Will to Power

Featured

That life itself is dependent upon, if not made from, the opposition of forces, the fight. The pitting of two drives against one another, and the necessity of declaring a winner.

Take the tectonic forces coming together at a fault. One side eventually slides under, accompanied by a shaking of the foundation; one side eventually rises above and remains there until some colossal force is strong enough to overturn what has already been decided. If this fighting of wills is removed, if all is equalized, you lose all movement, all change, and all life. The pervading will is not all that emerges from this confrontation, it subjugates the lesser, making it part of a new whole. And the denigration of the lesser will, that is so common and easy to come to, only comes from man’s misplaced shame of man. An obvious devaluation of a part of the whole, an opposite required for the other. This has blossomed into an all out declaration of war on losing, as they have attached the experience of suffering to the loss itself in some cleverly misplaced equalization. In the name of suffering, they claim, we must protect, nay prevent, the losing entity from even becoming. Do not be fooled, this is an incorrect aim, as the existence of the winning drive presupposes a losing drive, and therefore each is equally required. The subjective devaluation of the lower is the root of the desire to remove it at all costs. With this removal, you do not remove potential, you simply strip out the surface level incarnations of the underlying drives. Now these drives compete at levels outside of our awareness. Life as we know it stagnates, our “life” is no more. 

A legal organisation, conceived of as sovereign and universal, not as a weapon in a fight of complexes of power, but as a weapon against fighting, generally after the style of Dühring’s communistic model of treating every will as equal with every other will, would be a principle hostile to life, a destroyer and dissolver of man, an outrage on the future of man, a symptom of fatigue, a secret cut to Nothingness.

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals, Second Essay: “Guilt,” “Bad Conscience,” and the Like, aphorism 11

Look around. Everything you experience is the successor in a long and brutal fight against time. Our organs, our consciousness, our ideas, all are current manifestations of a block of marble that has been chipped, formed, and forced into existence by eternal competition. You do not go from single cells to incredibly complex organisms unless there is an underlying, pervading will. A will to do things better, to acquire better, utilize better, be better, a will to power. This is operating at a level we are not privy to, we only perceive its manifestations. We have the ability to observe and hypothesize, but our observations are never enough to infer original utility. At best, we are able to make judgements about an entity’s current utility, and even that is only a minutely educated guess. For example, take the mitochondria that exist inside almost all of our cells. These cellular substructures are the primary producers of ATP, the preferred energy currency at the molecular level. So we can look at the mitochondria, and many scientists have, and have a decent understanding of what its function currently is, that it acts as the power plant of the cell (obviously much more complicated, but not the point here). If one looks into their history however, their role has drastically changed. The prevailing idea is a theory of endosymbiosis, stating that mitochondria previously existed as free living, single celled organisms. And at some point these individual entities were taken into another cell (endosymbiosis). A particular strong piece of evidence for this theory is that mitochondria contain their own, unique set of DNA, that is different from the germ line DNA found in the nucleus of our cells. So certainly their role has changed, their utility has changed over time, and there has to be some underlying drive for these processes to occur. The will to power continually seeks to express itself in any way that increases its leverage. Our current observation, a snapshot in time, is the mitochondria existing inside the cell, serving a larger purpose, or larger drive. This tells us nothing about the way that entity was used in a time before. We should certainly project this idea into our future. Our institutions, the demonstrators of power, are not confined to the role and ideology they serve today, and it is unlikely they serve the ideology they were initiated upon, even if they claim to do so. They, like the mitochondria, are always ripe for subjugation by a stronger, underlying force.

Everything, anything which exists and which prevails everywhere, will always be put to new purposes by a force superior to itself, will be commandeered afresh, will be turned and transformed to new uses; all “happening” in the organic world consists of overpowering and dominating, and again all overpowering and domination is a new interpretation and adjustment, which must necessarily obscure or absolutely extinguish the subsisting “meaning” and “end.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals, Second Essay: “Guilt,” “Bad Conscience,” and the Like, aphorism 12

It should be emphasized that the will to power has no conception of “good” and “bad.” These subjective judgements are only overlaid at a much higher, more superficial layer. A thing does not exist to be “good,” it only exists, or it does not. And in that interpretation, it may even be plausible to say, that to be, or to exist, in itself – is “good.” The environment or society or space of reality existed in such a way to allow anything that exists to come about, and now, we play a role in what shapes are allowed to form next. We do not have the option to not play, we are involved with both our action and inaction. If you do not act with intention, you will be subjugated by the will of another. When we do not pay attention to what is actually going on, if we refuse to look a layer deeper, then we allow our institutions, our customs, our culture, to be carried away by forces that have no connection to our sense of “good,” and to be manipulated by that objective will to power. That drive that can and will take any form presented, any form that allows it to increase its influence and tighten its grasp. Look under the hood, boldly venture one layer deeper. There are incredible forces at play, and we are only beginning to see the bubbling over of the many atrocities that brew under a stagnant, repressive, and reactive society.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 6/9/2020

Sleep II: Glucose Intolerance and Hormone Dysfunction

Featured

My introduction to insulin will be important to understand before getting into today’s conversation. We will be discussing sleep, its affect on blood sugar levels, and its affect on serum insulin levels. If you don’t want to spend the five minutes reading the post on insulin, the most important takeaway is that insulin in a ginormous growth signal to the body. When insulin is present in the bloodstream, our ability to break down and burn stored body fat is blocked, while our ability to form and store new fat molecules is amplified. With that brief introduction, let’s dive in.

I don’t think anyone would argue that humans are incredibly diverse and adaptable. We live and learn to thrive in every environment the world has to offer (mostly). Adaptability is no more than responding positively to your environment. It is making subtle changes in your functioning to better facilitate your existence in that environment in the future. A prerequisite to being adaptable is the ability to sense your environment. Before you can begin to optimize outputs, you have to understand the inputs to the system. Sleep is a primary, pivotal, essential, etc., etc., input to our body functioning. The duration and quality of our sleep each night sends a truckload of data to our body. And being the adaptable creatures we are, our system processes that data and makes compensatory psychologic and physiologic changes. One of the huge levers our body can manipulate in response to this input of data is hormonal and metabolic functioning. If you remember from Sleep I, short sleep induces higher levels of ghrelin (a hormone associated with hunger) and lower levels of leptin (a hormone associated with satiety). These changes in chemical concentration lead to an overall subjective feeling of increased hunger. Today’s topic fits right along side this increased sensation of hunger. When we do not get adequate sleep we become less glucose tolerant. Meaning our blood sugar stays elevated for a longer time after eating, as do our levels of insulin. Short sleep leads to more insulin spending more time in our bloodstream.

