Blog Consolidation

I’ve been blogging so infrequently that I’ve decided to consolidate my blogging under my name site: . I’ve moved all the old posts and comments over, so it’ll feel just like home. For those who follow this site you’ll want to update your feed reader and bookmarks.

I’ve also moved the GCBC notes and the Best Free Software page over to Lower Thought, which I will continue to use to post things that I don’t want polluting my main blog.

Higher Thought will shut down when the domain expires.

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Who says the whole world can’t eat paleo?

A lot of people try to argue against paleo nutrition by arguing that the whole world couldn’t eat paleo. First of all, this isn’t even a coherent argument—it’s a fallacy of composition: “paleo isn’t be feasible for everybody, therefore it’s not good for the individual.” But the claim is also false: potatoes, now paleo certified, could easily feed the world. If grains can feed the world, then potatoes can do it better:

Potatoes are more nutritious, faster growing, need less land and water and can thrive in worse growing conditions than any other major crop. They provide up to four times as much complex carbohydrate per hectare as grain, better quality protein and several vitamins – a medium-size potato boiled in its skin has half an adult’s daily dose of vitamin C, for example. They also contain B vitamins, plus many of the trace elements poor people, and grain, lack. (New Scientist)

So if everybody decided to cut grains and switch to potatoes as a staple, then farmers would plant potatoes instead of grains. Over time, potatoes would likely become cheaper due to economies of scale and innovation. (Disease and perishability are the main challenges to potatoes.)

These types of arguments ignore the role of prices and innovation. Increased demand for a good increases its price, encouraging increased production and innovation, as well as substitutes. So even a low-carb, high-meat paleo diet might be possible worldwide. A large increase in demand for meat would lead to a rise in price that would set about efforts to reduce costs through economies of scale and innovations. Furthermore, meat substitutes would also expand to meet the demand (insects are a cheap alternative).

Posted in Health | 2 Comments

How can one be good WITH God?

The theist charge that atheists can’t have morality without a sky god is pretty laughable. But the error in the argument goes so deep that the argument is actually much more devastating when applied to theistic morality: how can a person following theistic morality be good?

Suppose your sky god decreed it morally good to steal, rape, and kill; and morally wrong to live peacefully. Would the atheists then be living immorally for abstaining from these activities? Clearly not. The theist argument presupposes that theistic morality corresponds to our intuitive morality. If theistic morality just codifies our innate moral sense, then it’s at best supplementing it; it’s not the source of morality.

The more interesting case occurs if theistic morality contradicts our intuitive morality. In this case, we say that god’s moral code is wrong, not that our innate one is wrong. So god is fundamentally constrained to codifying the morality inherent in human nature. If god deviates from that, we deem his morality to be wrong.

The problem with the theist argument is that morality is a collection of evolved instincts, not a set of rules passed down from on high (by gods or rulers). (I suggest reading Matt Ridley’s The Origins of Virtue for the argument from evolutionary psychology.)

So: if you follow intuitive morality, then you will act morally. If you follow theistic morality, then you may or may not act morally (depending on how closely the theistic morality corresponds to intuitive morality—usually very closely, otherwise it wouldn’t survive long.) The real question is this: if one is simply following god’s rules, how can we be sure that they will behave morally? As soon as god gives them the green light to steal, rape, and murder, they can override their innate moral qualms with religious justification.

Posted in Atheism | 6 Comments

Money buys happiness

It’s commonly believed that money doesn’t buy happiness. Sure, we’re happier for a while after a new purchase, but it wears off. We re-normalize back to our baseline level of happiness.

While this is probably not true (richer countries are happier than poorer ones), even if it were, it still doesn’t follow that we shouldn’t strive to become wealthier. To make that inference, you’d have to hold that temporary happiness is worthless and only long-lasting happiness matters. But temporary happiness is valuable and desirable. Even if we’re stuck on a “hedonic treadmill”, we can still get happiness from running.

There’s a direct parallel to the free market system. Entrepreneurs innovate in order to reap profits, but competition always eats away those profits. Profits are always temporary, lasting only as long as it takes for competitors to enter the market. Yet these fleeting profits still provide a powerful motivation for entrepreneurs. Likewise, fleeting happiness is still happiness and still worth pursuing.

So if money buys temporary happiness, and temporary happiness improves our quality of life, then it follows that economic progress matters. And since the level of economic progress depends on how free the market is, economic liberalization is the only way to go.

