Quantum Nutrition: A Short Introduction

In 2013, in my first semester of graduate school, I had an idea:

“What if we could trace the effects of a single nutrient from physics/chemistry/geology up through biology, past neuroscience and behavior, through all other areas of the university, from economics and art history to geopolitics and beyond?”

Not until 2017 did I realize this is what the true scientific study of “nutrition” attempts to do. It simply lacks an adequate theory to make testable predictions and unify other related scientific fields.

 


Table of Contents


Current Definition and Problems

 

Archaic definitions

Here are a few conventional definitions of the word “nutrition” from the web:

Websters’:

the act or process of nourishing or being nourished; specifically : the sum of the processes by which an animal or plant takes in and utilizes food substances. / foods that are necessary for human nutrition

Cambridge:

the process by which the body takes in and uses food, esp. food that it needs to stay healthy, or the scientific study of this process

 

There are several major problems with these and other standard definitions of the word nutrition:

  • They use the word “food” or “nourish,” which itself, being from the Latin nutrire, centers around the idea of “food.” This may be useful for those with more philosophical conceptions of the word “food.” Unfortunately, in modern America and conventional “nutrition science,” the word food is usually conceptually disconnected from the concepts of air and water, even more necessary to nourish life. Modern “nutrition science” essentially ignores air, water, and their nourishment.
  • They often refer anthropomorphically to the human body, as opposed to the biological concept of the cell (or another accepted model) or the concept of any multicellular organism.
  • They fail to account for essential subatomic particles and processes.

 


From “Vitamins and Minerals” to “Minerals and Molecules”

Worse, the term “vitamin” has no good scientific definition, and the archaic “vitamin and mineral” model is outdated and nearly useless. Here are three reasons:

  1. “Vitamin D” (cholecalciferol) has been well known for decades, scientifically, to be a hormone. It is not an essential dietary nutrient; rather, it is an essential hormone synthesized by human skin when cellular processes use light to convert the molecule 7-Dehydrocholesterol to “previtamin D3” and later cholecalciferol itself. However, the subatomic particle known as a photon (at 290-315 nm) is a necessary nutrient, absorbed in humans by the skin and used as noted.
  2. Most “vitamins” are actually groups of molecules, such as the A group, the B group, the E group, and the K group. To my knowledge, only “vitamin C” refers a single individual molecule: ascorbic acid.
  3. With each passing year, it appears that there are other “essential molecules,” such as the so-called pseudovitamins and phytonutrients, potentially known molecules like caffeine, nicotine, or DMT, and many others. Given the complexity and ability of the various micro-biomes to evolve and synthesize molecules based on other nutritional inputs, some humans may have bacterial synthesis of essential dietary molecules whereas others do not, so the word “essential” is quite problematic. However, there are certainly undocumented essential molecules (just as there are undocumented essential elements).

We must therefore move towards a better categorization of nutrients.

While subatomic particles must be technically included (below), the phrases “atoms and molecules” or “elements and molecules” are scientifically accurate phrases to replace “vitamin and mineral.” However, I suggest the phrase “minerals and molecules” for the public, using the periodic table for the former, and reminding the public that a molecule is simple an individual arrangement of bonded atoms. The term “mineral” from “minerals and molecules” would be technically inaccurate, since elements on the periodic table like Carbon and Nitrogen are not minerals per se, but “minerals and molecules” serves as a better phrase for public adoption to promote education and awareness. (Unless the public forgets that for humans, the photon is also an essential subatomic nutrient.)

While these are good starting points to inform public opinion, we still need acceptable scientific definitions in order to make testable hypotheses, to carry nutrition into the modern century, and to prepare it for the next.


A New Theory

 

What is the definition of nutrition?

Nutrition is the study of nutrients and their effects.

What is the definition of a nutrient?

A nutrient is a particle without which an acid-based (amino acid, nucleic acid, etc.) function or reaction cannot occur. For the public: a nutrient is a particle (subatomic, atomic, or molecular) used in a biochemical reaction.

 

How can we categorize nutrients?

Nutrients should be categorized based on standard models from the physical sciences:

  • subatomic particles (photons, electrons, protons, etc.),
  • atoms (lithium, oxygen, sodium, sulfur, etc.),
  • molecules (ascorbic acid, α-Linolenic acid, etc.),
  • and even (optionally) whole cellular organelles and/or organisms.
    • Note: It does not seem likely that whole organelles or cells are used as “nutrients” without being broken down into component macro-molecules and smaller particles first. However, from another perspective, it not only seems likely, it seems a historical biological fact: the “first” mitochondrion was likely an independent cellular entity, consumed or assimilated, in a sense, as a mutually-beneficial symbiotic “nutrient.” Perspective indeed!

 

Naming a Theory

Quantum or quanta may have a few varying definitions in the physical sciences. While the word comes from the Latin quantus, meaning “how great,” in the early 1900s it came to signify the smallest measurable unit. This is especially true of the electromagnetic force, as quantum came to signify the smallest relevant particles: a single electron, a “fermion” with mass; or the photon, a type of “boson,” the massless force-carrier of the electromagnetic force. Quantum often now refers to both indivisible sub-atomic particles and the unpredictable nature of studying these particles.

Quantum is thus a perfect, relevant word for a unifying physical theory of nutrition, although it need not be used only to refer to the electron, photon, and other subatomic particles. Here, the word quantum can be used in a general sense: the smallest useful subatomic, atomic, or molecular unit of nutrition. This is critical, because these three divisions must form the foundation of the future study of nutrition; for example: an electron or photon, versus a single lithium or sodium ion, versus molecular oxygen or caffeine. While larger molecular elements — long chain fatty acids and peptides — are obviously nutrients, they work well under the third molecular division, studied individually or collectively.

As such, a unifying theory of nutrition should be called quantum nutrition or quantum nutrition theory.

 

Questions

This presents numerous questions (thousands, actually). For example:

  • How can we define and differentiate an “essential” or “beneficial” nutrient?
  • What is the difference between a nutrient and a drug?
  • How can we organize nutritional molecules into useful categories?
  • Might there be an organizational approach similar to the standard model or periodic table for these molecules?
  • How can we account for modern, unique, synthesized molecules, which often have negative effects on whole organisms?
  • How can we define “life” and account for entropic decay?
  • What individual diseases, cultural adaptations, and societal challenges are predicted?

 


 

The Future: Unifying the Scientific Disciplines

From physical vs. social sciences towards a unified concept of the sciences

Because nutrients influence all known biochemical processes, nutrition connects physics, chemistry, and other physical sciences to biology, psychology, and all associated scientific disciplines, such as economics, culture, religion, and philosophy. An effective model of nutrition bridges the “gap” between the so-called natural vs. social sciences, allowing, at long last, us to retire the concept of “social sciences.” At some point this century, an effective model of nutrition will allow us to make predictions based on the effects of nutritional photon intake on economic decision making in northern latitudes; or, if all else could be controlled for, nutrition could make predictions on how varying soil levels of magnesium in Northwest vs. Southeast African populations affects leadership styles of elected politicians. This may take decades, of course, but the basic ideas already exist.

We need only connect the dots.

Where to begin?

 

Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology, Johnjoe McFadden, 2015

Life on the Edge:
The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology, Johnjoe McFadden

Dig deeper and you will always find quantum mechanics lurking at the heart of our familiar reality.”

Remember this.

This is probably the most intellectually challenging book I’ve ever read, but it was worth it, and I’m as excited to review it – intellectually – as I was while reading it in parts. I felt as engaged as when I read The Moral Animal before entering the military. Perhaps more surprisingly, I felt some connection to my childhood brain: a child that used the word “All” to describe something greater than his parentally-indoctrinated concept of God; a child that found joy in thinking; a child that felt that there must be physical ripples from every action to every other point in the universe. No other book has made me feel like this before…so the question is, of course, “What do I do about it?”

I am thirty-one. If I pursued a Ph.D., I would likely not complete it until around forty. Granted, I could aim high and apply to great schools; attempt to earn money before and on the side, start a family while earning the degree; and it’s helpful to remember that chronological age means nothing. Still, these thoughts say nothing in response to the pressing question, “Why the hell get a Ph.D.?