In this small study participants were put through two different sleep regiments. Initially they were restricted to four hours in bed per night for six nights, and then allowed 12 hours in the bed for the next seven nights. In each condition they they were subject to a glucose tolerance test while also having their insulin levels measured. During the sleep restricted condition, there was a clear impairment of carbohydrate tolerance. Injected glucose was cleared from the body 40% slower after sleep restriction. They also measured the acute insulin response to be 30% lower in the sleep-debt condition. Glucose effectiveness, a measure of ability to dispose of glucose independent of insulin, was also 30% lower in the sleep debt condition. The combination of these outcomes would certainly lead to prolonged blood sugar elevation, and these differences in glucose tolerance are very similar to those seen in a non-insulin-dependent diabetic male compared to a normoglycemic male. Lastly, the researchers also measured glucose levels and insulin response to a 60% carbohydrate meal; opposed to the IV glucose injection which the above results were in reference to. They measured the increase in peak glucose after eating breakfast was higher in the sleep restricted state. However, peak glucose measurements following lunch and dinner did not differ much between the sleep states [1]. This is certainly no evidence of causation, I simply want to point out that there seems to be some level of hormonal and metabolic dysfunction in response to sleep restriction.

In this study researchers were investigating if sleep restriction impairs insulin signaling. In order for insulin to exert its effect at a cellular level, it first binds to a receptor on the outer membrane of a cell. This binding initiates a cascade of events (molecules tagging other molecules, turning them on) eventually resulting in the body’s ability to move glucose from the bloodstream into the cell. The researchers were able to measure a specific molecule in the insulin pathway (phosphorylated Protein Kinase B, aka pAkt) in order to assess insulin sensitivity of individuals in a sleep deprived state and in a well-slept state. They measured the concentration of insulin that was required to stimulate pAkt to adequate levels. In an insulin insensitive state, the amount of insulin required to reach this level of pAkt stimulation would be higher. In this experiment the participants were subjected to four and a half hours in bed to achieve the sleep deprived state versus eight and a half hours in bed to create the well-slept state (four consecutive days in each state). In the sleep deprived condition the amount of insulin required to elicit the desired pAkt response was 3-fold higher [2]. Another significant manifestation of hormonal disruption after short sleep.

There are many more studies out there, but I like to keep these posts relatively short. It is fairly obvious that there is some level of hormonal dysfunction that occurs after less than a week’s worth of inadequate sleep. Admittedly these studies are small, but we have seen some level of evidence for disruptions to ghrelin, leptin, insulin, and glucose tolerance. So for a quick summary of what we have covered so far: short sleep causes you to feel more hungry and less satisfied after a meal. You then have a decreased ability to deliver glucose from your bloodstream into your cells, elevating your blood sugar for a longer period of time. You also have a decreased response to insulin, further inhibiting your ability to remove glucose from the bloodstream and increasing the overall amount of insulin in your body throughout the day. There is certainly some level of a runaway feedback loop here, as prolonged blood sugar elevation further increases the demand for more insulin secretion. And remember, when you have high levels of insulin circulating, you cannot break down fat, but you can certainly build it.

My concern is not with the 40% slower glucose clearance the day after cramming for an exam or finishing a big project. I am concerned with what happens after 25 years of consistently getting 4-6 hours of sleep. What happens when endocrine dysfunction becomes our normal? What happens when our body is forced to adapt to metabolic conditions it would have only seen in the most stressful times in pre-historic life? Of course we will never know a definitive answer to these questions, but when you are dealing with something as ubiquitous as chronic disease, I naturally look at things equally ubiquitous, i.e. sleep, as possible culprits. The idealized, “I can sleep when I die,” needs to go, or those who believe it will surely meet that end sooner than they should have.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 6/5/2020

See Sleep I: An Evolutionary Imperative

References:

[1] Spiegel K, Leproult R, Van Cauter E. Impact of sleep debt on metabolic and endocrine function. Lancet. 1999;354(9188):1435‐1439. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(99)01376-8

[2] Broussard JL, Ehrmann DA, Van Cauter E, Tasali E, Brady MJ. Impaired insulin signaling in human adipocytes after experimental sleep restriction: a randomized, crossover study. Ann Intern Med. 2012;157(8):549‐557. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-157-8-201210160-00005

Growth of the Human: How Insulin Works

Featured

tldr:

  • insulin is a hormone secreted to lower blood sugar levels
  • insulin is a body wide signal for growth
  • high levels of insulin promote the storage of energy in the form of glycogen and triglycerides (fat)
  • high levels of insulin BLOCK the breakdown of fat
  • insulin is affected by type of food, timing of food, exercise, sleep, and many other lifestyle factors

Insulin is one of the most important molecules in our body. Remember that hormones are molecules secreted by one part of the body in order to communicate a message to another part. They are able to relay information through the bloodstream, allowing systemic responses to certain environmental conditions. Blood sugar is one of the most tightly regulated parameters in our body, as we run into serious problems with both high and low blood sugar levels. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas when elevated blood sugar has been sensed. Although insulin is one of our body’s primary tools to keep our blood glucose (sugar) in check, it is not a master tool. Insulin only acts to lower blood sugar levels. Typically in response to eating, our blood sugar levels rise. This is when insulin is excreted from the pancreas into the bloodstream. Once insulin is flying around our blood vessels, it starts screaming its message to all the cells it comes into contact with, and its primary message is: Energy is available! GROW, STORE ENERGY, and GROW MORE!

Throughout all levels of biology, a primary task of the organism is to sense energy availability. In the evolutionary world, energy was always hard to come by, so the ability to detect available energy was a crucial advantage that essentially all organisms developed. It would be a catastrophic failure for an organism to try to grow and divide while resources were scarce, and it would be an equally fatal mistake for the organism to fail to grow and store energy when the resources were available. As it turns out, the molecular switches that control this decision of anabolism (building) versus catabolism (breaking down) are often central to our health and longevity. There are a handful of these high level decision makers in our body, but today’s post will focus solely on insulin.