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Grandparenting behavior as evidence for long-lived paleolithic ancestors

The most common objection to the logic of evolutionary health is that paleolithic humans had short lifespans, presumably because they were in poor health.  This fallacy has been demolished many times over, but I have another argument to add to the pile. The popular notion that paleolithic humans lived long enough to reproduce then died is flatly contradicted by the existence of evolved grandparenting behavior.

Grandparenting behavior seems to be a cultural universal. Parents want their grown children to produce offspring, and they seem to care a lot about it. Grandparents enjoy lavishing their love on their grandchildren. The grandmother on the mothers’s side tends to invest a lot in helping out with the baby (for good evolutionary reasons).

This implies that these behaviors have evolved, which in turn means that grandparents must have had a sizable impact on their grandchildrens’s genetic success. So it must have been fairly common for people to live long enough to become grandparents. Conclusion: paleolithic humans routinely lived long enough to see their grandchildren grow up. They lived long enough to reproduce and see their children reproduce.

So how old would that have been? A conservative estimate would be that the grandparent had their child at 16 and this child had the grandchild at 16 as well. The grandparent would be 32 at the birth of the grandchild. Since grandparenting behavior extends past infancy, let’s take a conservative estimate of 4 years. So we can expect that it was common for our paleolithic ancestors to live at least to 36.

Taking a more realistic estimate, we could assume that the average age of childbirth is 22 and that grandparents were around until their grandchildren were on average 6 years old. That brings the figure up to 50. And an average age of 50 is nothing to scoff at. I’m not sure how late the evolved grandparenting behaviors last, so 6 is still a conservative figure. In fact, with generations of 16 years, one could be a great-grandparent at 48.

Just another argument that puts the lie to the notion of a short-lived paleolithic ancestry.

Long live paleo man!

Posted in Health, Psychology | 1 Comment

Statheism

“Both creationists and socialists distrust invisible-hand processes and cannot conceive of order emerging except through some sort of centralised top-down control.” —Roderick Long

A statheist is an atheist statist. In other words, statheists reject supernatural explanations of the world but believe that the state is necessary for creating social order and managing society. Now, anti-statism (aka market anarchism or libertarianism) is relatively obscure compared to atheism—and much less obvious—so statheism is nowhere near as egregious an error as creationism. Yet it’s very important to point out the statist error to atheists, who claim to be proponents of reason, since it’s in many ways similar to the errors of creationists.

There’s a certain incongruity of being an atheist and a statist, namely that many atheist arguments are closely related to anti-statist arguments. As atheists, they have no trouble rejecting top-down creationist explanations of the universe. They laugh at the idea that the universe was centrally planned by a supernatural being (“Cosmic Socialism”). They see clearly that the order and complexity of the universe and of life has emerged through bottom-up natural processes. As Dan Dennett would say, they don’t need a skyhook because they have a perfectly good crane.

But when it comes to the order and complexity of large-scale society, statheists balk at the idea of emergent order. They are “Political Creationists”, holding that social order can only come down from a powerful state. They employ faulty “state of the gaps” logic in their feeble attempts to rule out the possibility of a stateless society (e.g., “Only a state could provide roads/education/laws/courts/etc”). As usual, the problem boils down to a lack of understanding of economics. Don Boudreaux writes:

While there are some exceptions – Indur Goklany, for example – of natural scientists who understand economics, far too many of them see the world as posing physics or engineering problems rather than as posing economic ones.  The two problems are very different from each other.

Economics explains how social order emerges through the decentralized market price system, a “crane” theory. Statists keep their heads in the sand, content with a top-down “skyhook” theory of social order. They cling to an almost supernatural conception of the state: all-powerful, wise, and benevolent. In reality, the state is none of these: its power is derived from the support of its subjects, who could easily overpower the state if they revolted; its wisdom in managing society is extremely primitive compared to the information aggregation of markets, as seen by the utter and universal failure of central planning (and the spectacular success of free markets); its benevolence is largely a myth, as policy makers usually have more incentive to favor special interests at the expense of the general public.