 


 

I’ve come across the two-slit experiment perhaps ten times in my life, but I’ve never understood it so well. Lesson learned: books beat YouTube videos watched only once! The authors dedicated a substantial portion of a chapter to the experiment, and it’s worth reviewing for an excellent scientific lesson, which “according to Richard Feynman, “has in it the heart of quantum mechanics.””

“Asking what is really going on between observations is like asking whether your fridge light is on before you open the fridge door: you can never know because as soon as you peek you change the system.”

Two or three times, the authors call “bullshit” on quantum claims about telepathy or anything related.

However, in their final chapter they also mention that when the chaos of the classical world overwhelms the ability of cells and organisms to maintain this “link” to the quantum world, this might be a good way to look at or even define death. I think that’s as good a theory (or explanation) as I’ve ever heard elsewhere!

I still do not believe I truly understand oxidation. How I have a master’s and have read a dozen books in these areas is a testament to how ignorance only grows faster than does knowledge! To understand oxidation, the photosynthetic capture of exitons, and other details, this report is worth reviewing and revising in the future.

They bring up Feynman’s quote, “What I cannot create, I do not understand” several times. As such, they note, we haven’t made – and thus do not understand! – the following: a cell, an enzyme, or even a simple self-replicator. What more profound pillars of biology are there? We really have no clue about biology, and this field is going to change profoundly in the next century. We certainly understand basic physics and chemistry more than biology, but sadly, this likely means we also understand some of the “social” sciences more than biology, as well! Unbelievable, but likely true!

 


 

[Note: In the interests of not over-quoting or citing the text in this web post, I’ve eliminated the bulk of my highlights from the book here.]

To start, why is quantum anything important?

  • “In fact, it has been estimated that over one-third of the gross domestic product of the developed world depends on applications that would simply not exist without our understanding of the mechanics of the quantum world.”

  • “Still, the quantum world appears very strange to us and it is often claimed that this strangeness is a symptom of a fundamental split between the world we see around us and its quantum underpinnings. But in reality there is only a single set of laws that govern the way the world behaves: quantum laws.*8 The familiar statistical laws and Newtonian laws are, ultimately, quantum laws that have been filtered through a decoherence lens that screens out the weird stuff (which is why quantum phenomena appear weird to us). Dig deeper and you will always find quantum mechanics lurking at the heart of our familiar reality.”

 

Okay, but why, specifically, is quantum biology relevant?

(Why do we have to look to the quantum world for biological explanations, rather than simply using classical physics? Of course quantum mechanics underlies all physical processes, but can’t we ignore these strange and counter-intuitive effects at the biological level?)

  • “So isn’t everything, including us and other living creatures, just physics when you really get down to the fundamentals? This is indeed the argument of many scientists who accept that quantum mechanics must, at a deep level, be involved in biology; but they insist that its role is trivial. What they mean by this is that since the rules of quantum mechanics govern the behavior of atoms, and biology ultimately involves the interaction of atoms, then the rules of the quantum world must also operate at the tiniest scales within biology—but only at those scales, with the result that they will have little or no effect on the scaled-up processes important to life.”

  • “So the claim that delicately arranged quantum entangled states could survive in the warm and complex interior of living cells was thought by many to be an outlandish idea, verging on madness.”

  • “Much of the skepticism Schrödinger’s claim attracted at the time was rooted in the general belief that delicate quantum states couldn’t possibly survive in the warm, wet and busy molecular environments inside living organisms.”

 

Why, then, do big objects do not have quantum properties?

  • “This is why big objects, such as footballs, do not quantum tunnel: they are made up of trillions of atoms that cannot behave in a coordinated coherent wave-like fashion.”

  • “The answer on one level is very simple: the bigger and more massive a body is, the smaller will its wave-like nature be, and something the size and mass of a human, or indeed anything large enough to be visible with the naked eye, will have a quantum wavelength so tiny as to have no measurable effect. But more deeply, you can think of each atom in your body as being observed, or measured, by all the other atoms around it, so that any delicate quantum properties it might have are very quickly destroyed.

 

What areas of quantum biology are described?

  • Enzymes.
    • Essentially, quantum properties allow enzymes to perform reactions much faster than classical physics would predict. And as the authors note, since “About one-third of all enzyme reactions involve moving a hydrogen atom from one place to another,”(if this is true), quantum mechanics plays an enormously important role in all of biology, from the ground up!
  • Respiration and the electron chain:
    • Human systems to capture light are notoriously inefficient…yet plants successfully capture nearby 100% of the energy that hits their chlorophyll to the reaction center. How do they do this? Classical physics can’t explain it, a random walk would be terribly inefficient. They are capturing the wave-based nature of light, allowing the exitons to travel as a quantum wave, permitting nearly perfect efficiency of those that reach the reaction center! Amazing:
      • “but the real action of photosynthesis takes place in the reaction center itself. Here the fragile energy of excitons is converted into the stable chemical energy of the electron carrier molecule that plants or microbes use to do lots of useful work, like building more plants and microbes.

      • “Photosystems, enzymes, respiratory chains and genes are structured right down to the position of individual particles, and their quantum motions do indeed make a difference to the respiration that keeps us alive, the enzymes that build our bodies or the photosynthesis that makes nearly all the biomass on our planet.”

    • Navigation by magnetic compasses:
      • I agree with their decision to put this topic, with which they opened, in the middle of the book, as we needed to be convinced first about the quantum world. Then, the most substantial argument certainly belongs here. A block of granite over on its edge is a good analogy for how the ridiculously sensitive (and previously-thought-to-be-of-insignificant-importance) fast triplet reaction can influence the chemical products created in these reactions, their molecules created, and how ultimately the magnetic field could have an influence on the behavior of a bird (or other organism).
        • magnetoreception, particularly in robins, has become the poster child of quantum biology.”

      • (6) Smell:
        • Here the authors describe the lock-in-key, conventional model, easy for anyone with introductory biological knowledge to understand; and also the various quantum models. It’s convincing that quantum mechanics is involved in smell reception, but they end by noting that the best theory is likely a combinatory model: both the physical shape of molecules/receptors, and the vibrations of odors likely play a role.
      • (7) Quantum genes:
        • This was a good chapter, but it took some time for me to accept, especially because they’re claiming something I’ve studied so much – MCB, Genetics, Central Dogma, etc. – is so intimately tied to the quantum world. But when I now think about how many decades ago these ideas were proposed, well… I am incredibly disappointed in my education for not bringing up these ideas to me! It makes sense in hindsight: since a quantum measurement is made of the hydrogen bonds (protons, acting quantum mechanically), each time a section of DNA is “read,” as it were, there is a chance the DNA will revert to its tautomeric form, causing a mutation. This chance is small of course, but it exists, and more importantly (surprise!), this makes mutations more likely in overly-expressed genes!
        • (Here’s basically the base argument for periodically eating a ketogenic diet to prevent cancer! Overall, reading equally from diverse genes will minimize chances of cancer…)
      • (8) Consciousness:
        • This was an unimpressive chapter for me, gives an explanation of the “binding problem”, and discusses how the brain’s EM field may be equally important. I agree that it is from the E=mc2 perspective, but that doesn’t mean the EM field is equally as important as the physical reactions…
      • (9) The primordial replicator:
        • Here, they summarize an absolutely beautiful theory for how this first replicator might have been born. I’d heard of the RNA hypothesis, of course, which makes sense because of the higher variability and properties of RNA, but they shut the idea down quickly that this could happen with classical physics alone. It simply isn’t likely given the numbers we know – there aren’t enough particles or time in the universe to create even a simple self replicator by chance. But if quantum physics is invoked (search for “64” within the highlights below), it could happen. However, I’m disappointed they didn’t provide theoretical information on the time required. I’d love to see this hypothesis tested in the lab!
          • “Haldane and Oparin proposed that the emergence of this primordial replicator was the key event that led to the origin of life as we know it.”