First we must keep in mind the big picture: when insulin is in the blood, it is a body wide signal for anabolism or growth. From here we can zoom in on some of the details of insulin’s action. As we mentioned above, a primary task of insulin is to lower blood glucose levels. When insulin comes into contact with muscle cells and fat cells, it induces a specific effect, essentially unlocking the cell for glucose entry. When a muscle or fat cell grabs (binds) a molecule of insulin from the bloodstream, a cascade of events is set off inside the cell. The end result of this process is the the insertion of the GLUT4 transporter into the cellular membrane of a muscle or fat cell. A quick digression on cellular membranes; these are structures that form the boundary of cells and organelles (smaller structures inside of cells). The membrane is the outer layer controlling what comes in and what goes out. If the bloodstream is a superhighway connecting the different parts of our body, the membranes completely control who is allowed to exit the highway and enter the city (cells). Back to insulin. So insulin binds to the fat or muscle cell, resulting in GLUT4 transporters being shoved into the cellular membrane. The GLUT4 transporter essentially acts like a very specific claw, searching the bloodstream for molecules of glucose, grabbing the glucose from the bloodstream, and transporting it inside the cell. Without GLUT4 transporters in the membrane, glucose cannot enter the cell, and it simply remains in the blood. This is a primary action of insulin. Recruit GLUT4 transporters to the surface of fat and muscle cells, allowing glucose to enter the cell and reduce the amount of glucose in the blood.

This is only the beginning of the effect of insulin. We have brought glucose, single molecules of sugar, into the cell. However, this is about creating stable, usable forms of energy, so getting energy into the cell is just the first step. The cell still needs to convert these singular sugar molecules into a form of energy that can be stored long term. As we already stated, there is a deep, hardwired desire for the organism to capitalize on available energy and prepare for a day when that energy is not accessible. We convert glucose into two energy forms that are better suited for storage: glycogen and triglycerides. Glycogen is essentially a bunch of individual glucose molecules strung together, creating a single, larger molecule. This certainly helps for storage, but it also retains functionality as glycogen can be broken down into usable forms of individual glucose molecules quickly. The primary issue with glycogen is that we run out of space. Each cell can only hold so much glycogen, and when the reserves are filled up, the remainder of the glucose is used to create triglycerides. Triglycerides are the body’s best and most efficient way to store large amounts of energy. These molecules are compact, energy dense, while also retaining the ability to be broken down into usable forms of energy. Triglycerides are colloquially referred to as fat, and most of us can see the abundant stores of energy we carry around our waist.

This system of energy acquisition and storage at the cellular level is quite impressive and sophisticated. It truly highlights the body’s ability to adapt and respond to dynamic environmental conditions. But the world we live in today is much different than the world in which these systems were developed. With our basic understanding of how insulin works to pull glucose into the cell and create stable forms of energy, we will now turn to how this might be problematic in our modern life. Just as we have systems to build and store energy, we of course have systems to break down those stored forms of energy. We have processes that break down glycogen and triglycerides into molecules that can fuel our energy demanding cellular processes. However, because we have these opposing processes (anabolism versus catabolism, or storing energy versus using energy) our body has to know which protocol to run. If we are manufacturing triglycerides to store energy, it would be counterproductive if the cell next door was breaking down its triglycerides to use for energy. Once again, this is a situation our body has developed protection against. Remember what insulin’s primary message is: energy is available, grow and store energy. So not only does insulin provide a pathway for energy into the cell (GLUT4 transporter), it blocks and amplifies certain other processes inside the cell. We have discussed how insulin stimulates the building of fatty acids (energy storage in the form of fats), but the presence of insulin also blocks the cell’s ability to break down fat stores, aka insulin blocks lipolysis. This of course is the outcome of a highly intelligent system, but it certainly promotes issues for our modern lifestyle. WHEN INSULIN CONCENTRATION IS HIGH, YOU CANNOT BREAK DOWN FAT STORES. A similar process is at play with glycogen. When insulin concentration is high, the breakdown of glycogen is blocked, and the formation of glycogen is amplified. This all fits under our big picture of insulin. Insulin is a body wide signal for growth, and in turn, a body wide signal to suppress utilization of previously stored forms of energy.

Even with this basic understanding of insulin, it should be obvious that insulin levels are vitally important for anyone concerned with losing weight. As the weight we should want to lose is in the the form of triglycerides, and those triglycerides cannot be burned in the presence of high levels of insulin. I realize there is not much practical information here, or tips on how to actually utilize this information in our daily lives, but understanding this background biochemistry is fundamental to a sophisticated approach to weight loss and health in general. On this landscape we can explore how certain foods effect insulin levels, the fact that calories are NOT created equal, how movement can be leveraged to help with blood sugar control, how the timing of a meal directly affects its metabolic outcomes, how sleep is intimately connected to insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, and many other processes. There are so many pathways that all hinge on the metabolic control switch of insulin. Stay tuned for ideas on how to structure our lives in accordance with the biochemistry that governs our cellular processes.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 6/2/2020

Sleep I: An Evolutionary Imperative

Featured

I think sleep is a crucial part of maintaining health. It is an insurance policy that is too good not to participate in. This will be the first in a series of articles discussing sleep and its importance to our overall well-being. Some of this can be considered anthropomorphizing and certainly hypothesizing, but we learn through stories. So if you would indulge for a story about sleep….

Travel back to our days as hunter gatherers. The rhythms of our day completely controlled by the light and dark cycles orchestrated by our rotation about the sun. As the sun slides down the horizon, it becomes much harder to find food. And in this ancient world of incredible competition for calories, our energy would almost always be best used in search of food. Therefore, when our ability to find food is limited, it would be beneficial to conserve our energy until we are in a situation that can leverage our unique tools developed for calorie acquisition, i.e. day time vision. From this very basic pattern of light and dark, along with a perspective of calorie conservation, we might develop two different modes of being, one of activity, and one of rest and repair.

That being said, sleep’s ability to withstand natural selection is nothing short of a miracle. Sleep is seemingly juxtaposed to many of the behaviors we know to facilitate the passing of our genes into future generations. When we sleep, we are not looking for food, we are not eating food, we are not having sex, we are not looking for a mate, and we are incredibly vulnerable. These are not trivial facts, they are pillars of what we know to be necessary for procreation. So how does something that fails to directly help us in these pursuits, while also making us the most vulnerable of prey, become so prominent in essentially every animal species on this planet? Ockham’s Razor would simply tell us that the benefit must outweigh the harm. Over the long experimental testing grounds of time, mother nature has weighed and measured sleep, and it has proven to be of essential utility. Sleep’s persistence proves its profits exceed its costs. By understanding the magnitude of what we give up through sleep (eating, sexing, security, etc.), we may begin to understand the value we receive through sleep. It simply has to be greater than or equal in value or sleep would not have proliferated.

We don’t know what all the benefits of sleep, and I’m not convinced we ever will. The system-wide effects of something like sleep are hard to tease apart in the discretizing manner demanded by modern science. However, it is being researched more and more and we will be able to increasingly understand the pieces of its puzzle. Our body is able to synchronize different processes through oscillating hormone levels. Throughout the day hormone concentrations rise and fall, creating a rhythmic balance for our cellular operations. There are numerous hormones, and they all have different effects. For example, melatonin ideally starts to increase in the evening, peaks in the middle of the night, and remains low throughout the day. The cyclic variation of hormones act as a internal clock, sending information throughout the body and allowing for different parts of the body to work towards common goals.