Ultimately the problem of social order boils down to this: There are only people, all imperfect and selfish to some extent. There are no super-people to rescue us from this anarchy and selflessly govern society. So how can we find a way to cooperate amongst ourselves, to avoid conflicts? Is it really best to give one group of people a bunch of guns and tell them to enforce social order while hoping that they won’t abuse this power? That’s a terribly uncreative, skyhook solution. No, a much more sensible position would be to reject the monopoly solution and look for a crane, a bottom-up, competitive, polycentric solution. And as economists have long insisted, markets are just the crane we need—incredible decentralized systems for coordinating cooperation among billions of people and directing production so as to best satisfy the wants of consumers.

If statheists wish to fly the banner of reason, they should seriously re-examine their belief in the skyhook we call the state. They will find that there’s a perfectly good crane to replace it.

Posted in Atheism, Libertarian | 5 Comments

Paleo Parenting

I couldn’t find much on this topic in the paleosphere, so here’s an initial attempt at a paleo approach to parenting. I’m not a parent, but I think the basic ideas are simple enough.

The leading candidate for a primal infant care manual is Jean Liedloff’s 1975 book, The Continuum Concept. Based on her observations while living with hunter-gatherers, she recommends following the evolutionary logic. From the website:

  • constant physical contact with his mother (or another familiar caregiver as needed) from birth;
  • sleeping in his parents’ bed, in constant physical contact, until he leaves of his own volition (often about two years);
  • breastfeeding “on cue” — nursing in response to his own body’s signals;
  • being constantly carried in arms or otherwise in contact with someone, usually his mother, and allowed to observe (or nurse, or sleep) while the person carrying him goes about his or her business — until the infant begins creeping, then crawling on his own impulse, usually at six to eight months;
  • having caregivers immediately respond to his signals (squirming, crying, etc.), without judgment, displeasure, or invalidation of his needs, yet showing no undue concern nor making him the constant center of attention;
  • sensing (and fulfilling) his elders’ expectations that he is innately social and cooperative and has strong self-preservation instincts, and that he is welcome and worthy.

This is in contrast to mainstream practices such as: formula-feeding, leaving the infant alone to sleep, leaving the infant to cry.

Another valuable resource is the work of Judith Rich Harris. In her paradigm-shifting book, The Nurture Assumption, she convincingly argues that parents have no effect on how their childrens’ personalities will turn out. (The evidence shows that half of the variation in personality is due to genetics, the other half to the influence of the peer group.) She concludes that the Western obsession with nurturing children is a big fat waste of time. Since personality is immune to parental nurture, parents can breathe a collective sigh of relief—no longer are they to blame for their childrens’ failures. Nor do they have to worry that they aren’t spending enough “quality time” with their children, giving them enough affection, driving them to sports practices and music lessons, etc. Children turn out fine so long as they have a peer group.

This agrees perfectly with the anthropological evidence. In hunter-gatherer cultures, infants stay in their mothers’ arms until they are weaned. The mother doesn’t bother to speak to her infant as it wouldn’t be able to understand (and it will learn to speak from other children). Then, the toddler is handed over to an older sibling, usually a sister, who is given full responsibility over the child and is expected to dominate it. The parents play a very hands-off role. Harris writes:

The idea that parents should have to entertain their children is bizarre to people in [traditional] societies. They would fall down laughing if you tried to tell them about “quality time”.

There is a good reason why this trait evolved in children. Parents and children only share half of their genes, so from the selfish gene’s perspective, there are conflicts of interest. We would expect parents and children to try to manipulate each other for their own benefit, and that each would develop defenses against such manipulation. The child may try to get more than its fair share of food by crying, whining, being cute, etc. (It only shares half its genes with its siblings, after all.) The parents may want their daughter to stick around and take care of her younger siblings, while it may not be in her own best interest to do so. Hence children resist the efforts of their parents to shape their personalities.

Harris’s advice to parents is simple: 1) follow the evolutionary logic (i.e., don’t bother with obsessive nurturing), and 2) raise them in a good neighborhood, where there is a good peer group. Children are socialized by their peer group, so this is the most effective thing you can do for them.

Finally, when it comes to health, paleolithic nutrition is the most important element. For an infant, this means breast milk and then paleo foods. Please—don’t feed your baby soy formula. Sun is also important: it’s a tragedy that so many people shield their babies from getting any direct sunlight on their skin.

Posted in Health, Lifehacks, Psychology | 6 Comments

Gluttony & Sloth: Causes or Effects of Obesity?

