Tuesday, 20 March 2018

To fast, or not to fast, that is the question

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them.

There is always a trade-off between being adventurous and adopting a more conservative approach to innovation.  The theory of diffusion of innovation comes to mind.  The vast majority of people are not innovators or early adopters - innovators are quite rare. 

We often wrongly assume that deferring a decision whether we should introduce something new into our lives (i.e. our making a decision to maintain the status quo) is a safe choice.  To "wait and see" does not necessarily mean to "play it safe".

Imagine that you are a smoker living in 1920s Germany and you read that doctor Fritz Lickint claims that smoking causes cancer.  Not only many doctors you know are smokers and consider smoking safe, but some even say that smoking actually improves health, and you (and many other smokers you know) agree with them.  You love smoking and decide you do not want to quit till there is a scientific consensus (if ever) that smoking really not only does not improve health but actually causes cancer.  Decades pass.  To escape the war you emigrate to America.  In the 1960s, the United States Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health is published and you finally have your consensus: smoking tobacco does cause cancer and many other diseases.  You have been killing yourself for the last forty years!
Or an alternative ending: Considering all that smoking, maybe you are already dead when the report comes out...

Why am writing this?  Why the title?  Well, I have just had a discussion about fasting & LCHF lifestyle and the existing research on their short-term and long-term effects in humans.  Over the years, I stumbled upon quite a lot of studies, in both animials and humans, that show many potential benefits of both fasting and ketogenic / LCHF lifestyle (e.g. anti-carcinogenic, neuroprotective, cardioprotective, anti-aging, anti-inflammatory).  Unfortunately, most available data comes from short-term studies and there is scarcity of long-term studies (which, in case of medical research, is quite typical).

Ultimately, everyone has to do their own research, carefully weight pros and cons, and make their own decisions.  We should never stop challenging our preconceptions and the status quo.  Inaction, a choice not to change anything, is not automatically a safer choice.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Nutrition: omega-6 to omega-3 ratio

It has been claimed that human beings evolved on a diet that had a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (FA) of about 1:1; whereas today, Western diets have a ratio of 10:1 to 20–25:1, indicating that Western diets are deficient in omega-3 FA (e.g. DOI:10.1007/s12035-010-8162-0).  There is tentative evidence of omega-3 FA lowering inflammation levels in humans while omega-6 FA and their metabolites may have proinflammatory effect (but see 1).  Because of all the above, some hypothesise that the "unnaturaly" high ratio of n6:n3 is the reason why modern diets are correlated with many inflammatory disorders (e.g. cancer, atherosclerosis, and ischemic heart disease).

Many health and nutrition gurus and professionals advise that, in order to improve our health, we should eat X instead of Y because Y has a terrible omega-6 FA to omega-3 FA ratio.  To give just a couple of examples:
  • I have stumbled upon advice from Dr Michael Greger (MD) of NutritionFacts.org that we should eat walnuts because they have a good n6:n3 ratio of c. 4:1
  • Thomas DeLauer advised his viewers not to eat almonds because of their high omega-6 FA and phytic acid (see 2) content.  At the same time he recommended pecans.
Pecans contain almost twice as much n-6 as almonds. Walnuts are even worse in this respect as they contain around three times as much omega-6.
It seems obvious that ratios of n6:n3 in individual products are not important (unless one follows a monotrophic (or close to monotrophic) diet which one should not).  What is important is the ratio of your cumulative daily intake of both FA groups. If you ingest x grams of almonds (n6:n3 ratio of c. 2000:1) you still get three times less n-6 than if you ingest x grams of walnuts (which boast of a much "better" n6:n3 ratio of c. 4:1). It seems reasonable that what you should do is just enjoy your almonds, walnuts, pecans or whatever else you might fancy and add some ground flaxseeds into your diet to bring the daily n6:n3 ratio closer to 1:1 ;).

  1. Omega-6 FA are still essential for the human body to function.  Moreover, there is also evidence of their anti-inflammatory effect so to consider them just proinflammatory is one-sided.
  2. "Studies examining the effects of phytic acid demonstrate that it is important in regulating vital cellular functions. Both in vivo and in vitro experiments have demonstrated striking anticancer (preventive as well as therapeutic) effects of phytic acid. Research shows anti-carcinogenic effects, albeit to a lesser extent and it acts in inhibiting cancer. In addition to reduction in cell proliferation, phytic acid increases differentiation of malignant cells often resulting in reversion to the normal phenotype." (DOI: 10.1046/j.1365-2621.2002.00620.x)

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Authority, Fear and Zimbardo's Lucifer Effect

These two short TED videos are best considered together.  The first one shows how ordinary people fall prey to unscrupulous politicians who manipulate them in order to gain power, legitimacy and authority:

View full on TED-Ed: How did Hitler rise to power?

Divide et impera. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

The second video shows how ordinary people change after they have given authority to a wrong person or group:

See full on TED: Philip Zimbardo - The psychology of evil

To quote Zimbardo, there are only 7 social processes that grease "the slippery slope of evil":
  1. Mindlessly taking the first small step
  2. Dehumanization of others
  3. De-individuation of self (anonymity)
  4. Diffusion of personal responsibility
  5. Blind obedience to authority
  6. Uncritical conformity to group norms
  7. Passive tolerance of evil through inaction or indifference
The above makes it easy to understand the recent rise of populist nationalism, both in Europe (e.g. Brexit) and globally (e.g. Trump), just a few years after the ruling elites caused the Great Recession in 2008, and shows how it is possible that millions of ordinarily rational people could swallow even the most preposterous lies, and transform into mindless masses of fearful, prejudiced and deluded followers of their new fascist leaders (who, unsurprisingly, preach anti-intellectualism (who needs experts, right?), as rational thinking is their worst enemy and could allow their followers to wake up and see through all the lies).