Two specific hormones I would like to discuss here are leptin and ghrelin. When discussing biochemistry, we will have to settle with some simplification. Keep in mind when people say something like “melatonin is the sleep hormone,” there is probably a good amount of truth to it, but there is also a vast complexity going on in the background. So while melatonin is certainly involved in sleep/wake cycles, its role is much more complex.

Leptin is a hormone primarily made by adipocytes (fat cells) and enterocytes (small intestine) that signal satiety. It is a huge part of that “full” feeling we get after eating a meal. Ghrelin is a hormone produced by your gastrointestinal system, closely correlated with our sensation of hunger. These two hormones have opposing effects, and are largely involved in appetite regulation. For example, ghrelin is often at its highest concentration before a meal and at its lowest levels after eating. The opposite is true for leptin, as its concentration is highest after eating.

Let’s look at how these hormones are affected by sleep. One of the most common ways to study something is to remove it, and then observe or measure the effect of its absence. Many studies have shown that when we are sleep deprived, the circulating levels of these hormones are changed. One study took a small group of participants and took them through two different scenarios. In the first part of the experiment the participants underwent two days of sleep restriction, then had blood levels of ghrelin and leptin measured, along with a subjective assessment of hunger. These same participants where then later allowed two days of extended sleep, and the same measurements where recorded. The study showed that after sleep deprivation, levels of ghrelin increased, levels of leptin decreased, and subjective hunger was increased [1]. Another study looked at a much larger cohort of patients over a longer period of time. Here they showed that short sleep duration was associated with higher levels of ghrelin and lower levels of leptin, independent of BMI, age, sex, and other confounding factors [2]. In this review article, researchers looked at the body of evidence regarding sleep loss and its effect on neuroendocrine and metabolic function, concluding short sleep is associated with an up-regulation of appetite, lower leptin levels, and higher ghrelin levels [3]. There are numerous other studies out there, and there seems to be a strong general consensus that shortened sleep is associated with lower leptin, higher ghrelin, and increased feelings of hunger. Obviously this is a bad combination for anyone who is concerned about their weight, and an extremely difficult situation to overcome if one is trying to lose weight.

Allow me to step back from the science, and return to our hunter gatherer ancestors to try and tell a story. I do not think it is a huge leap to assume that sleep was something we engaged in every night, and something we rarely sacrificed. If not for any other reason than our gift of vision was severely limited without the light of day. However, I can imagine at least one scenario when we would sacrifice sleep. Those nights when we were on the verge of starvation, when we had gone many days without food. At that point we had no other option but to continue moving in search of food, or at least significantly shorten the time we spent asleep. So if we were on the search for food, bargaining sleep for more exploration time, how might our bodies help us? We would be at a huge advantage if our appetite was tuned for high caloric intake. That way if we managed to finally come across food, we could fully take advantage of the available calories. We would not want to be forced to stop eating because we felt “full.” In this situation it would be a great development if in response to short sleep, our body increased its signal for hunger, and decreased its signal of satiety. Increased ghrelin and decreased leptin, in order to increase our appetite and ability to intake large amounts of calories. Shortened sleep would increase the instinctual drive to find calorically dense food.

Of course this is not science, the evolutionary story may or may not be true. However, viewing things through and evolutionary lens allows us to expand our thinking to why things might work as they do, and I certainly remember things better in story than factual bullet points. So take the evolutionary part with a grain of salt, but the elevation of ghrelin, reduction in leptin and overall increase in hunger in response to short sleep is well understood. If you or anyone you know is struggling with their weight, sleep is an essential first pillar to attack. Leptin and ghrelin are only part of this story. Short sleep also impairs glucose tolerance and causes other hormonal imbalances. Diet and exercise are what people often jump to when discussing weight control, but I would argue sleep should be the first stepping stone. Without prioritizing sleep you will be fighting an uphill battle. Stay tuned for further exploration of sleep’s wide ranging effects on our health.

Best explorations

References:

[1] Spiegel K, Tasali E, Penev P, Van Cauter E. Brief communication: Sleep curtailment in healthy young men is associated with decreased leptin levels, elevated ghrelin levels, and increased hunger and appetite. Ann Intern Med. 2004;141(11):846‐850. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-141-11-200412070-00008

[2] Taheri S, Lin L, Austin D, Young T, Mignot E. Short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index. PLoS Med. 2004;1(3):e62. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0010062

[3] Van Cauter E, Holmback U, Knutson K, et al. Impact of sleep and sleep loss on neuroendocrine and metabolic function. Horm Res. 2007;67 Suppl 1:2‐9. doi:10.1159/000097543

-Ryan; 6/1/2020

Resistance: That War Within

Featured

I stumbled upon a perfect metaphor for life last night: Do the dishes now, they never get any easier. If you have a dishwasher, you blessed soul, maybe this is not as obvious. However if you are like me, you have spent considerable time working with a kitchen that does not offer the 5-star amenity of a dish washing machine. The lesson is that washing the dishes never gets any easier. In fact, the job gets increasingly worse (through multiple dimensions) every second you decide not to wash them. First and foremost, the unwashed dish takes up physical space in the sink! This might not sound like a huge deal, but let me assure you, the resistance to cleaning the dishes exponentially increases as the available sink space decreases. You quickly lose that ability to rotate and turn the big pot because the stack of plates at the bottom of the sink does not leave you enough room between the plates and the faucet! And because you left the pot sitting for 3 days, that once savory tomato meat sauce seems to have become one with the metallic outer coating of the pot. You need to maneuver the pot at the perfect angle just to have the required arm leverage to scrape off the gunk. But those plates and cups at the bottom of the sink shut that down. Now you have to move the big pot aside, and start cleaning the small stuff first. You need that space (and all your will) to separate those day old demons from that pot.

The extensions of this situation are endless. You have to deal with your problems, or they continue to grow. Ignoring the issue only grants it time to mutate and become more formidable. It never goes away, the dish fairy isn’t coming, it’s just there, looming. What takes up physical space today (in the sink), will take up mental space tomorrow (the knowing that you still have to wash the damn dishes). And literally every second you wait, you compound the problem. The dishes are physically harder to clean, and you allow the problem to occupy mental real estate for a longer period of time. The real kicker is the negative feedback loop. The harder the job is to complete, the less likely we are to attempt the job. So we put it off, the mental and physical energy required to complete the task grows, and the likelihood of our doing the task decreases in response. It is at some point you will cross the point of no return. That point at which you aren’t going to clean the dishes, it’s just too far gone. Now you require an anomaly event to shake you free from your cementing state. Someone is coming over to your house, maybe a hot date. This external stimulus of energy is the only way you are able to break the mold that has solidified in the sink and in your head.