        • 10, How cells keep decoherance at bay to use quantum effects:
          • The final analogy of “a ship whose narrow keel…” helps us understand how the cell navigates the rough waters of classical physics in such a warm, wet environment while maintaining its ability to use quantum mechanical laws. The ship with a good captain (the cell) is compared to an engineer who wants to sail the ship in a cold environment depleted of air or water and their associated randomly-driven molecular movements. This chapter also describes how the authors propose to test the effects of the quantum world on life: we’d need to build a cell (or at least a replicator) using only classical physical properties, and one using the quantum world…
            • “The noise essentially acts as a kind of continuous measurement.”

 

Great quotes about science in general:

  • “Mysteries, however small, are fascinating because there’s always the possibility that their solution may lead to a fundamental shift in our understanding of the world.”

  • “And no one has yet found a way of determining the structure of proteins while they remain embedded in cell membranes.”

  • “As he talked freely about his idea, Schulten developed a reputation at the Max Planck Institute for being regarded as somewhat crazy. His problem was that he was a theoretical physicist who worked with paper, pen and computers, not a chemist; and certainly not an experimental chemist capable of donning a lab coat and performing the kind of experiment that would prove his ideas. Thus he was in the position of many theoreticians who come up with a neat idea but have then to find a friendly experimentalist willing to take time out of their busy lab schedule to test a theory that, more often than not, will prove to be wrong.”

 

Themes and analogies to help understand them, highlighted throughout my file in green:

  • Measurement, ocean waves
  • Billiard table
  • Violin as a classical, warm wet biological instrument, guitar as a quantum incremental instrument
  • Behavior of a tiny balloon will be quantum, and unpredictable — gas laws can’t help us.
  • Decoherance (search)
  • The oxidation of water
  • Cycling postmen to illustrate …

 

A Letter to My Unborn Daughters, or: Why American Women Aren’t Leading Anymore

4,200 words
Read time @ 250 words/minute: 17 minutes

 

Dearest young ladies,

Throughout your lives, you may notice more principals, presidents, pastors, and other leaders from all walks of life as men, rather than women. Surely we will have a thousand conversations on this matter, and shall often remind ourselves that life is not fair. But something more is going on. Women make amazing leaders, as I have learned from your mother and others, but the women in this country simply aren’t leading. 

So, you will ask, why not?

The real reason, girls, is physics. But this is simpler than a physics lesson: American women aren’t “leading” because they are destroying their connection to the physical world. They are destroying their connection to their own bodies, bit by bit. And while we will travel many countries in our lives, much of the world looks up to ours, so what American women do, women around the world will, too.

These are the ways in which I see the women of my generation destroying that connection. Know them so that you may choose wisely as you age.

 


Table of Contents

 


 

The Skin

The skin is the largest “organ” of the human body, and one through which minerals, toxins, and other molecules can be both secreted and absorbed. It forms our defenses from the outside, helps hold us together, cools us, warms us, and more. But nevermind the science. Nevermind what marketers call “natural” creams and gels and lotions, among other words they use to sell their products. Nevermind that everyone with the slightest idea of nutrition agrees that we should reduce “processed” food in our diets, all the while half of our population is drowning their skin in “processed” creams, lotions, and other pastes. Nevermind the science, because much of it only comes from money and may not even exist when you begin making your way in this world.

The skin needs more than an avoidance of human- and machine-based concoctions.

To lead, what your skin needs is a return to nature. Do not underestimate the skin, and do not neglect it. Simply let it be.

Related to the skin are a number of other areas:

 

Temperature, both cold and hot.

Cold exposure, to ice-baths, showers, and cold bodies of water is becoming increasingly common in my day, and is slowly being investigated by scientists. The science may matter to you or it may not. Simply understand that the greater the range of temperatures your skin is comfortable with (via air or water), hot and cold, the healthier it is. Use this as a good starting point.

Sunlight.

Ignore the women lathering themselves with protective creams. Ignore the fear of the sun, remembering that the skin can both protect and heal itself, and it is natural that we spend much time outside under the sun, clouds, and stars. Avoid sunburns, but work around your schedules to have a healthy tan on your skin (preferably away from the eyes of male onlookers). These creams are useful, of course, and it is good to understand when to use them, but understand that in general, they do more harm than good to our societies.

Diet

There is little to say here, as you will likely be experts on your body’s dietary needs and the many ways to use food wisely, and the link between diet and the skin will be well established by your time. Humans have known, of course, that what we eat becomes our bodies in a very real sense, but we seem to have forgotten this truth for about a century. Sadly, many teens of my and my parent’s generations were told by “expert” doctors (called dermatologists) that diet has no effect on the skin. This was foolish and egotistical of them, as will be known in your day, but is still not common knowledge even in our time now. Only recently are we re-accepting that ancient truth: our food becomes our bodies — including our skin.

Hair.

Our hair exists for a reason. This is a /hypothesis of mine, as I write this letter, and may be more supported or disproven in your day: hairs may actually store trace minerals for future retrieval and for some sort of communication through the air. Perhaps it is some sort of dispersal of molecules (along with the skin), or an electro-chemical signal through the air. I recall a bacterial “cloud” around each person being investigated by one scientific study, and other early evidence may be there long before you are born. Anecdotally, it is not uncommon to hear one say that “you could feel the electricity in the room” in tense meetings, with great public speakers, and at other moments throughout life.

But the science matters little. It is easy to accept that hair is not simply a relic of our early shared primate ancestors, hair is useful today. We simply do not fully know how.

Do not ignore the truth in anecdotes and early scientific ideas, and do not destroy the hair on the surface of your skin without deep contemplation first.

Take shaving very seriously.

 


 

Makeup

Along with the voice, the face is where we judge honesty, emotions, status, and far more. The face is the home of nearly all the senses, along with the sense that connects us most consciously to others: vision. Eye contact is one of the most powerful conscious experiences humans can have together, but who uses it wisely in today’s world? Very few. Eyes flutter and evade left and right, jumping from other eyes to screens to blank stares, and I imagine this will only be worse in the world in which you grow up.

 

The dangers of makeup are threefold:

 

First, makeup products are foreign concoctions on the face.

Your mother once stumbled into one of the most expensive makeup retail vendors in Manhattan. It must have been among the most well known in the world, I imagine, as women were forming a crowd wrapping around the block in long lines for free or highly discounted samples of their latest offerings. She entered a section where another potential customer was considering a skin product for her cheeks. Assuming your mother had the product on, she commented, “wow! your skin looks wonderful! How long have you been using this?” and couldn’t believe when she realized your mother wasn’t using makeup that day!

You already know I’m always proud of her, and won’t be surprised how the scene ended: she left the store and purchased nothing!

Women not only apply typical skin products to their faces, they apply far more: ever more intricate concoctions of shadows, balms, sticks, creams, liners, primers, glosses and more. One needs a textbook just to stay abreast of the terminology of phony facemaking. And women fall pray into believing in “natural” products and ingredients, as if such words even had valid definitions. Creams and pastes become layers of the skin, one designed and purchased to solve the problems created by the others!

Best to abandon them all at once.

 

 

 

Second, makeup wastes money and time. 

Women are at risk of grossly mismanaging their finances as opposed to males, as many spend significant portions of their income on such products. They may even pay premiums for feminine “versions” of items. For example, in my day, we have “male” razors and “female” razors. The latter are simply made of pink plastic instead of black and cost twice as much! Females may as well be indentured servants to the feminine products industry.

But time and mental energy are far more important than money. Women, in my day, desire to “get ahead” of men, earn more money than them, and succeed “equally”. But how can equality be possible, even ignoring menstruation below, when women devote a half hour of their conscious, early-morning rituals, to “making up” their faces and bodies to look good? Obviously, equality is not. Morning rituals are critical, and women are only hijacking their own lives and contentment when spending quality morning time on such trivial matters.

Learn from the mistakes of my generation, and avoid them in your own lives.

 

Third, makeup distorts your self-image. 

In short, women seek an image of themselves that “compares” to the professional models they see in the media, and continue seeking the impossible for two reasons. First, that version of themselves is only possible with great sums of money and time to prepare the look. Second, that version of themselves is only possible without the use of mirrors, because mirrors reverse the image itself. See the “mirrors” section for more.