One of the main, take home messages in Gary Taubes’s book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, is that overeating and inactivity—gluttony and sloth—are not the causes of obesity as commonly supposed. Rather, they are the effects of hormone-driven fat accumulation. In his inaugural blog post, Taubes lays out why overeating is not a causal explanation of obesity—it merely restates the definition of obesity. Fat people must have overeaten—maintained an excess of caloric intake over expenditure. The real question is: Why do some people overeat (and why don’t others)?

The fact is, gluttony and sloth are symptoms, not causes, of obesity. Just as children “overeat” because they’re growing (taller), people also overeat when they’re growing (fatter). This explanation makes a lot of sense: if your body is storing away calories in the fat cells, then the other tissues will have fewer calories available to use. Hence, you will hungrier and less active, in exactly the same way as a lean person who is underfed.

As Taubes explains in detail in the book, a diet high in refined carbs causes chronic high insulin levels, which causes insulin resistance in the lean tissues, causing a compensatory increase in insulin. Insulin is the storage hormone, so with the lean tissues being less responsive, the fat tissue takes up the slack. The fattening continues until the fat tissue becomes insulin resistant, but then one is at risk of becoming diabetic. The basic story is that bad nutrition causes hormone-driven fattening, which makes less fuel available to the lean tissues, causing hunger and lethargy.

It’s hilarious that obesity “experts” think that the gluttony/sloth hypothesis stands securely behind the law of energy conservation. Energy conservation only says that fattening and caloric excess must occur together—it says nothing about causality. They’ve just assumed that caloric excess causes obesity. Taubes has caught them making an embarrassing, elementary error. It’s the fattening that causes the caloric excess. When your body wants to get fat, it adjusts your hunger and energy levels in order to create the caloric excess required.

The bottom line is that gluttony and sloth are effects, and not causes, of obesity. Now stop blaming the victims for a lack of willpower and tell them the real cause of their obesity. (If they don’t lose the weight after that, then you can blame them.)

Posted in Health | 2 Comments

The Myth of Overeating

One of the many invaluable lessons in Taubes’s Good Calories, Bad Calories is that overeating is a myth. This makes a lot of sense. Suppose you “overeat”. Then, you won’t be as hungry at the next meal, so you’ll “undereat”, and the two meals will average out as “normal”. In fact, we all “overeat” during the day, and “undereat” while we sleep.

One of the main points that Taubes stresses is that hunger is a physiological, and not a psychological phenomenon. He discusses Edward Adolph’s rat feeding experiments from the ’40s which clearly showed that food consumption is regulated by caloric need, and not by volume, mass, or even taste! For example, when the rats’ food was diluted they kept eating until they got enough calories, even though they ate a much greater volume and mass of food. And when calories were directly injected into the rats’ stomachs, their intake dropped accordingly.

The implication is that trying to eat less by using tricks like drinking water or eating more fiber to create a sensation of fullness are futile. You’ll be hungry until you actually put real calories in there. (I should add that trying to eat less is a horrible way to lose fat: the cost is all the negative effects of semi-starvation and you generally regain all the fat when you return to normal eating.)

Hunger, and hence food consumption are hormone driven: we eat to get enough calories. Period. Just as children eat a lot because they’re growing, fat people “overeat” because they’re growing (fatter). In neither case are they growing because they’re overeating. Their bodies need more food in order to grow, so their appetites are correspondingly larger. When thin people “overeat”, they don’t get fat, they just aren’t as hungry for the following meal, at which they “undereat”. The bottom line is that you don’t control your hunger—your caloric need does—so you’ll end up eating the “right” amount over the long term.

(Incidentally, Taubes points out that, if our hunger weren’t regulated by caloric need,  it would require a feat of incredible accuracy to maintain a constant weight over a period of several years. A few extra calories per day would add up to major fattening in the long term. Of course, that’s not what happens.)

The fact is, overeating is really quite rare—because it hurts. If you don’t feel sick, then you haven’t overeaten. For most people this happens maybe once or twice a year. If you ate a lot, but feel alright, that’s just calories in the bank which will delay your hunger. Eating big, nourishing meals is nothing to feel guilty about—you’re giving your body the calories it needs to function, and if it doesn’t need them right away, it won’t trigger your hunger as quickly.

Posted in Health | 6 Comments

Why has religion been so successful?