To abstract a bit further, this is the simply the way resistance works. In order to do something, anything, you have to say no to everything else. And that’s no easy task. Essentially you have endless possible options, and you have the job of eliminating all but one. So resistance is a vital and useful tool. Imagine you are at the center of a sphere, and you have to move towards some point on the surface of the sphere. Pretend that each location on the surface represents a different mode of action. So you select that particular point (your goal) and start moving, like an arrow to its target. You have to resist all the forces vying to push and pull you towards their own preferred location. Without this resistance, you would have no defined direction. However the thing about life is that you actually never get to the surface of the sphere, you just keep getting closer. For example, think of an arrow traveling to a target. We can say that along the path of the arrow, there is some amount of time for the distance between the arrow and the target to be halved. As the arrow gets closer to the target, the time it takes for it to cover half of the remaining distance becomes infinitely shorter. If we can continually adjust the time scale (infinitesimal time) the arrow will never reach the target. We just keep getting closer, the distance to the target decreases, the halfway point is closer to the starting point (and the target), and the time it takes to get to the halfway point is less. If you grant me this mental exercise, you see that the arrow never hits the target, it just gets infinitesimally close. So moving back to our sphere, we never get to the surface. If we keep traveling in the same direction, honoring the same resistance, we might get something like the shape below (ignore the labels. The 3D representation is the important part, and shoutout to whoever created this. I couldn’t access the actual website for some reason).

And now allow me to really extend the metaphor. Clearly the above deformed sphere does not look like a balanced, versatile, or well-rounded, if you will, object. It has some prominent features, but is also seems disjointed. Does this not happen to us when we get locked on to one specific target? It continues to get easier to move in the direction we are going, while also becoming more difficult to go against the grain. Our resistances become entrenched, and we grow one-sided. This is Newton’s First Law, this is inertia. So if resistance are those forces that keep us on the straight and narrow, they are also the key to expanding our horizon. In order to become something you aren’t, you have to do things you haven’t done. This will inevitably feel uncomfortable as we have a natural tendency to do what we are good at and what we are used to, for good reason. But if we want to grow, develop, become balanced and dynamic, we are forced to return to that resistance with new intentions.

That resistance becomes your compass. It is a screaming red flag warning, “LOOK OVER HERE.” It is the signal beacon of an opportunity to fight the dragon and to steal the fire. It is the portal to becoming something you are not.

It’s not easy or obvious. As we have already stated, that resistance serves an essential purpose and you first must simply be able to recognize and acknowledge the feeling itself. Maybe today that resistance is a little too much to bear, and the dishes are going to stay dirty, for now. But if you can just identify that feeling, that repulsion, you are on the right track. Once you can see it, you have the ability to use it as a tool. You don’t have to start with the big pot. Start with the small plates and cups at the bottom of the sink. Make the next step just a little easier for yourself.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 5/26/2020

Psychology and Art

Featured

I should first try to define art. Simply put, it is any creative act, anything being brought into existence for the first time. This does not require something to be completely original, novel, nor previously totally unobserved. We are a collection of influences, be it through music, books, or society in general. Therefore, when we produce something, it will inherently have some some hue that is not entirely our own. For example, I would certainly consider a collage a piece of art. Each individual element may be completely unoriginal, but the arrangement of the pieces in time and space, as a whole, qualifies it as a work of art and a product of creativity. As is music. Millions of songs have (and will have) the chord progression of G,D,C, but that core of similarity does not disqualify them as unique constructions.

Art is an etching in spacetime, showcasing the unique nature of some particular moment. When you listen to a song, or gaze upon a painting, some part of you is transported back to that special time when someone’s skills and dedication had that oh so rare of union with the muse. Signed and dated in that very moment, to be shared with the world. The production is a summation of the cultural and the personal which speaks to something in all of us. A meeting of the known and unknown that could only come into existence through that very moment. When that song takes you back seven years, gives you goosebumps, or inspires you to keep going, that is special. That is the transfer of psychic energy, or libido.

“What is essential in a work of art is that it should rise far and above the realm of personal life and speak from the spirit and the heart of the poet as a man to the spirit and heart of mankind.”

Carl Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul

Art is the outcome of the unconscious reaching up through consciousness. There lies a latent psychic energy in the unconscious, and the artist has the ability to withstand its surge. But not only to withstand, the artist must harness, mold, and personalize. He must not be overwhelmed by the flood of the unknown, and must be able to direct the energy into something that speaks to the shared traits of humankind.

Not everyone has the constitution to venture into these depths and come out unscathed. However, those bold heroes that manage to do so leave their mark on the world. For the deeper one is able to go, the closer he gets to the core of our existence. That commonality we call the human condition. Those parts that lie within us, regardless of where we were born, how we were raised, or what god we believe in. Those blissful moments which are always counterbalanced by those in the depths of despair. By venturing here, the artist wins access to this most intimate part of our being. By venturing here, the artist can heal, move, and transcend.

Part of the artistic creation we understand. This part draws us in and allows us to relate. A common rhythm that fills us with a sense of attraction. But extraordinary art pairs this unifying feature with a coloring that only the artist could create. It blends that which is familiar with the unique and foreign. We can feel that unconscious layer in the art, shared by us all, drawing us in. The attraction of a symbolic representation of an archetype which extends from the collective unconscious. Then the artist reaches out, and meets this energy in his own consciousness. This is where he styles, shapes, and forms something that only he could. Adding an outer layer that personalizes and stamps the creation for the rest of time.

It is clear art connects us. It is a great unifier, across time, space, language, and tradition. In fact, art has the ability to transcend any barrier we construct, as some piece of it lives in our shared collective unconscious. It may not arouse the same feeling in me as it does in you, and it most certainly means something different to both of us than the person who created it, but the fact that it stirred something inside all of us, that is what makes it art.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 5/22/2020

Consciousness: Through the Lens of Split Brain Experiments

Featured

Where are you? That thing that is the doer, where is that located?

Our brain is divided into to hemispheres, left and right. These hemispheres are connected through a bundle of nerve fibers called the corpus callosum. This structure allows for information exchange between the two halves of our brain. This, it turns out, is very important as the individual hemispheres of our brain complete separate tasks, then share the information with the other half. The specific tasks that are carried out by each hemisphere are conserved in most people. That is to say, there are some exceptions to these rules, but the work is typically divided the same way across different peoples. As a brief example of this, examine the figure below.

This list could be longer and more detailed, but the important distinctions are: each hemisphere receives different visual inputs, controls different sides of the body, and that speech and language are confined to the left hemisphere.