 

A good diet, a little sunlight, fasting, sweating, and the natural look are far more powerful than makeup.

Diamonds are only valuable because they are rare! In today’s world, the natural “glow” of the honest female face is far more attractive than the photos in the media. A healthy face shines from a healthy woman inside, and that kind of beauty takes months and years of letting the body heal itself. But it is worth it, and others know it.

As a man in love with your mother, I will tell you the secret that whole industries do not want you to know: men want women, not dolls. Know how to use a few essentials of makeup if you desire, but do not become enslaved by an industry that neither cares for you or respects the beauty which is already within you.

 


 

Smell

If the strongest conscious connection to other humans is vision, the strongest subconscious connection is smell.

Indeed, being among the initial wave of Americans to begin supplementing with the nutrient /lithium, I noticed my sense of smell improve within a month. You won’t want to hear this, but I found myself even more attracted than ever to your mother’s natural smell. It was powerful, yet it’s sad that most humans do not know this about human sense of smell. But this, too, is the subject for another day.

Yet women destroy this connection to the physical world, too, with both skin-products discussed above and perfumes and other scents. Some males use these scents, too, meaning that two humans can now meet and be even more confused than ever before in what they want from each other, biologically.

Women who over-use external and other purchased scents may also distort their mind’s concept of “who” they really are, and walk around with an altered view of themselves.

Early links even show that more than other senses, smell is quantum in practice. This means that, while physical building-block like molecules are involved in receptors in the nose, the strange quantum world, too, is involved. To say that smell, in a sense, can travel fast is a ridiculous understatement. Quantum-paired communication can travel faster than light: fast indeed! It might be inaccurate to say that we can “smell” faster than light, because clearly there are physical molecules traveling through the air to “smell,” but it should highlight how important our sense of smell truly is. Smell also bypasses more “conscious” parts of the brain, going directly to the more ancient/core regions. Smells often make us have thoughts or reactions… before we consciously think about them! (Predestination if ever there was such an argument, but I digress.)

A healthy sense of smell — and personal scent — are important and underlooked factors in the world we are creating for you girls. Understand both your sense of smell and your own scent, and do not underestimate their power or change them without deep thought.

 


 

Menstrual Cycles

Each decade, more and more women simply choose to ignore their own menstrual cycles. The specific technology — pills, patches, an implanted device — doesn’t matter. What matters is the concept: they are ignoring their body’s own monthly cycles in order to “trick” it into believing it is unnecessary, for whatever reason, to ovulate*. The exact details may vary, but these methods simply “trick” the body. It should not surprise you that women are sometimes unstable and confused inside. This must not be interpreted as an insult, because the deepest parts of their being — their cells and their inner minds — are confused, shouting out, “There is no ovulation, no menstruation, no baby, no lactation, no menopause, and we are part of a young female body. What is happening?!”

Many women are simply experts at hiding how they feel, or they are disconnected from those feelings.

There is even early evidence that hormonal birth control methods change your preferences in mates! In the worst case situation, you might be attracted to a partner while living with modified hormones (and preferences). Then, when “deciding” to become more serious together, marry, or have children, you may base your decisions on a false attraction. Worse, you may find it is difficult to concieve, and notice the love fading away, all because of these biochemical and hormonal tricks. In the least disastrous case, you might simply be less satisfied with any partner chosen while using hormonal birth control.

Women use birth control for various reasons, usually to avoid pregnancy or to get ahead in their “careers,” whether financially or productively. The latter is a ridiculous notion, as hopefully is well known in your time. Actually, having children helps parents prioritize and become even more productive by ignoring the unimportant. But that is the subject for another day.

Now, you certainly don’t have to get pregnant a few short years after puberty. (I would not approve!) Indeed, there are many great reasons to wait well into your 20s or 30s, and you may even choose never to have children.

But this isn’t a reason to completely ignore your body’s cycles.

Instead, embrace them! We don’t — as I write this and you are still just little concepts in my heart — yet know about how fluctuating hormones each month change nutrition requirements, intellect and behavior, voice and charisma, and more. All we know is enough to say that we know nothing. I would imagine that each week a woman might want to shift her diet, activities, and goals slightly. Perhaps you might desire more “busy” social time (meetings, collaborative work, time with friends, etc.) closer to ovulation, and more intellectually “focused” but alone time (studying, reading, writing, creative work, watching movies, playing games and the like) closer to menstruation, and more menstruation.

As a man, I have no idea! But there are women who are understanding these concepts faster than the scientists, and I recommend you learn from them. Seek them out, join them, and help educate other women. Lead.

There are far better ways to avoid pregnancy than modifying your own hormones. Total abstinence. Partial abstinence (ask us). “Natural” cycle tracking. Condoms. And more. None is perfect, but all are preferable to the tricks involved in such hormonal changes.

Learn modern science, as it is useful. But know when to trust your instincts more than anything else. Do not be so quick to experiment with your own hormones without deep thought beforehand.

Tread carefully, and above all, know yourselves.

 


 

Use Technology, But…

Every section here involves some form of technology, but today, electronic technology pushes the very pace of our own development faster and faster. Understand the technologies of your day — you may even wish to become professional experts with some — but do not become enslaved by them.

Allow me to share that old story about your mother once again, this time in writing.

I met your mother when she quite young, with ten years between us. After some initial joking about our ages, we quickly became accustomed to the differences and similarities between us. One of those was maturity.

Within a few weeks of dating, I was making fun of her for using a five- or ten-year old “dumb” phone, far simpler and less capable than even the earliest of “smartphones” for our time. Many foreigners can’t afford the latest electronic technology marketed at rich Americans, Europeans, and Asians, but I still saw smartphones everywhere around us and knew that there were models well within financial reach of her family. She said she had owned such a smartphone, but only up until a few months ago. She wasn’t certain whether it was stolen in public transit or she lost it, but in any case, it was gone. She explained having switched from her old phone to this “new” and “better” device only a few short months before we met, and remembered being barraged by a constant stream-of-consciousness from the outside: notifications, messages, emails, thoughts… being plugged-in. No, she was glad she no longer had that phone. I will never forget what she said: “It felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.”

She felt “freeer” without this device.

She had learned a lesson in her early 20s that many American women do not learn until decades later, and I instantly saw a maturity in her youth. Modern technologies, like early knives and hammers, are powerful tools which can help us greatly enjoy our lives. But unlike our early tools, our modern ones can enslave us. Know yourselves to understand how to avoid this.

Use these tools to increase the rate at which you can learn, at which you can create, at which you can enjoy life, and at which you can help others. But take the time — the long march of the years and decades — to also learn how to walk in a forest alone, connected with the dirt and the trees and the wind. Take the time to learn to have a proper human conversation, without note taking or disagreement. Take the time to cultivate patience. Take the time to know yourselves.

Use technology, but do not let it enslave you.

Especially such an ancient technology as this: mirrors.

 


 

Mirrors

Early in our relationship when I began consciously using mirrors less, I noticed something odd from your mother: she complimented my looks more often and said my eye contact was even more powerful than before. This surprised me, since I hadn’t started doing anything new. I had simply started taking less time than I already did in the mornings and evenings with the mirror. However, over time I realized her improving perception of me was due to my reduced mirror usage.

I had changed my own self-perception without actually doing anything new.

Indeed, our ancestors would seldom have seen their own reflection, and only for a moment in a calm pool of water or a shiny piece of rock before the natural world pulled them away.

Allow me to philosophize for a brief moment: realize that the “reflection” you see in the mirror isn’t actually what you look like. It’s a 50-50 left/right flip. Most people will think this doesn’t make a big difference.

They are wrong.

Today, the obsession women have with mirrors is destroying them, moment by moment.

