Logic and the brain

Buzzfeed asked 12 scientists “What is the one fact humanity needs to know” if civilization was destroyed. Lots of good answers, but my favorite was from psychologist Dean Burnett:

People aren’t logical or rational by default, and it’s vitally important to remember this when trying to impart knowledge and guidance. Having some useful knowledge like atomic theory or the nature of gravity isn’t going to be much use if enough people don’t want to believe it.

I had an MRI done recently (purely for entertainment, through Klarismo), and it’s humbling to see that for all its capabilities and seemingly logical behavior, the brain is mostly wrinkled fat and water with electricity pumping through it. It’s a miracle that we can make sense of anything at all.

Burnett’s quote is a good reminder that if we want to make real advancements in society, improved technology (which has its own agenda) is not enough–we’ll need to deal with our monkey minds first.

All possible worlds

“If this is the best of all possible worlds, what are the others?” – Voltaire, Candide

Carbs, fat, and politics

After years of pushing low-fat and high-carbohydrate diets, the federal health agencies have finally flipped their recommendations:

Following an Institute of Medicine report, the 2005 Dietary Guidelines quietly began to reverse the government’s campaign against dietary fat, increasing the upper limit to 35 percent — and also, for the first time, recommending a lower limit of 20 percent…the scientists on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, for the first time in 35 years have sent recommendations to the government without any upper limit on total fat.

The guidelines themselves take a strong stance on sugars and refined carbohydrates as well:

Higher consumption of sugar-sweetened foods and beverages as well as refined grains was identified as detrimental in almost all conclusion statements with moderate to strong evidence.

And it looks like those egg council creeps finally got to the scientists too:

Available evidence shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol.

I switched to a vegetarian protein- and fat-heavy diet with lots of raw vegetables, oils, eggs, yogurt and nuts this year and I’ve lost significant weight and felt amazing. It’s fascinating to see the tides change as scientists finally have the tools and data to run big studies on nutrition:

Confirming many other observations, large randomized trials in 2006 and 2013 showed that a low-fat diet had no significant benefits for heart disease, stroke, diabetes or cancer risks, while a high-fat, Mediterranean-style diet rich in nuts or extra-virgin olive oil — exceeding 40 percent of calories in total fat — significantly reduced cardiovascular disease, diabetes and long-term weight gain.

But all of this threatens a huge packaged-food industry that thrives on shelf-stable grain products, and the political deck is stacked against change. Hopefully the evolving scientific consensus will bolster efforts like the ones led by Alice Waters and Michael Pollan to move our eating back toward freshness, sustainability, and health.

Capitalism as cancer

It’s been extremely successful; then again, it has to be:

A capitalist economy, by definition, lives by growth; as Bookchin observes: “For capitalism to desist from its mindless expansion would be for it to commit social suicide.” We have, essentially, chosen cancer as the model of our social system.

Ursula K. Le Guin, quoting social ecologist Murray Bookchin

How my 2-year-old son taught me to focus

I didn’t expect that having a toddler would improve my focus. After all, aren’t they supposed to be chaos embodied, a frenzy of activity, spraying attention in all directions? And certainly they take time and energy to raise, teach, and protect.

Yet toddlers also haven’t yet learned the cognitive mistake of trying to juggle more than one thing at once. Sure, my son plays with 20 different toys in 20 minutes. But he does so one at a time, first playing with a train, then putting it down and playing with a car, then putting that down to play with a different train. For him, attention moves smoothly between objects, without attachment and with total focus each time. While he is playing with a train, he has no thoughts or plans about the car right next to it. When he picks up the car, all thoughts of the train disappear.

He expects this of others, as well. My wife and I have been intentional about how we use technology around him, but sometimes the infinite abyss of a smartphone tempts me away for just a moment. My son has no tolerance for this split attention, and quickly corrects me: “Dada, will you put that down! Come sit right here!”

I’ve been working through the Focus series in my daily meditation this month. One of the key concepts introduced is that focus is not a static experience, but a dynamic one; moving from object to object, sensation to sensation. What matters most is not absolute sterility, but a robust and flexible flow that can adapt to changing circumstances.

What my 2-year-old son taught me about focus is that while the object of your focus might change, the quality and intensity shouldn’t. It is possible to focus completely on one thing at a time, and be completely present in each moment. It’s so easy, in fact, that a toddler can do it. What’s my excuse?

Fossil fuels, our starter engine

The fossil fuel deposits of our Spaceship Earth correspond to our automobile’s storage battery which must be conserved to turn over our main engine’s self-starter. Thereafter, our “main engine,” the life regenerating processes, must operate exclusively on our vast daily energy income from the powers of wind, tide, water, and the direct Sun radiation energy. – Buckminster Fuller

I reference this idea often but had forgotten the source. Buckminster Fuller, of course.

Five years ago this would be in a science fiction movie

The FAA has made a PSA about drones at the Super Bowl.

Calvin, rapid prototyper

Questions That Lead to Love

An interesting article has made the rounds recently, detailing the story of a couple who fell in love through answering a set of questions to each other.

The list of questions is now online and ranges from polite dinner conversation:

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

To deeply personal:

What is your most terrible memory?

And truly existential:

If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?

Seems like a worthy, though intense, exercise!

Sending out the dogs

“Send out all your dogs and one might return with prey” – Werner Herzog

True of ideas and designs as well.