A treatment for the most severe and uncontrollable epilepsy is to cut the corpus callosum. This is a last line measure (no response to anti-seizure medication and other treatments) to limit the spread of the electrical activity of epileptic seizures. While cutting the corpus callosum did not completely stop the seizures, it relegated them to the half of the brain they originated in, no longer being able to spread to the other hemisphere via the corpus callosum. I will leave the ethics of this procedure for others to debate, but to the impartial observer, this procedure shed light on some peculiar aspects of consciousness.

Let’s walk down the logical progression of cutting the corpus callosum. No communication, no information exchange between the two hemispheres. Each hemisphere only receives visual input from one visual field. For those that are unaware, if you stare at a dot in the middle of the screen, images to the left of that dot are located in your left visual field, and vice versa. Therefore, observing a word in the right visual field goes to the left brain. This means the person could say the word out loud, as the speech and language centers are also in the left brain. They would also be able to move their right hand if, for instance, they were asked to draw the word presented to them. So far, pretty normal. Now, let us walk down the path of presenting a word to the left visual field. The visual input is sent to the right hemisphere of the brain. When asked what word was shown, the patient says nothing. The visual input, stored in the right brain, has no pathway to the speech and language center in the left brain. The patient cannot represent the information in words or speech, as these two pieces of informations are located in opposite hemispheres, unable to communicate. However, when asked to close his eyes and draw with his left hand, the patient is able draw a picture of the word. I recognize this probably sounds very confusing. Watch the video below for a visual explanation.

Split brain behavioral experiments

So with this basic physiologic understanding, let’s jump to the fun part, its implications for consciousness. For this discussion it may be helpful to invoke a particular definition of consciousness. In the words of philosopher Thomas Nagel, “an organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something that it is like to be that organism—something it is like for the organism.” This assertion is made in his paper “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” For example, as soon as we say, “if I could perceive via echolocation, I would understand how a bat negotiates its surroundings,” we assign some level, or type, of consciousness to the bat. It has consciousness because there is something that it is like to be the bat. This definition of consciousness is a decent starting place. While it does not violate any of my intuitions, or directly contradict my developing notion of consciousness, it does not offer much insight either. The obvious thing we must extend from this definition is that consciousness is no one thing. You and I can both be conscious, as can the bat, but there are clear and obvious differences between these incarnations of consciousness. There are levels to the game, so to speak. This goes against the materialist and rationalist tendency to discretize and demand a concrete form of things. Through this definition we are clearly allowing consciousness to take on different forms, while also retaining some element of commonality. In my own interpretation of this idea, consciousness is the awareness of what it is like to be.

Back to the split brain experiments. If we apply the above definition of consciousness to the split brain patient, we are forced to assign individual consciousness to each hemisphere of the brain. As seen in the video, when shown different words in each visual field, the cognitive processes are distinct. The left hemisphere knows the he visualized a hammer, while the right hemisphere knows he visualized a saw. Both are 100% correct, both are 100% convinced of their perceptions, and both are completely unaware of the other.

What does this do for our understanding of consciousness? For me, it shows that consciousness is differentiated from the body, while also being dependent upon it. It is detached, but receives input from the body. I visualize it as a little entity floating right above my head. It takes inputs from inside the body as well as outside, welds them into a coherent story, and then poses as the all mighty conductor of volition. It incorporates all the stimuli of the senses, the inner psychic drives and images, our history, our place in the group, our place in society, our direct environment, possible future outcomes, and possible ramifications of those outcomes. A complex data mining, data combining, and narrative building machine.

So when we split the brain, the direct bodily inputs of consciousness obviously change. It is clearly like something to be the experience of the left brain, and clearly like something completely different to be the experience of the right brain. When we split the brain, we create another instance of consciousness. We introduce another way to be, and consciousness is there for its interpretation. For it is always there, always a level removed from direct perception. Thinking about split brain as a splitting of consciousness may be a helpful visualization, but in reality we aren’t splitting consciousness, it is just there, aware of whatever inputs are available to it.

I would like to close with a bit of a thought experiment. As this post was started, where are you? That thing that is the doer, where is that located? Before I really started thinking about consciousness I would have immediately answered that question: I am in my head, of course. My thoughts have drastically changed since.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 5/16/2020

Subscribe for updates as we journey through consciousness

Featured

The Drumbeat of Change

Now you see that the hope and the desire of returning to the first state of chaos is like the moth to the light, and that the man who with constant longing awaits with joy each new springtime, each new summer, each new month and new year – deeming that the things he longs for are ever too late in coming – does not perceive that he is longing for his own destruction. But this desire is the very quintessence, the spirit of the elements, which finding itself imprisoned with the soul is ever longing to return from the human body to its giver. And you must know that this same longing is that quintessence, inseparable from nature, and that man is the image of the world.”

Leonardo da Vinci

Is that feeling of yearning a simple disapproval of our current situation, or does it emerge from something deeper, as a manifestation of a drive we have labeled progress? It is easy to appreciate the teachings of those enlightened ones; the complete acceptance and appreciation of each and every sacred moment. But this is not the teaching of our culture. This is not what draws today’s society forward. It is this antithetical idea of progress and change that define our world. I, for one, do find those moments of bliss and weightlessness to be quite compelling, but I cannot claim to be driven by the pursuit of peace and oneness. No, I seem answer to that call of progress and growth more readily. I want to be better today than I was yesterday, and I remain content with this strategy. However I readily admit, as Nietzsche states, our drives seek to philosophize in their own regard.

“Returning to the first state of chaos” must be something like the dissolution of ego consciousness, the dissipation of tension, that realm before opposites, unity. What if our yearning is a much deeper drive. A drive for reunification with the whole. I do not see this as a drive for death, or a “death instinct,” but something more along the lines of some part of us wants to reach that ultimate connectedness. Whatever we are, whenever we are, we are only the current manifestation of an intricate history. There must have been a beginning, with that an end, and every circle ends in the same place it started. It must be plausible then, our desire for change is the manifestation of a drive seeking to reunite with the beginning. Of course, only to be found through the end.

If this were true, certainly that drive would feel imprisoned. Only knowing its dissatisfaction with the current situation. Only knowing that change is its singular hope of resolution. Of course, it would not know what changes to make, or even what it desires, only its discontent. It is no more than a vector directed in a particular orientation, without regard to what surrounds. It does not have direct access to our conscious volition, so we are not necessarily privy to its goals, or even its existence. However, it obviously lies beneath those levers that play on the level of our conscious awareness. It finds solace in the constant comparisons we make between one another. Objectifying why someone else has a better situation than us (our future self included). Wanting this or that, never quenching, only leading to the next this or that. This is the drive playing puppet master to the grass always being greener.