Effectively all large societies have been religious. But religions haven’t been successful because they’re true: practically all religions are mutually contradictory, so there must be another reason to explain their success. One very good reason—probably the most fundamental one—is that religions have been very useful in promoting social cooperation. This is the basic prerequisite for civil society and economic progress.

Securing cooperation is the fundamental challenge in establishing a civil society. It would be nice if we could all just get along, but we all have incentives to cheat and steal on occasion. These incentives become magnified as the society grows and relations become more anonymous, since it becomes more and more difficult to know whether other people are trustworthy. There are various ways to solve this problem, but if left unchecked these incentives would lead to social chaos.

Religion is a particularly effective, if crude, method of securing cooperation. In general, religions lay out moral rules (which often happen to be social ones) and set up strong incentives to follow them. Eternal life in heaven is an infinitely great reward for being a cooperator; eternal damnation in hell is an infinitely great punishment for being a cheater; and the judge is omniscient, so it’s impossible to “get away” with anything. Societies with these religions would have a competitive advantage: greater cooperation means more trade and more production—in a word, prosperity. These societies would grow and spread—by conquest or consent—until they came to dominate. So religion is a hack that gets people to behave in large, anonymous societies.

On the individual level, there are strong incentives to portray oneself as a believer. Being genuinely religious makes you more trustworthy, as you can be counted on to cooperate and not cheat. Displaying (advertising) your religiosity to others is a signal of this trustworthiness, it creates a good reputation. Thus, being religious has material incentives: more people to trade and cooperate with. Once a religion gains a foothold, the incentive would be for everyone to jump aboard.

Yet I don’t think that religion could get a foothold with these incentives alone. Religion—a cultural universal—fundamentally rests on our psychological willingness to believe in the supernatural. Evolutionary psychology plays a large role. So religion is a particularly infectious meme that exploits an innate human irrationality and produces the byproduct of social cooperation, creating strong incentives to be religious.

This explains so much about religious behavior. Why do the religious often ask what keeps atheists from stealing and murdering? Because that’s supposed to be the function of religion. (Note that this question is self-contradictory: on one hand, it tries to argue that only religion can be the source of morality, while on the other hand, it presupposes that theft and murder are inherently wrong—regardless of what god says.) Why are the religious so hostile towards atheists, and why are they less hostile to believers in contradicting gods? Because genuine belief in any type of divine justice makes one more trustworthy; atheism makes one an unconstrained danger. Why do people invest so much time and money in religious affairs? To signal to others that they’re believers and therefore trustworthy. Why is questioning religion taboo? To avoid undermining the social order.

But there’s plenty of hope for truth. As other institutions replace religion in enabling social cooperation, religion becomes redundant and people can freely satisfy their intellects without undermining the social order. Religion is supported by mass belief and cultural momentum. It has already started to come undone, and will only unravel faster as mass support shrinks.

Posted in Atheism | 5 Comments

Evolutionary Health vs State-Sponsored Science

Proponents of evolutionary health are in a frustrating position. On one hand, our position follows directly from evolutionary theory (one of the most well established scientific facts around). On the other hand, our position stands in direct contradiction to the mainstream state-sponsored position on nutrition and health (although that’s slowly changing for the better). Obviously, a theory contradicting evolution is in all likelihood wrong. I don’t think anybody doubts that all other living organisms are healthy when living under the conditions to which they have adapted via evolution (that’s why zoos try to recreate their natural habitat). Humans, members of the same family of DNA-based organisms, should also be healthy under the conditions of the evolutionary environment.

The scientific research in the field of nutrition and health has been deeply muddled, as Gary Taubes has forcefully argued. This is because they haven’t adopted the guiding paradigm of evolution, the theory underpinning all of biology (and this due to government distortion of science). Without a theory to interpret the data, they’re adrift at sea without a rudder, facing a bewildering array of disconnected facts with no way of relating them. Only evolution can make sense of the facts, but if they accept that, they’ll have to admit that they were wrong and that the evolutionary health proponents were right. I look forward to the day.

In this excerpt from The Protein Debate (HT Robb Wolf), Loren Cordain beautifully makes this point:

Although humanity has been interested in diet and health for thousands of years, the organized, scientific study of nutrition has a relatively recent past. For instance, the world’s first scientific journal devoted entirely to diet and nutrition, The Journal of Nutrition only began publication in 1928. Other well known nutrition journals have a more recent history still: The British Journal of Nutrition (1947), The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1954), and The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1988). The first vitamin was “discovered” in 1912 and the last vitamin (B12) was identified in 1948 (1). The scientific notion that omega 3 fatty acids have beneficial health effects dates back only to the late 1970’s (2), and the characterization of the glycemic index of foods only began in 1981 (3).