 

Let’s consider what we know today, in the early year I write this to you. Although there are many overlapping sections and functions, in general, the brain is divided into hemispheres, left and right. Each hemisphere controls the other side of the body. Thus, the right motor areas of the brain control, in general, muscles on the left side of the body. This is true for vision, as well, but since visual fields overlap, it is much more complicated. Suffice it to say that the left visual portions of the brain process the right visual field (vision seen on the body’s right side and through the right eye), and vice-versa, although it’s certainly more complicated than this in practice. What about when we consider what happens in the brain when we look at a face? (Also known as facial information processing.) It gets even more complicated, and is well beyond the scope of this letter to you.

But what happens when that natural face has been flipped left-to-right?

To the brain, that’s a completely different face. It’s difficult to see consciously, but subconsciously, it’s true. That is not your face.

Here’s my point: American women grow up from very young girls with an “image” of themselves in the mirror. They compare this image in the mirror to every model and star and actress they see in magazines and movies and photos in their lives, and that comparison is its own problem. But the situation is far worse: women don’t even know what they look like. The average woman might see a few pictures of herself in a week — or more if she’s younger — but spends far more time with mirrors. That’s my argument: not only is it dangerous to compare what you look like with supermodels and “fake” women, you’re not even comparing the face that’s actually yours. You’re comparing a false face.

The girl in the mirror isn’t who you are.

That’s not what you look like.

And women “project” that self-image of themselves when they’re talking to a friend, walking in the street, or smiling for a photograph. This false self-image from mirrors eventually becomes engrained in the woman’s subconscious, and she lives her whole life with a mis-representation of who she is. She doesn’t even know what she looks like. No wonder a girl says, “I don’t like what I look like in that photo.” Her mind is expecting the false-image she sees in the mirror everyday. When she sees the “real” image of herself in the photo, her mind is confused and she thinks she doesn’t look “as” good.

You will never be able to make the girl in the mirror look like the models on television!

Always remember: those models a) have professionals who do that for them, and b) those professionals use their actual face as the basis for where they “make up” the girl! You can never see that girl in the mirror: what you see is a lie! If, in your day, there are live video cameras embedded in large screens to help with female makeup preparation, those would be ideal. Of course, I would still recommend minimizing make-up, but at least you will have an accurate 2D image of how you look to others.

Know that you are beautiful. What you see in the mirror will never represent you, it is not even a whisper or a shadow: it is a left-right alteration, an imposter, a lie. The true you is beautiful, regardless of who you think you see in the mirror.

 


 

Conclusion

Ask advice from everyone and you will find it is easy to ignore the bad advice; but if you never ask for advice, you can never know what you don’t know. It pays greatly to learn everything that you can.

Know that you will grow up in a home where the ideas in this letter are common for us, but not for the outside world, and sometimes it may be hard to empathize with other girls.

Know that sometimes when people in the world treat you unfairly, they are simply jealous of your beauty. We men see women treated unfairly and harshly all the time, especially by other ladies! Know that each woman has her struggles and challenges, regardless of income or class or looks, the same as each man. Many people, when “mean,” are simply lashing out at others from their own pain inside.

Have compassion and patience for others, and most of all, for yourselves.

 


 

I have lived my whole life trying to communicate to women the thoughts in this letter, and I hope that in your day, it is irrelevant. I hope that it becomes well known, and that women understand the role that all these technologies can play in their lives, but that they may also avoid being slaves to them. I hope that with this letter, men might better express what we feel when we shout, for the fourth time on a date night, “You’re beautiful as you are! You don’t need makeup!”

I hope that this letter becomes a relic of the past: something for you to look on with curiosity and wonder at such a strange generation of unhealthy, disconnected humans.

I hope you grow into a world where all women lead, no matter their daily lives. I hope you see the world for both what it is and what it needs: a civilization of half-female leaders, where all of us realize how connected and necessary we are, and that together, we are stronger.

Most of all, I hope you understand that leadership begins within: you must first lead yourselves. In time, others will follow you.

All my love,

Dad

 

 





 

Notes:

  • *among other technical methods

[Edited 1 June 2017. Minor edits, such as the addition of the “makeup in manhattan” story, after partner helped me revise. Lesson learned to do that before posting the next long essay! She also noted that I didn’t even talk about implants, surgeries, or sexuality. Removed paragraph below:

The best I would suggest, if you feel you must have makeup, is to have a roommate or someone near you help. Ask for help! Teach the nearest friend or neighbor what to do, and ask them how you can help in return. Many males such as myself won’t initially care, but if you tell us honestly that you need our help and you teach us how to assess the work you’re doing, we will learn more quickly than you might think. Knowing what’s at stake for our world, most males will learn to help. Over the course of a few weeks of this, you’ll become an expert at reducing the make-up you do use, and applying your own make up without mirrors, and then you’ll quickly receive suggestions and make quick corrections based on the suggestions of your friends.]

Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body Jo Marchant (2016)

Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body

Jo Marchant (2016)

“AS INDIVIDUALS, rather than putting our faith in mystical rituals and practices, the science described in this book shows that in many situations, we have the capacity to influence our own health by harnessing the power of the (conscious and unconscious) mind.”

Wow! This is the exact type of nonfiction I love to read and learn from. God, I hope the change of western medicine speeds along – healthily, of course. And I hope more scientifically-literate Baby-boomers spend their money in ways that support the paradigm shift. Sadly, I foresee more stubbornly-minded and change-resistant doctors continuing to move overseas to less developed countries (like Colombia), solidifying and spreading their prejudices and myths. Despite my concern over our growing healthcare costs as a percentage of GDP or the lowering birth rate, the lack of scientific education in the U.S. continues to worry me most…


 

I’ll start with providing some key quotes about the placebo effects, and must not forget the power of the “nocebo” effect, which likely accounts for most side-effects from typical prescription drugs.

 “This result illustrates two important points about the limitations of the placebo effect. The first is that any effects caused by belief in a treatment are limited to the natural tools that the body has available. Breathing fake oxygen can cause the brain to respond as if there is more oxygen in the air, but it cannot increase the underlying level of oxygen within the blood.” [Emphasis added]

“The second point, which is becoming clear from a range of placebo studies, is that effects mediated by expectation tend to be limited to symptoms—things that we are consciously aware of, such as pain, itching, rashes or diarrhea, as well as cognitive function, sleep and the effects of drugs such as caffeine and alcohol.” [Emphasis added]

“Placebos, then, are very good at influencing how we feel. But there’s little evidence that they affect measures we’re not consciously aware of, such as cholesterol or blood sugar levels, and they don’t seem to address the underlying processes or causes of disease. Bonnie Anderson’s fake surgery banished her pain and disability, but it probably didn’t mend her spine.”

 

“Harnessing conditioned responses to replace drugs with placebos is called Placebo Controlled Dose Reduction (PCDR), and in addition to reducing side effects, it could save billions of dollars in health care costs (in 2007, ADHD drugs in the U.S. alone were estimated to cost $5.3 billion).”

 

 

 


 

The “central governor” topic was fascinating to me. This is the idea (not yet proved) that a region of the brain governs, based on external and internal status, how much effort we can physically expend in a normal situation like a gym or climbing a mountain, and how much of our body/energy is “reserved” for a true emergency, like a friend being pinned under a weight or an advancing avalanche. We think and feel like as we work harder in these situations like we’re using more and more of our energy, more and more of our muscles to do the work,

 

But Noakes found the reverse. As the cyclists neared exhaustion, muscle fibers were being switched off. At the point at which his volunteers said they felt too fatigued to continue, they were never activating more than about 50% of their available muscle fibers. Exhaustion forced them to stop exercising, yet they had a large reserve of muscle just waiting to be used. [Emphasis added]

 

Altitude, hot weather, and being sick make “the effect even more pronounced.” Noakes argues that this hypothesis might also be the reason why interval training is so effective: it teaches the brain that going to 100% — or at least what the brain allows as 100% — is OK, and it’s fine to increase that limit a little more in the future. This is also good hypothesis for extreme, clinical fatigue, which she discusses: a malfunction in this central governor region.