The drive is not mischievous. It does not plot for our demise, push us towards misery, nor a mindset of perpetual inadequacy. These all occur at the level of consciousness, much downstream of the drive itself. It is our duty to channel this libido (psychic energy) into something that improves our lives. The only comparison deserving of our commitment is the comparison to who we were yesterday. That is the only manifestation we should allow this drive to take. Let it push us to ever so slightly better versions of ourselves. To small changes over a lifetime that amount to becoming who we are. Complete your circle on your terms.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 5/14/2020

The Double Slit Experiment

Featured

If you like thinking about the nature of reality or consciousness or cool things in general, and are unfamiliar with the double slit experiment, you must watch the video below (or any number on YouTube). In 10 minutes you may be completely flummoxed by a foray into the quantum world.

Double Slit Experiment explained! by Jim Al-Khalili

I am no physicist, and I’m certainly not qualified to be sharing my opinions on such things, so I can’t think of a better topic to discuss. The experiment clearly shows the act of observation has some affect on the way we perceive light to behave. I emphasize perceive because that is a much different statement than claiming the act of observation changes the behavior of the particle. I do not think our observation changes the behavior of the particle, I think it changes what we perceive. Not that we are necessarily looking at two different things, but that we are viewing another side of the same coin. Through observation we collapse the dual nature of light (particle and wave) into one particular incarnation, a particular particle. Through observation we define a path.

The act of observation occurs at a specific instance in time, and at a specific instance, the entity has to be exactly somewhere. This only occurs at the smallest possible increment of time (theoretically possible), exemplified by the derivative. As the light is traveling through space, you cannot distinctly define its position unless you freeze time. The act of observation is this act of momentarily freezing time. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is the relationship between two complementary variables, for example, spatial position and momentum. There is no way to simultaneously know both the position and momentum of an object. If the object has momentum, it is by definition moving. If it is moving, it is by definition not in a fixed position. This can also be completely defined through the lens of time. In order to know the exact position of a moving object, time must be stopped. However, if you stop time, then you stop velocity, and without velocity you have no momentum. So the idea of complementary variables is the idea that the closer you are to pinning down the value of one variable, the less you know about the other.

It is as if through the act of observation we are assigning destiny. The act of observation freezes time, and in that moment, everything must be spatially accounted for. All possibilities collapse into a particular output, all momentum goes to zero, and a precise position is required. Then instead of perceiving the possible outcomes of traveling light (wave behavior), we perceive the outcome of that distinct particle which was observed.

It might make sense from an abstract “energy” point of view. It would be energetically more efficient to simply define a cloud of probability (wave behavior), than to output a specific path (particle behavior). Without an observer to output to, why waste computing power or energy to display an output?

There is some connection to consciousness expressed in this experiment. I do not think the observation itself has to be “conscious,” but the experiment is somewhat analogous to the idea that things only exist once they enter our field of consciousness. At this moment, look straight up. The ceiling or sky you just visually perceived (or mentally perceived if you actually didn’t look up, and are now just thinking about that ceiling above your head) was nowhere to be found in your conscious experience until the moment you perceived it. It had no defined real estate in your consciousness before, but there was certainly the possibility of it appearing in your consciousness. As soon as you bring your awareness to the ceiling, it exists. Your awareness is just like the act of observation in the experiment, calling forth a specific entity from the nebula of possibility. Consciousness has to filter down the possibilities of reality and present us only with what is of the highest importance. It is energetically impractical do discretely define all of reality, we must operate with a nebulous or probabilistic understanding of most things at most times. Light only behaves as a particle when it is forced to, when the act of observation demands certainty. We trade variety, novelty, and open possibility for limited but discrete understanding.

Like I said, don’t trust me on this. This is no more than a neophyte thinking out loud. However, I do hope it makes you think for yourself.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 5/10/2020

Featured

Our Improbable Existence II

This is a continuation of a previous post, A Perspective on Our Improbable Existence. 10 minutes to read both might just change your life.

“The sense of well being of a tree for its roots, the happiness to know oneself in a manner not entirely arbitrary and accidental, but as someone who has grown out of a past as an heir, flower, and fruit.”

Nietzsche, On the Use and Abuse of History for Life

You are multitudes. In the first part of this post we wandered down the improbable road of our human ancestors being able to successfully reproduce 100,000 times in a row, roughly (really roughly) the number of generations needed to take us from 2.5 million years ago, to today. We emphasized just how incredibly unlikely it is for anything to be done 100,000 times in a row, much less, survive on Earth long enough to raise viable offspring! Quite the miracle, if you don’t mind the term.

That post was solely focussed on us, the human species. Now I want to take a step back, and examine an even wider picture. Imagine yourself in a park, forest, or really any unblemished part of nature. Now take your attention further, to the trees, grass, squirrels, insects, soil, even the microbes that surround you. Each one of these incarnations of nature is the product of an improbable journey, just as you are. Each one of the entities had “parents”, and “parents” before that, often extending much farther back than the paltry 2.5 million years of human existence. Many have much shorter lifespans, meaning they have been through vastly more generations, winning the game of life an impossible amount of times. They too are constellations of that original cosmic dust of 13.8 billion (at least) years ago.

This perspective is important, for you are not simply limited to your body. At some level, you are your experience, or your reality is built upon that which you perceive. In a way you are something like the integral of your perceptions across your life. In fact you even extend back before your birth. Do you not have instincts? And certainly we cannot lay claim to the development of instinct in this lifetime. Now, turning back to those perceptions that construct our reality. If we go back to the landscape we were picturing, with trees, birds, plants, etc., those entities exist as part of our perception. If they are part of our perceptions, then we are one in the same, as we are some type of summation of our perceptions. Or if you prefer to think in experiences, you experience the tree and the grass and the birds. Now take a snapshot in time, that experience becomes part of you. Somewhere, somehow, some piece of that experience is stored in you.

Now it’s time to explode your mind. If we are some type of summation of these snapshot experiences, we are entirely dependent upon the perceptions that made up the experiences. Meaning, if that tree was not there, in its exact place, we would have a fundamentally different perception, a fundamentally different experience, and therefore we would be something fundamentally different. The snapshot has changed. A piece of the puzzle that is us, has changed.

This means that our improbable existence just got infinitely more complex. Our existence requires not only 2.5 million years of successful Homo sapien reproduction (improbable in itself), but it mandates 23 million years of successful reproduction by the ancestors of that specific Oak tree. And 7 million years of reproduction by the predecessors of the squirrel. And don’t forget the grass, plants, soil, microbes, or that other human across the park. They are all part of your perception, all part of your experience, all part of you. As you are their’s.