Nutritional science is not only a newly established discipline, but it is also a highly fractionated, contentious field with constantly changing viewpoints on both major and minor issues that impact public health. For example, in 1996 a task force of experts from the American Society for Clinical Nutrition (ASCN) and the American Institute of Nutrition (AIN) came out with an official position paper on trans fatty acids stating,

“We cannot conclude that the intake of trans fatty acids is a risk factor for coronary heart disease” (4).

Fast forward 6 short years to 2002 and the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine’s report on trans fatty acids (5) stating,

“Because there is a positive linear trend between trans fatty acid intake and total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol concentration, and therefore increased risk of cardiovascular heart disease, the Food and Nutrition Board recommends that trans fatty acid consumption be as low as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet”.

These kinds of complete turnabouts and divergence of opinion regarding diet and health are commonplace in the scientific, governmental and medical communities. The official U.S. governmental recommendations for healthy eating are outlined in the “My Pyramid” program (6) which recently replaced the “Food Pyramid”, both of which have been loudly condemned for nutritional shortcomings by scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health (7). Dietary advice by the American Heart Association (AHA) to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) is to limit total fat intake to 30% of total energy, to limit saturated fat to <10% of energy and cholesterol to <300 mg/day while eating at least 2 servings of fish per week (8). Although similar recommendations are proffered in the USDA “My Pyramid”, weekly fish consumption is not recommended because the authors of these guidelines feel there is only “limited” information regarding the role of omega 3 fatty acids in preventing cardiovascular disease (6). Surprisingly, the personnel makeup of both scientific advisory boards is almost identical. At least 30 million Americans have followed Dr. Atkins advice to eat more fat and meat to lose weight (9). In utter contrast, Dean Ornish tells us fat and meat cause cancer, heart disease and obesity, and that we would all would be a lot healthier if we were strict vegetarians (10). Who’s right and who’s wrong? How in the world can anyone make any sense out of this apparent disarray of conflicting facts, opinions and ideas?

In mature and well-developed scientific disciplines there are universal paradigms that guide scientists to fruitful end points as they design their experiments and hypotheses. For instance, in cosmology (the study of the universe) the guiding paradigm is the “Big Bang” concept showing that the universe began with an enormous explosion and has been expanding ever since. In geology, the “Continental Drift” model established that all of the current continents at one time formed a continuous landmass that eventually drifted apart to form the present-day continents. These central concepts are not theories for each discipline, but rather are indisputable facts that serve as orientation points for all other inquiry within each discipline. Scientists do not know everything about the nature of the universe, but it is absolutely unquestionable that it has been and is expanding. This central knowledge then serves as a guiding template that allows scientists to make much more accurate and informed hypotheses about factors yet to be discovered.

The study of human nutrition remains an immature science because it lacks a universally acknowledged unifying paradigm (11). Without an overarching and guiding template, it is not surprising that there is such seeming chaos, disagreement and confusion in the discipline. The renowned Russian geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900-1975) said, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” (12). Indeed, nothing in nutrition seems to make sense because most nutritionists have little or no formal training in evolutionary theory, much less human evolution. Nutritionists face the same problem as anyone who is not using an evolutionary model to evaluate biology: fragmented information and no coherent way to interpret the data.

All human nutritional requirements like those of all living organisms are ultimately genetically determined. Most nutritionists are aware of this basic concept; what they have little appreciation for is the process (natural selection) which uniquely shaped our species’ nutritional requirements. By carefully examining the ancient environment under which our genome arose, it is possible to gain insight into our present day nutritional requirements and the range of foods and diets to which we are genetically adapted via natural selection (13-16). This insight can then be employed as a template to organize and make sense out of experimental and epidemiological studies of human biology and nutrition (11).

Posted in Health | 2 Comments

The Paleo-Libertarian Connection on LRC

My article, The Paleo-Libertarian Connection, was published today on . Here’s a quick overview: I show that the paleo community is strongly libertarian, and why it is. Then I discuss the parallels between the ideologies. I end by making the case for paleo-libertarian integration. It’s somewhat of a paleo-libertarian manifesto, a flagship article for the Paleo-libertarian group.