 

 

 


 

The section on hypnotherapy surprised me, because I’d never heard of real research on it, yet the evidence presented for reliving IBS symptoms seems very strong. And sadly…likely little to nothing will come of this in the near future. The principle researcher in this field sounds like he’s given up:

 

““We have produced a lot of good research, incontrovertible research. Yet we’re always fighting the people who fund treatment. They’re always saying there’s not enough evidence. How much more evidence do they want?”” (Whorwell)

 

And that hints at the general reason many of the therapies discussed in this book, from placebo pills to hypnotherapy, will advance far slower than is warranted:

 

“Stanford hypnosis researcher David Spiegel suggests that part of the reason for the lack of enthusiasm is economic. Pain relief is a billiondollar market, and drug companies have no incentive to fund trials that would reduce patients’ dependence on their products, he points out. And neither have medical insurers, because if medical costs come down, so do their profits. The trouble with hypnosis and other psychological therapies, he says, is that “there’s no intervening industry that has the interest in pushing it.””

 

“Lehrer appears to have hit the impasse suffered by many mind–body therapies—with nothing to sell, there’s limited funding for research.”

 

 


In another section, she discusses how stress “ages” (shortens) our telomeres, shown in mothers of autistic children and others. What’s more, our environment as children strongly affects how we respond to external factors as adults; moreover, that early environment shapes the development of our brain’s reward circuits, such that we’re more “likely to prioritize immediate pleasure over future consequences,” especially in areas like drugs, sex, or money.

 

 


Fear or exhilaration? That’s a critical distinction in how you feel, because it can affect the physiological state when climbing a mountain, giving a presentation, or taking a test.

Is it possible a huge indicator of my response to stresses is influenced by my lifelong relationship to games? In games, challenges are the entire point – getting over the ‘hump’ and overcoming the obstacle to succeed – has that truly influenced my perspective on life?

 

 

 


There was a good, if short, section on meditation, and I’m glad I learned about the power of hypnosis, suggestion, and attention diversion above and beyond meditation. Yet another simple one sentence that elegantly sums up the power of meditative practices:

 

“Mindfulness, it seems, may put us another step ahead—we can have thoughts, but we don’t have to be ruled by them.”

 

And in some cases, she notes meditation may not be the amazing cure-all that some push, because “The participants were already keen meditators, he points out, so the study gave them three months to do something they loved.” Good point!

 

 

 


The COSTA RICA section! Diet doesn’t matter! Genes don’t, either. But living alone and having contact with a child are strongly correlated to their lifespan! On that note, I love the interdependence comment:

“The same is true for interdependence, “the idea that we can’t just survive by ourselves, with no help from others.” Even the simplest item we need to survive, like a sandwich, connects us with many other people, he points out—from farmers to supermarket workers. Extending that analysis to all of the things we need to get through a day—such as heating, electricity, roads, cars, fuel—demonstrates that we’re dependent on a vast number of people.” [Emphasis added]

 

And the wording gets more serious…

 

“They concluded that social isolation is as dangerous for health as obesity, inactivity and smoking. The evidence was as strong as in the landmark U.S. government report that in 1964 officially linked smoking with lung cancer.” [Emphasis added]

 

But she leaves us with a brilliant comment by an interviewee:

 

“To me, the universe is connection, it’s communication,” she says. “If you start to lose that, you start to die.” –Lupita Quereda

 

“At the heart of almost all the pathways I’ve learned about is one guiding principle: if we feel safe, cared for and in control—in a critical moment during injury or disease, or generally throughout our lives—we do better. We feel less pain, less fatigue, less sickness. Our immune system works with us instead of against us. Our bodies ease off on emergency defenses and can focus on repair and growth.” [Emphasis added]

 

 

 


Baroflex – I want to try biofeedback, and will try a 5s/5s breath meditation!

 

“He argues though that because the speed of breathing needed to achieve resonance is slightly different for each person, maximizing the effect with meditation alone can take years of practice, whereas with biofeedback, we can learn it in a few minutes. “Most people are able to pick it up right away,” he tells me. “That’s very different from living in a Zen monastery for ten years!”” [Emphasis added]

 

 

 


The CDC’s worst named drug epidemic in history? Opiate addiction:

 

“By 2012, 15,000 Americans were dying each year from prescription pill overdoses, more than from heroin and cocaine combined.”

 

 

 


In one of her final chapters, Marchant discusses religion, taking us to the Lourdes, France pilgrimage for Catholics. She notes the power of belief in religion to heal, but also reminds us of its dark side.

 

 


The description of epigenetics for the layperson is perfect:

 

“Instead our genomes encode a wide variety of potential selves, and our social environment—including our perception of that environment—helps to determine which of those selves we become.”

 

 

 


There were some good notes on what’s called nurturant-involved” parenting, where kids have boundaries and consequences, but clearly understand that those exist because of their parent’s love.

 

 

 


The worst of “alternative” medicine? Stupid, dangerous advice:

 

“A homeopath in one high-street pharmacy told Newsnight’s researcher: “They make it so your energy doesn’t have a malaria-shaped hole in it so the malarial mosquitos won’t come along and fill that in.” I find it hard not to feel angry reading such nonsensical—and potentially fatal—advice.”

 

 

 

Marchant ends with cautious, reluctant hope, noting how much we spend on healthcare and how ineffective and inefficient it is. She then gives us a reminder to be skeptical about doctors or scientists who try to separate “mind” from “body”:

 

“Nearly 400 years after Descartes’ separation of the mind and body, we still tend to think of ourselves as logical, rational beings, with highly developed minds that allow us to transcend our biological, animal nature. The evidence shows something very different: that our bodies and minds have evolved in exquisite harmony, so perfectly integrated that it is impossible to consider one without the other. Terms like “mind–body” and “holistic” are often derided as flaky and unscientific, but in fact it’s the idea of a mind distinct from the body, an ephemeral entity that floats somewhere in the skull like a spirit or soul, that makes no scientific sense.”  [Emphasis added]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful or miscellaneous quotes:

 

Finally, between 1 and 2 p.m., the men saw a metal tripod left behind by Chinese surveyors in 1975. They had reached the summit. Habeler stammered and cried, his tears running from under his goggles into his beard and freezing on his cheeks. Messner says he just sat, legs dangling, with nothing to do at last but breathe: “I am nothing more than a single, narrow, gasping lung floating over the mists and the summits.” [Emphasis added]

 

She works part-time as an art therapist, doing pottery with prison inmates and psychiatric patients with conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Working with clay provides a safe space for them to talk, she says. “If the conversation gets difficult, you can go right back to the clay.” [Emphasis added]

 

 

 

The Laws of Medicine: Field Notes from an Uncertain Science (TED Books), Siddhartha Mukherjee, 2015

The Laws of Medicine:
Field Notes from an Uncertain Science (TED Books), Siddhartha Mukherjee, 2015

Is medicine a science?”

““Doctors,” Voltaire wrote, “are men who prescribe medicines of which they know little, to cure diseases of which they know less, in human beings of whom they know nothing.””

I read this book because of a convincing TED talk by Mukherjee. He’s a cancer researcher, and he instantly won my respect – especially after Being Mortal and the related TED talk. Here is the starting point of what to review before any class or research into statistics, Bayesian theory, or more general scientific research.

The author says something that fits perfectly with the recent quantum biology book I read: “There are fewer laws in chemistry. Biology is the most lawless of the three basic sciences: there are few rules to begin with, and even fewer rules that are universal.” Indeed, biology is due for a revolution (or two) this century…

 

 

1. “A strong intuition is much more powerful than a weak test.”

The first is Mukherjee’s most math-heavy section, but it isn’t overwhelming in the least. It simply shows us that by a few simple tweaks in how we “screen” for who to select for certain medical tests before taking them, we can significantly improve the usefulness of these tests.

 

2. “Normals” teach us rules; “outliers” teach us laws.

Here is his most scientific section, arguing that we need to understand the outliers in order to truly create – and falsify or prove – good theories.

He also has a good section on the single patient anecdote – and its power when harnessed correctly!

“[W]e still lack a deeper, more unified understanding of physiology and pathology.”

 

3. “For every perfect medical experiment, there is a perfect human bias.”

