Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 236
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 236
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As I type this, I am somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. I had a wonderful two-day workshop in Brisbane, Australia, and now I am going home. I am tired. I will be chasing sleep for a few days.
I enjoyed this workshop. I was able to lecture in the mornings and do “hands on” in the afternoons. I covered a lot of materials. Piers Kwan, my host, did a marvelous job.
I brought everyone a copy of 40 Years with a Whistle. I was surprised to discover what a hassle baggage can be after years of carry-on travel. The airline lost all my baggage tags…including my Tiffany Luggage Tag. It will be missed. But, it was nice giving everyone the book.
I have a few weeks home before I take off to England for two weeks. Ideally, I will catch up on some sleep.
I was in the air through the finale of The Game of Thrones and I already know the plot line (spoilers!), but I should catch it sooner than later.
I still got a chance to read some good materials on the internet.
I love this site. Every day, I find something even more interesting. This little article is just movie gold.
‘Two types, Fergus. The scorpion and the frog. Ever heard of them?
[Fergus says nothing.]
Scorpion wants to cross a river, but he can’t swim. Goes to the frog, who can, and asks for a ride. Frog says, ‘If I give you a ride on my back, you’ll go and sting me.’ Scorpion replies, ‘It would not be in my interest to sting you since as I’ll be on your back we both would drown.’ Frog thinks about this logic for a while and accepts the deal. Takes the scorpion on his back. Braves the waters. Halfway over feels a burning spear in his side and realizes the scorpion has stung him after all. And as they both sink beneath the waves the frog cries out, ‘Why did you sting me, Mr. Scorpion, for now we both will drown?’ Scorpion replies, ‘I can’t help it, it’s in my nature.’”—Jody, played by Forrest Whitaker
I think I have a lot of my DNA from Doggerland. It’s about time we had an Olympic team.
In previous studies funded by the European Research Council, the Lost Frontiers team mapped the Doggerland region, which is about the size of the Netherlands. The team could identify the location of river valleys, marshlands, hills and even white cliffs, but was unable to find evidence of human activity.
Gaffney said his focus was on the period between 11,000 BCE and 5,000 BCE, the middle stone age, in what was “the last great period of the hunter gatherer”.
He added: “Vast areas of the North Sea were dry land and inhabited. Then sea levels rose, and pretty much everything about the world changed in this period. The most pleasant places to live would have been on the great plains – which are now out at sea. This is where they would have wanted to be, not in the hills. But it’s all been lost.”
It’s a rare week we don’t find the “opposite” in the world of nutrition and food. I do like how this article explains “our rules” versus the way we are hard-wired. James Amos sent this for us.
This message is problematic for eaters, both Thomas and Young agree, because it says that it’s how much food we eat, not the types of foods we choose, that have the greatest impact on our health. Young noted that placing responsibility, in the form of portion size, onto the consumer makes it seem like all foods are equally nutritious so long as we eat the “right” amount. She said that just because a snack comes in a small portion, like a 100-calorie package of chips, that doesn’t mean it’s a good choice nutritionally speaking.
By the same token, it may be perfectly fine to eat more than one portion of a food, depending on what that food is and your nutritional needs. “A portion size depends on your hunger and satiety cues,” says Thomas. “It doesn’t depend on these arbitrary labels.” She gave the example of a client who found herself confronted with a tub of hummus with a label saying it contained four servings. “She ate half the tub of hummus and she ended up feeling really guilty,” Thomas says. “She was basically self flagellating about eating half of a pot of hummus—and it’s fucking crushed chickpeas!”
Most of us spend our days surrounded by food we don’t actually need for survival, and spend our lives in bodies that look different than what has been held up as ideal. Portion control pits us against ourselves by making external rules—plate size, numbers on a label—the arbiter of our appetites rather than our actual hunger. It also denies that humans sometimes eat for reasons that have nothing to do with fueling our bodies, that pleasure is a legitimate thing to expect from food.
A healthy relationship with food, Thomas says, requires a person to “understand what your body is asking for and respond to that… Both in terms of your hunger and fullness levels, but also things like pleasure and satisfaction.” There’s no easy way to measure that.
You simply HAVE to read this article. I can’t explain it simply, but I learned a lot about the human body with this self-study. And, it is bordering on insane.
He suffered his first snakebite the day after 9/11. A few days before, Karen had died in a head-on collision that would also render her two young kids comatose for six months. Devastated and depressed, Friede got good and drunk and tried to milk his Egyptian cobra. The snake twisted and sank its fangs into his left middle finger. Having begun self-immunizing the year before, he’d already injected 0.26 milligrams of cobra venom diluted in saline—a dose large enough to ensure he could survive a cobra bite. Friede’s wife at the time snapped a picture of him in his living room. He looks fleshier and happy, with a smile on his face and his bloody hand pushed up against the nose of his dog, a pit bull mix, while his beaming six-year-old son hugs the animal. It’s one of two photos on his fridge. “That changed everything,” Friede said. “It was the first time I beat death.”