Posted in Health, Libertarian | 6 Comments

Religion: a virus of the mind

There is a striking parallel between belief in a personal god and belief in Santa. As Richard Dawkins argues, these beliefs (or memes) are viruses of the mind. The two beliefs are of the same type, differing only in particulars:

  • Both beliefs infect young minds incapable of critical thought and lacking the knowledge to properly judge the validity of those beliefs.
  • The disinfection process is identical for most people: critical thinking develops and knowledge about reality increases until the superstition is seen for what it is.
  • Both depend on mass support: children believe in Santa because everyone else appears to. But when the appearance of mass support vanishes as children get older, the belief gets wiped out. If someone maintained the belief into adulthood, he would be considered mentally immature. Likewise, religions get their strength from mass support. The religion of culture A is considered ridiculous by those of culture B—culture B is highly resistant to religion A simply because mass support is missing. Religious belief is considered childish and ridiculous where it is rare.

Growing up involves learning about reality and discarding falsehoods. Everybody drops the superstitions that don’t have mass support among adults. But many who were infected by religion as young children aren’t able to shake the virus as adults—because the mass support among adults prevents it from being exposed as a superstition. They go on to spread the virus to their children—that’s how the virus propagates itself.

It’s telling that nearly all religious people were indoctrinated into their particular religion as children. Those who are infected as adults are usually of questionable psychological integrity, or are simply unaware of the scientific evidence. After all, atheism correlates with intelligence and education. Consider this: a person may have complete faith in religion A, but had they grown up in a different culture they would have complete faith in religion B, even though the two are mutually contradictory. It comes down to sheer luck whether one is born at the right time and place to be infected with the ‘correct’ religion, although such a person will always believe that his is the ‘correct’ religion, while the other is false. Take a moment and think through the implications of this.

Now, religious people are not all stupid. In fact, many are very smart. For example, several Mises Institute scholars are religious, despite being very sharp thinkers in economics. This strikes me as a huge disconnect, a double standard—intellectual dishonesty, but probably not intentional. It’s as though religious belief is kept in its own compartment in the mind, sealed off from the rigors of evidence and logic that rule everywhere else. I find it absurd that one can be committed to the high standards of logic and evidence while also believing the superstitions of Bronze Age tribesmen.

Belief in a personal god is childish, just like belief in Santa. Both beliefs have zero scientific evidence to support them, and are opposed by overwhelming evidence to the contrary. If one must believe in a god, then deism (the belief in a non-personal god) is best—it doesn’t contradict the facts so blatantly. But it’s best to ditch deism and even agnosticism and be a full-blown atheist. Reject the existence of god(s) in the same way that you reject the existence of Santa.

Religion is an affront to reason and human dignity. It represents a complete rejection of reason and it lowers humans to the level of pawns in some divine game. Religion spreads by infecting innocent children, before they can critically assess what they’re being taught. Leave the children alone and let them decide what they’ll believe when they grow up. But if that were done, I reckon that religion would completely evaporate in a few generations.

Posted in Atheism | 19 Comments

Evolutionary Psychology vs The Blank Slate

I just finished reading Steven Pinker’s book, The Blank Slate. I must say that I underestimated it, despite having high expectations. Pinker draws from an impressive range of disciplines, drawing many important insights.

Pinker invokes evolutionary psychology and the other sciences of human nature to systematically pick apart the Blank Slate. The Blank Slate is the empiricist position that the mind enters the world empty and acquires all traits from the environment—hence, the mind can be shaped into whatever we desire simply by controlling the environment; there is no such thing as human nature. In the nature/nurture debate, it is known as the extreme nurture position. Pinker decisively shows that this position is false. The mind comes with many innate features such as emotions, a moral sense, and a highly specialized ability to learn language (but not to read/write), just to name a few. The existence of cultural universals seals the fate of the Blank Slate.

While all of this is quite evident to most people, many intellectuals (especially in the social sciences) have bitterly resisted the discoveries of innate features. They fear that a scientific basis for differences among people, the sexes, and races will legitimize discrimination. Their error was to base their morality on the assumption that humans are born blank slates. As such, their moral opposition to discrimination is deeply undermined by the discovery of facts about human nature. In fact, the Blank Slate position could just as easily be invoked to argue that people should just be socialized to accept discrimination. A proper moral theory holds that people have equal rights by the fact that they are humans, regardless of their innate features. Likewise, the recognition of human nature fatally undermines such garbage philosophies as relativism, constructionism, and romanticism.