Bias, bias, bias. Here Mukherjee begins with the story of the radical mastectomy, and by doing so, he discusses something that’s been below the surface of  my thinking about medicine and studies for years. But it’s something I could never really express properly: that the simple act of having a study on health changes the very nature of the outcome. Indeed, most of them in the US and Europe are based on whites and – worse – males. But perhaps equally profoundly,

“[W]hen patients are enrolled in a study, they are inevitably affected by that enrollment. A man’s decision to enroll in a study to measure the effect of exercise on diabetic management, say, is an active decision.

More succinctly:

“The device used to measure the subject transforms the nature of the subject.”

 

This is one of the few books that it would probably be better to simply review by reading/skimming the entire book than simply this file – especially for the instruction in Bayesian thinking and general probability.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, 2015

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Yuval Noah Harari, 2015

The best history book I’ve ever read. In his first of four sections, on the cognitive revolution, Harari traces humans past their success out-competing other hominid species. Whether deliberately or proximally (and likely both), we eliminated all our competitors. This revolution came about perhaps because of the use of fire, enabling us to cook food and gather more nutrients in less time, but also for its ability to burn large areas of land. Even modern non-ecologically sound companies would be aghast at our ancestor’s unrestricted use of fire!

Another amazing argument I love: there is no unnatural behavior. If a human can physically fuck a dog (not his example, but it’s the one he’s intending to stimulate) or eat fifty hot dogs, this is possible, naturally. Thus, it is not unnatural, and we should relabel it “abnormal,” instead (my argument). Culture puts restrictions on what humans should do, but there is no point to restricting women from running faster than the speed of light, of course, because that’s preposterous – that’s unnatural. And if we can physically do it, it isn’t unnatural.

 

Second, regarding the agricultural revolution, he describes it as, basically, history’s biggest fraud. I was familiar with this line of reasoning before – we work far more, and are much less happy – than our Paleolithic ancestors. Each successive Neolithic generation, life got a little more efficient and able to support higher numbers, but people had to work slightly harder. That made actual life for individuals worse, but nobody noticed because it was so slow. A few centuries later, especially without written history, how would they know? And even if they did, would a tribe of 110 farmers decide to kill ten of their own in order to go back to the methods that only supported a population of 100 – even if their lives were happier? I hope and pray this scourge of Neolithic suffering ends this century: that we can work less, enjoy more, and be happier. But that’s just a hope.

Here he also describes how ecologically, our species’ spread (unintentially, here) caused mass extinctions around the world. Alternatively, cows, chickens, wheat, maize, rice, and a few others have become perhaps even more successful species than human beings, evolutionarily, at least. But this begs the question: what does successful mean? They are everywhere, of course, but certainly we would not argue that mere numbers account for success. The pain and horror we’ve inflicted on these few animal species is unbelievable.

 

Third, one recurring theme in the book is the importance of fiction, myth, and story. You can’t get a monkey to give you a banana in exchange for unlimited bananas in monkey heaven, he notes. Yet this belief in gods, spirits, animalistic deities, and more is the same source of the shared beliefs we all have today about legal principles, companies, nations, and even human rights. They are fictional stories we believe in. Largest of all is our belief in money. No shared culture or language is even required here, we can safely and confidently interact with others using any currency, content that small pieces of paper and metal will be exchangeable in the future for actual goods.

Harari takes the principles of evolution and applies them beautifully to his writing. Poignantly, he describes happiness in some detail, and notes that we have abandoned our belief in a sense of community and relationships for a religious-like belief in the independent person. But, he states, now government and social programs are the mother and father of the individual – who is far less happier as a result. As an example of consumerism at its worst, he argues, obesity is a double success for economics: we buy more food than we need, and then we buy other products to combat the results of our excesses. (Thinking about the argument more, I actually disagree, since healthy food usually costs more than cheap, nutrient-lacking garbage, and does a better service to our planet and species. Still, the example is illustrative of the principle.)

The book also contains one of my favorite quotes on biology overall. Few quotes have I written several times just to memorize, but I have done that with this sentence:

This is the basic lesson of evolutionary psychology: a need shaped in the wild continues to be felt subjectively even if it is no longer really necessary for survival and reproduction.”

 

The fourth section is perhaps the least focused, but the most important. Here he describes the advances of science, and why it’s worked so well. Notably, science has always been inextricably tied with empire and money. Today’s evermore challenging quest by scientists to grasp the small chance that their proposal might get funded is nothing new – scientists in ages past would have needed to convince kings or other difficult to reach leaders. The difference was that then, good science could be done for either less money, or the finances required were at least within the reach of those minimally fortunate, like Darwin and others. Today, many argue, that isn’t possible anymore. (But it’s still an interesting debate, especially as the cost of smartphones and associated micro-sensors become ever cheaper! I look forward to seeing what teenagers accomplish in the next few decades, especially in developing countries.)

Why did the scientific revolution take so long to come about? Partially, because “most  human cultures did not believe in progress” until recently, believing instead, “the world was stagnant, if not deteriorating.” If the religious prophets were unable to abolish suffering from the world, what hope could scientists possibly have? – This is also the reason money, banking, and economics didn’t grow like they could have – people didn’t believe in the future. So why the hell invest? Today, everyone believes their retirement account will be worth more in a few decades than it is today, no matter the actual numbers. There are few more powerful examples of how an immaterial, imaginary belief can have profound consequences on the history of our species.

Harari ends the book at its logical place, “the end of homo sapiens:”

For these projects are inextricably meshed together with the Gilgamesh Project. Ask scientists why they study the genome, or try to connect a brain to a computer, or try to create a mind inside a computer. Nine out of ten times you’ll get the same standard answer: we are doing it to cure diseases and save human lives. Even though the implications of creating a mind inside a computer are far more dramatic than curing psychiatric illnesses, this is the standard justification given, because nobody can argue with it. This is why the Gilgamesh Project is the flagship of science. It serves to justify everything science does. Dr Frankenstein piggybacks on the shoulders of Gilgamesh. Since it is impossible to stop Gilgamesh, it is also impossible to stop Dr Frankenstein.”

Gilgamesh, seeing worms come out of his dead friend’s corpse, desires to defeat death and become immortal. After scouring the earth and its underworld, he returns, having failed, doomed to die. Gilgamesh realizes that death was forced on humans by the gods, and in some sense, might become a gift. — But we are fast heading towards a world without death. Harari doesn’t want to see this future come about, and I think he describes it in such a provocative way to force us to confront the issues and take action. How can we direct our scientific progress using an ethical compass, while allowing for the prevention and treatment of diseases? Few more pressing questions exist, but we must tackle this one. Although I pray that biology will always outsmart us, and that we will never be immortal, I am no fool. This century or farther ahead, we will live forever. What then?

 

Misc:

Review the last highlighted quote in the file to remember what might happen if we have this available to us, but we don’t distribute it to everyone.

A provocative quote to incite others to read the book:

“To say that a husband ‘raped’ his wife was as illogical as saying that a man stole his own wallet.”

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, Mary Roach (2013)

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, Mary Roach (2013)

Mary Roach’s Gulp was everything I’d hoped for, and a wonderful book for me to read. To call it interesting would be a massive disservice – the content is rich in story, wild yet grounded facts, and prose colorful enough to stimulate any sense while reading. It should be required reading for students of medicine, anatomy, nursing, and similar fields; and it’s one I imagine any human with even the faintest interest in her health would enjoy.

Yet Roach connects all of this to science, with a refreshing perspective of both history and the present state of thinking on each section. Note the colon, which she reasonably claims, we may know much less about simply because of its natural smell and disgust.

I particularly like her organization. Each chapter is exactly focused on its topic; transitions are quick but fluid.

In both her introduction and final chapter, she enlightens the lay reader of a little of the history of Elvis Presley’s final years and ultimate death: it was likely due to megacolon, if only proximally. We feel particularly empathetic for the artist, whose colon was many inches in diameter at times, lived for hours in his bathroom, and, at the end, had part of a barium-drink clogging his colon for months. I’ve felt IBS pain, and cringed to read these sections.

The chapter on saliva was perhaps my favorite – what a wealth of information I had no clue about! Her discussion of the double standard of saliva and other bodily fluids – how these are perfectly acceptable within our “body,” but repulsive and unacceptable once the fluid leaves, except for those we love – is spot-on. Indeed, she notes another culture finds the fact that we collect and store our nasal excretions while ill to be particularly brutish!