The second time came an hour later. The freshly cobra-bitten Friede, feeling cocky, went back to the cages where he kept his snakes and picked up a monocled cobra with his bare hands. “Naja kaouthia,” Friede recalled, using the snake’s scientific name, as he always does. The cobra perforated his right biceps. “I was scared as hell,” he said. Friede collapsed. Fully paralyzed, he could still hear when the medics arrived and discussed whether he was dead. They revived him with six vials of antivenom from the zoo, and Friede spent the next four days in a coma. “That one is hard to talk about—a fucking disaster,” he said. “I wish it never happened.” It’s also the story he uses to answer questions about his obsession. Afterward, he made it a goal to survive two venomous snakebites in a single night, this time without requiring antivenom.
To do so, Friede taught himself enough immunology to self-vaccinate more safely. When he is bitten or injects himself with snake toxins, his B cells, the body’s antibody factories, secrete thousands of different antibodies in an effort to counteract each of the many distinct proteins that make up a particular venom. At first very few succeed. Like random keys inserted into locks, they simply don’t fit. But inevitably, a few do. It’s evolution taking place directly in the bloodstream. Every time Friede receives a snakebite, his B cells make only those antibodies that address the now present toxin while at the same time constantly tinkering to improve the designs. The more venom Friede injects, the more effective his antibodies become.
What’s challenging about his approach is that each species’ venom is a combination of 20 to 70 toxic proteins and enzymes that kill or maim in their own special way. To survive bites from multiple species, Friede needs antibodies capable of turning off the deadliest toxins in the venoms injected, be it rattlesnake or cobra. He also needs a legion of them in his bloodstream at all times, although when he first began self-immunizing, he wasn’t really certain how many. Friede decided that more was better, and the process he settled on required near constant exposure to venom. So he ordered a lot of snakes.
Ummm…they had to study this?
Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, agrees that the findings are striking. He says what was so impressive was that the NIH researchers documented this weight gain even though each meal offered on the two different diets contained the same total amount of calories, fats, protein, sugar, salt, carbohydrates and fiber. Study participants were allowed to eat as much or as little as they wanted but ended up eating way more of the ultra-processed meals, even though they didn’t rate those meals as being tastier than the unprocessed meals.
“These are landmark findings that the processing of the foods makes a huge difference in how much a person eats,” says Mozaffarian. That’s important, because the majority of foods now sold in the U.S. — and increasingly, around the globe — are ultra-processed.
And ultra-processed foods include more than just the obvious suspects, like chips, candy, packaged desserts and ready-to-eat meals. The category also includes foods that some consumers might find surprising, including Honey Nut Cheerios and other breakfast cereals, packaged white bread, jarred sauces, yogurt with added fruit, and frozen sausages and other reconstituted meat products. Popkin says ultra-processed foods usually contain a long list of ingredients, many of them made in labs. So, for example, instead of seeing “apples” listed on a food label, you might get additives that re-create the scent of that fruit. These are foods designed to be convenient and low cost and require little preparation.
The new research, which appears in the journal Cell Metabolism, was led by Kevin Hall, a senior scientist at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Hall says he was surprised by his findings, because many people have suspected that it is the high salt, sugar and fat content in ultra-processed foods that drives people to gain weight. But “when you match the diets for all of those nutrients, something about the ultra-processed foods still drives this big effect on calorie intake,” Hall says.
That’s a mix of articles. I will try to rest up and read more for next week.
Until then, keep on lifting and learning.
For your quick access link, here’s Dan’s OTP page, including all of his articles, books, lectures and videos, all in one place.
The Sword in the Stone, Part 92
“Merlyn,” said the Wart. “What have you done with Wat?”
“You should try to speak without assonances,” said the wizard. “For instance, ‘The beer is never clear near here, dear,’ is unfortunate, even as an assonance. And then again, your sentence is ambiguous to say the least of it. ‘What what?’ I might reply, taking it to be a conundrum, or if I were King Pellinore, ‘What what, what?’ Nobody can be too careful about their habits of speech.”
Kay had evidently been doing his dictation well and the old gentleman was in a good humour.
“You know what I mean,” said the Wart. “What have you done with the old man with no nose?”
“He has cured him,” said Kay.