He explores the implications of various innate features of the mind, such as our intuitive moral sense or our intuitive theory of mind. His analysis of our innate theory of economics explains why economic fallacies are so common among non-economists (and even among some economists). Paul Rubin has written an excellent paper about this and draws heavily on Pinker’s book. I highly recommend it.

To his credit, Pinker takes a mature classical liberal position on social issues. In the chapter on politics, he rejects the Utopian (i.e., Marxist) position for its naive view that human nature can be fundamentally changed. He sides instead with the classical liberals, who recognize the flaws of human nature and the need for institutions that can deal with them (e.g., limited democratic government, low taxation, free markets). On the topic of feminism, he sides with the equity feminists (those who advocate political equality between men and women) in rejecting gender feminism (which he calls the “lunatic fringe” of feminism).

One of the interesting topics he discusses is child development.  Contrary to common belief, parents have virtually no influence on how their children turn out (personality, intelligence). This is explained by the evolutionary theory of parent-child conflict—children only carry 50% of a parent’s genes so their interests are not fully consonant; children evolved resistance to parental influence to prevent parental exploitation.  Scientists have found that about 50% of what shapes a person is genetic. The other 50% is attributable to interaction with peers and chance. For example, the children of immigrants seamlessly learn the language and adopt the culture, but they don’t acquire their parents’ accents. This explains why children don’t turn out as their parents worked so hard to ensure. It also entails that most parenting advice is trash that wastes parents’ time and makes them feel guilty for not investing all their efforts in raising their children.

Pinker’s discussion of the arts is great. He shows that humans are hardwired to enjoy specific features in art (form, beauty, melody, etc). But in the 20th century, modernism and post-modernism explicitly rejected beauty and deliberately created appalling and disgusting art in attempt to change human nature. Hence the sorry state of modern art, and the superiority of classical art.

All in all, it’s a fascinating book with broad implications. Pinker’s analyses are careful and intelligent, brimming with good sense. The book is well worth reading, and you will learn a lot in a variety of fields.

Posted in Other Mass Delusions, Philosophy, Psychology | Leave a comment

Stand up desk and other ergonomics hacks

I bought a stand up desk a half year ago for ergonomics. I was fed up with sitting (for many of the reasons that Mark Sisson recently wrote about) so I hired a handyman (through the online classifieds) to build me a standup workstation. It was pretty expensive ($450), but it’s top quality and I plan to use it extensively for many years to come. It’s gigantic: 3′ deep and 5′ wide, giving me plenty of room to do both computer work and paperwork. It’s height adjustable within a few inches for fine tuning (via a screw mechanism between the legs and the tabletop).

I find that standing is nice but as Mark pointed out, static standing has its drawbacks. But since you’re not locked in a chair, it’s easy to move around or stretch once in a while—I like to drop into a grok squat once in a while. Foot soreness can be extreme at the beginning if you’re unaccustomed to standing for long periods. But your feet will adapt in a week or two, and will become even better adapted over longer periods. I use an anti-fatigue mat, the kind that cashiers and other workers sometimes use. It makes the transition much easier and is really nice to stand on. Good posture is really important to avoid back soreness—just stand as tall as you can (like you do when you’re getting your height measured). It also helps to have a tall stool to sit down once in a while so you’re not always in one static position.

Stand up workstation

My workstation also features dual monitors (24″ and 19″), which is a big productivity booster. I keep them below eye level and angle them upwards to reduce eyestrain—when you look down, your eyelids close more and your eyes don’t get as dry.

I also use the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 which I can’t recommend highly enough. The split keyboard keeps your wrists in natural alignment and the front is raised, creating a slight negative angle which also does wonders for the wrists. I can’t stand regular keyboards anymore, it feels like typing handcuffed. I can type much faster and much more comfortably on my ergonomic keyboard.

Rather than using wussy computer speakers, I hooked up my 500W 5.1 surround sound system. I can only send it a stereo signal, but it’s still awesome.

I recommend a standing workstation if you put in a lot of time at your desk. Otherwise, you might want to try some of the cheap alternatives that Mark suggests.

Posted in Health, Lifehacks | 4 Comments