with the finances and access to an ample supply of vegetables and meat, pregnant or not, might have reserves of this fat-soluble nutrient for months or years. Excess quantities of this amino acid might simply be metabolized for energy (the word burned is often used to mean wasted) or pass through her digestive system undigested by human cells.
The molecule here, a form of vitamin A, is a critical nutrient to the first woman, but it is merely an extraneous molecule to the second, it is only energy. For the second woman, it could even be considered a metabolic burden, forcing her human or microbial cells to ‘burn’ the molecule for energy, if possible; or it might otherwise bring risks associated with overconsumption. Nutritionists seldom discuss this: a nutrient as a burden, an unnecessary waste? Traditionally, seldom outside of the known risks of “fat-soluble vitamins” is this idea discussed, rather it is brushed into the intellectual closet. Yet it is obvious: for two different persons, the very same nutrient, breath of air, sip of water, or bite of food might be poison or lifesaving rejuvenation[This should remind us of the goal of medicine: to be healthier. That goal — and the progress towards it — is a worthy one: to present the medical doctor with a problem or symptom, have our blood or hair or brain tested, and have a recommendation to eat more of this or less of that, to change this or that about our lifestyle, rather than ingest a pharmaceutical invention, adept at masking the true imbalance, or needless and permanent procedure. If modern medicine is losing respect, it has only itself to blame.].
Again, nutrition is about context.
In a sense, these two reasons are variations of the same idea. Both the concept of relationships, rather than particles, and the idea of context to surrounding environment are the same theme. In the introduction we noted the second definition of the word quantum, namely, the application of quantum mechanics to nutrition, with all the curious oddities that might entail.
We are preparing to traverse the entire infinite electromagnetic spectrum as a nutritional field in itself, the seemingly-finite-but-actually-infinite depths of the periodic table as a battlefield for chemical nutrition, and the truly impossible world of molecules and cellular structures as nutrients. Yet we are starting here — with our very author stating, in the introduction, that our goal is impossible? Some readers may be offended, others furious. And yet this first volume of Quantum Nutrition is necessary because — as mentioned in the first included essay — a better framework must replace the existing tower of Babel, built on an unstable raft in a murky swamp. Current nutrition science is but a joke, arguably far from an actual scientific pursuit. Einstein’s large-scale general and special relativity are imperfect, as is the small-scale theory of quantum mechanics, but both are progress over Newton’s classical physics, which itself remains useful.
Studying nutrients in their quantum sense is, of course, futile from at least one more perspective. Every human parent knows it: love is a nutrient, as vital as milk or vitamin B12 or light. Indeed, in the past two centuries, various horrible psychological studies have given us evidence — unneeded, of course — for this, such as the investigations with babies in orphanages left alone most of the day, or those with newborn non-human primates separated from their mothers but given straw doll-mothers. But what does the concept of love really mean, nutritionally? Is it a fundamental, quantum thing we cannot further breakdown, or does it encompass other, more definable aspects of parenting and nutrition, like the word universe encompasses smaller discrete parts? The question is a good one, perhaps even necessary, but it seems rhetorical: this book cannot productively comment on love as a nutrient. No book can, thinks the author.
So Quantum Nutrition is impossible, but this hardly means its pursuit is pointless. We have known forever that every bit of knowledge, like every bit of matter, is connected to all the rest. Thus nothing in the arts, no publication in an obscure journal, no drop of water is disconnected from the rest of creation. But should we stop our lives, stop pursuing knowledge, stop investigating, stop building? Hardly. Knowing our intellectual goal is impossible, and that it quickly reaches the infinitude of the universe itself, should only humble us with each step forward.