“Well,” said Merlyn, “you might call it that, and then again you might not. Of course, when one has lived in the world as long as I have, and backwards at that, one does learn to know a thing or two about pathology. The wonders of analytical psychology and plastic surgery are, I am afraid, to this generation but a closed book.”
“What did you do to him?”
“Oh, I just psycho-analysed him,” replied the magician grandly. “That, and of course I sewed on a new nose on both of them.”
“What kind of nose?” asked the Wart.
“It is too funny,” said Kay. “He wanted to have the griffin’s nose for one, but I would not let him. So then he took the noses off the young pigs which we are going to have for supper, and used those. Personally I think they will grunt.”
“A ticklish operation,” said Merlyn, “but a successful one.”
“Well,” said the Wart, doubtfully. “I hope it will be all right. What did they do then?”
“They went off to the kennels. Old Wat is very sorry for what he did to the Dog Boy, but he says he can’t remember having done it. He says that suddenly everything went black, when they were throwing stones once, and he can’t remember anything since. The Dog Boy forgave him and said he did not mind a bit. They are going to work together in the kennels in future, and not think of what is past any more. The Dog Boy says that the old man was good to him while they were prisoners of the Fairy Queen, and that he knows he ought not to have thrown stones at him in the first place. He says he often thought about that when other boys were throwing stones at him.”
“Well,” said the Wart, “I am glad it has all turned out for the best. Do you think I could go and visit them?”
“For heaven’s sake, don’t do anything to annoy your nurse,” exclaimed Merlyn, looking about him anxiously. “That old woman hit me with a broom when I came to see you this forenoon, and broke my spectacles. Could you not wait until tomorrow?”
On the morrow Wat and the Dog Boy were the firmest of friends. Their common experiences of being stoned by the mob and then tied to columns of pork by Morgan le Fay served as a bond and a topic of reminiscence, as they lay among the dogs at night, for the rest of their lives. Also, by the morning, they had both pulled off the noses which Merlyn had kindly given them. They explained that they had got used to having no noses, now, and anyway they preferred to live with the dogs.
It’s nice to have Merlyn in a good mood.
And so am I: It’s nice to close this chapter. Wat and Dog Boy are happy; Merlyn uses “modern” techniques to save the day and we get a nice reminder that dogs are better than humans.
As much as I like deductive and inductive reasoning, I found an article that really popped my eyes open. With Kay and Wart spending so much time on the Cousins (see the last offering), I should share this article, too.
The reason is simple: Ethologists evaluate their experimental paradigm, or set-up, in light of its ecological validity, or how well it matches natural surroundings. An animal’s true habitat, and its evolutionary history, have always centered the discussion. In contrast, most experimental paradigms in human reasoning, such as the Cognitive Reflexion Test (CRT) or syllogisms, are based on logic or mathematics. One of the most famous tasks of the CRT is the bat and ball problem: A bat and a ball cost $1.10. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? Most participants fail at this task. The correct answer is not 10 cents, but 5 cents. Perhaps the ultimate tool psychologists use to study reasoning is the syllogism: For example, “Major premise: All men are animals. Minor premise: Some animals are aggressive. Conclusion: Some men are aggressive.” (Does this conclusion follow?)
As I listened to talks relying on these methods, I wondered: Do people think like that in everyday life? Probably not. Did our Pleistocene ancestors? Very unlikely. Then, how should I interpret these results? Is using abstract logic on humans like asking a turtle to climb stairs?
Nikolaas Tinbergen, the founder of behavioral ecology, famously stated that ethology is the art of interviewing animals in their own language. This principle is simple but powerful. And there is no reason why it should not be applied to humans. Psychologists studying reasoning extensively rely on logic and philosophy, and neglect psychology’s more natural ally: biology. The neglect stems in part from the ease with which humans can seem to understand one another. Our psychology is equipped with specialized cognitive systems, like theory of mind, that help us negotiate social life. We spontaneously attribute intentions, reasons, and beliefs to others. These heuristics help us to predict behavior, but they also parasitize our scientific understanding of the mind, blinding us to the necessity of using biology when studying ourselves. With turtles, there’s no problem, because we have only weak intuitions about their behaviors, and it’s difficult to ask them what they think.
Humans are, in other words, too familiar with one another. Fundamental laws of biology, like evolution by natural selection, are falsely believed to have weak constraints on human psychology—particularly for high-level cognitive functions, like reasoning. But the human brain, just like the turtle brain, has been shaped by millions of years of evolution. Reason is unlikely to have escaped its influence. What does it mean, then, to interview humans in their own language?
Soon, very soon, we will be returning to Wart’s animal transformations. Maybe Merlyn knows something about education.
Until next time.
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