The chapter on the stomach discusses the purpose of the organ, competitive eating, and what happens when it is filled far beyond a natural capacity.  In another, she reminds me, we should really eat more organ meat – especially liver, stomach, and bone marrow.

I’ve read “Bonk,” and this book convinced me to consider reading the book on cadavers. I look forward to her next book!

She ends with the microbiome, and notes how effective modern treatments – fecal transplants – have been. Unfortunately, insurance companies are incredibly slow to recognize these procedures (even with a 93% success rate, in one review!), and the sick are actually performing them on their own, at home. One reason I love biology – the study of life! – is for the humility it imparts on me in my human shell. Fittingly, she closes the book with one of my favorite, most humbling quotes:

We’re basically a highly evolved earthworm surrounding the intestinal tract,” Khoruts commented as we drove away from his clinic the last day I was there. Eventually, the food processor had to have a brain attached to help it look for food, and limbs to reach that food. That increased its size, so it needed a circulatory system to distribute the fuel that powered the limbs. And so on. Even now, the digestive tract has its own immune system and its own primitive brain, the so-called enteric nervous system. I recalled what Ton van Vliet had said at one point in our conversation: “People are surprised to learn: They are a big pipe with a little bit around it.”

Poignant notes on Science:

  • The moral of the story is this: It takes an ill-advised mix of ignorance, arrogance, and profit motive to dismiss the wisdom of the human body in favor of some random notion you’ve hatched or heard and branded as true. By wisdom I mean the collective improvements of millions of years of evolution.

  • It takes a sizable sum of arrogance and ignorance to second-guess human anatomy and the evolutionary fine-tuning that produced it. The colon that Lane would so cavalierly lop from his patients’ interiors is more than a simple waste-storage facility. The bacteria feared and despised by the likes of Lane and Tyrrell and Kellogg—the germs that live and thrive and ply their trade within our waste—are not only harmless, they are critical to good health.

 

The Demon-Haunted World

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, Carl Sagan

“The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.”

The Demon-Haunted World is nothing shy of a manifesto for science, reason, and wonder. Indeed, the balance (required!) between both healthy skepticism and wonder is Sagan’s introduction to the book, and he weaves the theme throughout.

The book should be read by almost every human – but most especially Americans, whose distrust and ignorance of science might be our undoing. No less important are the legions of teenagers and young people who would benefit from a read.

I do wish Sagan had organized the book a little better, if only rearranging some chapters and putting them into sections, since he talks about, say, UFOs quite often. Still, the bulk of his chapters are well contained.

I must never forget that I did, essentially, believe that aliens were here since that unforgettable 10 May, 2003, when Earl rocked my world with the words “they’re already here.” It is telling, of course, that I told almost no one of this belief. He was old, wise, a retired veteran… I respected his opinion. And I took the bait, convincing myself that the evidence was obvious and in plain sight – remember my 5-6 video documentaries which, logically and in-order, could “show anyone” how aliens were here! – even while I still doubted some alien fanatics. Sadly, I slowly realized he believed in quite a large amount of conspiracy-like ideas, despite any shreds of truth that may exist in them. Still, I held this belief throughout all my travels and my time in the military, flying over the earth’s skies with my security clearance. This waned in Arizona, but it did not die until reading this book.

As I have realized in the past year or two, we have a tendency to grow increasingly irrational in our older years, a pattern often seen with important scientists throughout history. (Darwin is an amazing scientist for this additional reason; I’ve never heard such arguments against any scientific investigations or claims of his in later life.)

And what a place for my “belief” in the presence of aliens to completely die! The book, decades old now, provides the most logical, beautiful explanations of human hallucinations. It illustrates how a shared culture of religion would provide, hundreds of years ago, hallucinations (sleep-induced or not) to be described with religious imagery, as much as today’s events will be described in terms of aliens and extra-dimensional beings. As a good argument for why these hallucinations are not real, we need only examine how imaginary they really are: as Sagan notes, most zoology or microbiology textbooks contain pictures of natural phenomena far more original (and interesting) than these “aliens from other worlds.”

“So if there were ten people of the caliber of Thomas Jefferson then, there ought to be 10 × 100 = 1,000 Thomas Jeffersons today. Where are they?”

The quote stimulates my anti-desire to go into politics. Am I not the type of person who should be in public service, particularly for this very reason? If nothing else, we obviously need more education of science within our elected officials. At least the judicial branch provides some fresh air on this topic!

Sagan provides at least his final chapter – in addition to other passages throughout – on explaining why education is so important, and why governments and their peoples benefit from increased knowledge and science. He gives (at the end of the highlights) two opposing quotes from Presidents Reagan and Washington. He also discusses why our weapons are dangerous, with their abilities to exterminate us: not solely because of their destructive power, of course. But moreover because they are in the hands of governments, and governments, always throughout history, fall. When the fall, the control of those weapons might fall into the hands of the insane, or malicious, and doom us all. He notes stories that ancient women would hide poison arrows and weapons when the men fought. “Today our poison arrows can destroy the global civilization and just possibly annihilate our species.”

Want to provoke blacks to read more? He has a good, if brief, description of slavery and how reading was prevented among slaves, in order to keep them stupid and ignorant. This was done, obviously, to prevent rebellions and ensure compliance. An African American’s ancestors would all have rebelled, violently (some did), for the ability to become educated, had they known of its benefits. Yet today’s black youth and adults – just like their white brethren – squander the ability to read. I don’t know this for a fact, but I imagine only our immigrants regularly exercise this skill in America, a fact that at least gives me hope in the future of our country, even if that feeling is tempered with sadness for the growing ignorance of people, say, in my family.

His note regarding how in our evolutionary history, children would rarely have been alone, is poignant. “In the enlightened west we stick them alone in a dark room, say goodnight, and have difficulty understanding why they’re sometimes upset.” Indeed…the least we can do is teach them to meditate, to observe the processes of their minds, is it not?

“In the way that skepticism is sometimes applied to issues of public concern, there is a tendency to belittle, to condescend, to ignore the fact that, deluded or not, supporters of superstition and pseudoscience are human beings with real feelings, who, like the skeptics, are trying to figure out how the world works and what our role in it might be. Their motives are in many cases consonant with science. If their culture has not given them all the tools they need to pursue this great quest, let us temper our criticism with kindness. None of us comes fully equipped.”

Sagan writes with eloquence and respect, especially for the ignorant, as noted above. We need to be kind to those who believe in pseudoscience or unlikely explanations. Elsewhere, he makes the great point that astrology provides what science, as it is usually presented, fails to evoke in people: a need for connection, importance, and hope.

His sections on religion are also excellent, and he walks the line between respectful acceptance of the benefits these beliefs provide to their adherents, and a healthy criticism of these institutions, wonderfully. Sagan gives a poignant note (I think the quote isn’t from Sagan, so check if quoting) important for any American to remember:

“Christianity may be good and Satanism evil. Under the Constitution, however, both are neutral. This is an important, but difficult, concept for many law enforcement officers to accept. They are paid to uphold the penal code, not the Ten Commandments … The fact is that far more crime and child abuse has been committed by zealots in the name of God, Jesus and Mohammed than has ever been committed in the name of Satan. Many people don’t like that statement, but few can argue with it.”

He does note that by making predictions, religion enters the realm of science. Here, perhaps more than any other aspect of life, it fails magnificently. Furthermore, he argues against cherry-picking scientific beliefs – like religious adherents do with the scriptures they choose to follow and believe:

But we cannot have science in bits and pieces, applying it where we feel safe and ignoring it where we feel threatened—again, because we are not wise enough to do so.”

One thing gives me hope for our country, and I certainly hope this is still true today and into the future:

“You go to these museums and you’re struck by the wide-eyed looks of wonder, by kids racing from exhibit to exhibit, by the triumphant smiles of discovery. They’re wildly popular. Almost as many of us go to them each year as attend professional baseball, basketball and football games combined.”