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Today's comments on Brexit

FWLaing wrote:
Brexit isn't a battle against elites rather it can be correctly understood as a battle between elites, a battle for power. More specifically it's a battle between a more controlled and moderate version of capitalism as represented by the EU and an unfettered US style of radical free market capitalism as proposed by Hayek and his supporters on the outer fringes of the conservative party and radical and extreme right movements.
The Brexit movement has a very clear structure. It is financed by very rich extreme right wing businessmen who also have very large media interests and who share an extreme Thatcherite-Hayekian vision for the UK which involves the abolishing of much of UK employment law, most taxation and the privitisation of the entire state except the military. Much as a client would engage a barrister, they have, through their media interest procured the services of various professional journalists and commentators, notably Johnson and Gove, (there are numerous others,) who are paid to make the case for the UK leaving the EU. These people are top notch thinkers and speakers and have used a variety of means to sway the public in this matter, notably sovereignty, the plight of the working man (a typical fascistic strophe) and, most corrosively, immigration. But most of this is just very clever advertising and PR. The real goal of the top-dog Brexiteers is to unleash unfettered, no holds barred capitalism in the UK.

Sendoake responded to FWLaing:
Very good analysis, thank you. I might add to that: it might be good for the EU once the UK gets out. After all, the UK was the biggest advocate of unrestricted, uncontrolled capitalism in the EU. We might move towards something more moderate after Brexit.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

What Brexit means for EU citizens

How do EU citizens exercising their treaty rights to live anywhere in the European Union feel about the prospect of being offered work permits and visas by the UK government and thus becoming immigrants after everything that has happened?  While reading the Financial Times, I stumbled upon the following comment which, I believe, hit the nail on the head:

"All my friends who are EU citizens are considering leaving the UK. Most of them are actively considering jobs elsewhere. Not so much because they feel particularly exposed - most of them have been here for more than 10 years and have good jobs here, several of them have created successful corporate finance businesses here attracting foreign investors from the EU and UK investors in the EU, companies which are relatively easy to relocate and often already have offices elsehere in the EU - but because they do not like the UK anymore and do not want it to continue to profit from their industry.

It is mainly affective: they believed the UK to be the most tolerant, meritocratic and open society in the EU. They feel Europeans and this was their place in British society and their common identity with the British. The "new UK " post referendum is seen as xenophobic and inward looking. They complain about the EU but the referendum made them realise that they had a deep attachment to its founding principles. They do not want the UK to prosper at the expense of the EU. And they don't want to help.

There is a deep sense that if the UK believes itself to be better than any other nations and wants to stand alone, then it should be alone and not drain from the EU the best talents.

In a sense the EU referendum has awoken their own nationalism but as Europeans citizens. Their is a new desire to protect Europe and work to change it for the better."

Will Brexit turn out to be a boon for the EU, then?  Possibly.  Most of us, if not all, were infatuated with Britain and that made how we had been treated during the referendum affair hurt even more, that can be clearly sensed in our attitudes described in the comment cited above.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

The Great Programmer

I have just read something which got me thinking about my old theory of The Great Programmer ;).

I started my today's reading with the following article (if you want to follow the links, I recommend skipping this one and going straight to the source - i.e. the next two): A world-famous chemist tells the truth: there’s no scientist alive today who understands macroevolution.

The first article refers to another article, by professor James M. Tour*, available here: Layman’s Reflections on Evolution and Creation. An Insider’s View of the Academy; and a video recording of the professor giving a talk: Nanotech and Jesus Christ - James Tour at Georgia Tech.

It was all interesting and I do recommend checking out those sources (especially the last two).

My thoughts?  I am not really convinced by professor Tour's argument as I view macroevolution as just an emergent property of a complex system which means that chemistry is just a medium for this system and not really important to understand macroevolution as a whole (as long as we understand all the basic interactions between the simple elements (i.e. molecules) the system is composed of - which, as far as I know, we do). What follows is that the system may be too complex for us to ever be able to explain macroevolution on the level of abstraction professor Tour is talking about.

Of course it is possible that I just do not know enough about chemistry and/or macroevolution to fully appreciate professor Tour's thoughts on the subject.
I also do agree with him that the new dogmatism becoming so prevalent in academia is not only troubling but unbecoming to scholars.

Even if I am right though, it does not mean that evolution disproves intelligent design as both those theories are not mutually exclusive (unless one chooses an arbitrary (and probably least intelligent ;) ) definition of intelligent design).  In case you were bored, here are some of my thoughts about that (and The Great Programmer) I wrote down some time ago: On computer programming, atheism and human cognizance

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Paradise Lost or Never Gained

One Summer's Day by Joe Hisaishi. When we compose music we do not really express what we think the music is about. This one is not about one summer's day. It is about our longing for one summer's day as we feel it should be... something intangible, something we can never touch, at least not in this life... perhaps never... something which we think we could have grasped decades ago when we were still young... a chance we can never have again... the chance we have never really had. Longing for that which is always out of our reach and which we can never truly define and for which we mistake other things... things which are but mere reflections of the truth.  Listen and see for yourself.

 (an alternative arrangement by Kyle Landry)

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