It is hard to not appreciate our momentary existence with this perspective. Or does this perspective actually prove our existence is much deeper and more profound than initially assumed. You are everything, and everything is exactly as it has to be.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 5/8/2020

Featured

Food Rules 4: Valuing Food

Why we need Food Rules

Preface
Food is the greatest vehicle through which we expose exogenous (outside the body) substances to our body. What we ingest is no more than chemical information packets that direct our cellular machinery to behave and operate in specific ways. Food is the primary language we have to communicate with our body, and communication (information exchange) is key to a thriving ecosystem. 

Everyone has dieted and everyone has failed. Food choice is a psychological game that we are not well equipped to deal with. Unless we educate ourselves on what is really going on, we are severely disadvantaged in an unfair fight. A big part of this is changing the language we use to describe the food we eat. This is not a diet. Diets are temporary and don’t work. We must focus on small changes that can be implemented for the rest of our lives. We wont’t be listing foods you “can’t have.” When you mentally tag a food as something “I can’t have,” you have just lost a battle in this realm of psychological warfare – there is always that small part of us that wants only what we cannot have. This is not about counting calories or joining a Facebook group for the newest fad diet. Food can get complicated and even tribal, so we will attempt to remove the extraneous information and focus on the things that actually make a difference. These are a a few simple rules to help you change your relationship with food. 

Rule 4: Food is more than taste

Unfortunately most people think the taste of food and its usefulness are inextricably linked. They are one and the same, and food’s utility is solely determined by how we perceive the taste. This is a regretful perspective and the reason we need to shift the way we think about food. We must fundamentally change the meaning of food. Yes taste is a part of food, an important part, but it is by no means the sole or even primary characteristic. That would be selling food far too short. 

Food is a connector of people. Food marks special occasions, like birthdays and holidays. Food changes how we perceive the world. It is the thing that connects you to nature. Food changes how we physically function. It is quite literally the fuel our body uses to move through the world. Food changes how we function mentally. I think most people have experienced what is called “brain fog,” or even generalized fatigue, and it’s certainly no way to experience your day. Therefore when we allow food to be completely characterized by taste, we are doing ourselves a terrible disservice. It is so much more, and in order to change the way we eat, we have to change the way we value food.

This is not to encourage complete disregarding of taste. There are certainly times when the hedonistic value of food should be welcomed. Sharing that piece of birthday cake with your daughter or splitting a dessert with you significant other is a special part of of our human experience. You shouldn’t skip out on your favorite dishes at Thanksgiving because it doesn’t fit your new diet. There are many times in our life when the health consequences of food should not factor into our food decisions, and we should simply enjoy the fleeting pleasures it may bring. But the fact is, most meals do not do not carry the emotional valence of a birthday, Thanksgiving, or some other special occasion. No, most of the time its Monday and its lunch time.

This idea is an extension of Rule 1. You cannot restructure your value hierarchy around food if you do not acknowledge the other characteristics associated with it. If you do not connect the feeling of needing an afternoon nap after you eat a big plate of pasta for lunch to the plate of pasta itself, then the pasta remains unblemished, tasting just as fantastic as always. If you fail to realize that the gas and bloating you feel after dinner are connected to the food choices you made, then the food choices don’t change and neither does the gas and bloating. So of course there are tangible examples like these that we must begin to incorporate into our valuation of food, but there also exists a less tangible aspect in the chemical composition of foods.

Many of the foods easily accessed today are calorically dense and nutrient poor, and the fastest way to gaining weight and feeling shitty are to eat more calories than you require, while failing to get the proper vitamins and nutrients from your food. Most people could probably use more protein in their diet. Most people could probably get by with less carbohydrates. Most people could use more fiber. This isn’t the place to dive into your specific dietary needs, as we are still setting the table. However, it is calling your attention to the nutrition labels of food. Start reading them, even if they don’t make sense. Try to understand that everything your eat is composed of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, and those components are what give the food caloric content. If you have never looked at nutrition labels before, it would be a tremendous benefit to start tracking what you eat, at least for a few days. Right down everything you eat (or use one of the numerous food tracking apps) for the day. Track total calories, fat, carbohydrates, and protein. You do not have to know what a carbohydrate is, or how it is metabolized in the body. Just get an idea of what you are consuming.

Once you have a handle on what you are consuming, on a macronutrient (fats, carbs, proteins) basis, you now have another metric to value food. No longer are your eating a slice of pizza, you are eating 350 calories composed of 35 grams of carbs, 16 grams of fat, and 17 grams of protein. You have an objective metric with which to compare and value foods. You have an abstracted set of data that allows you to attach a different dimension to food. A numerical representation of what you may be gaining or losing when you sacrifice or indulge in the taste of food.

This will conclude our initial Food Rules. Hopefully it gives some mental structure on how to approach food. With the cognitive framework out of the way, we will turn focus to the biochemical processes associated with food. We will try to understand how food is working inside our body and what aspects of food are driving the epidemic of chronic disease.

Related:
Food Rules 1: Give Me Your Attention
Food Rules 2: Eat REAL Food
Food Rules 3: WHEN You Eat

Best explorations

-Ryan; 5/7/2020

Featured

Food Rules 3: WHEN You Eat

Why we need Food Rules

Preface
Food is the greatest vehicle through which we expose exogenous (outside the body) substances to our body. What we ingest is no more than chemical information packets that direct our cellular machinery to behave and operate in specific ways. Food is the primary language we have to communicate with our body, and communication (information exchange) is key to a thriving ecosystem. 

Everyone has dieted and everyone has failed. Food choice is a psychological game that we are not well equipped to deal with. Unless we educate ourselves on what is really going on, we are severely disadvantaged in an unfair fight. A big part of this is changing the language we use to describe the food we eat. This is not a diet. Diets are temporary and don’t work. We must focus on small changes that can be implemented for the rest of our lives. We wont’t be listing foods you “can’t have.” When you mentally tag a food as something “I can’t have,” you have just lost a battle in this realm of psychological warfare – there is always that small part of us that wants only what we cannot have. This is not about counting calories or joining a Facebook group for the newest fad diet. Food can get complicated and even tribal, so we will attempt to remove the extraneous information and focus on the things that actually make a difference. These are a a few simple rules to help you change your relationship with food. 

Rule 3: It’s not just what you eat, but WHEN you eat

When we start thinking about losing weight or “eating healthier,” I would contest most of the thinking centers around what we eat and how much we eat. This is, in fact, only part of the story. The leg of the stool that often goes unnoticed is when we eat. This idea is gaining some popularity, and is often discussed under the terms intermittent fasting or time restricted feeding. I am going to focus here on time restricted feeding, or eating for certain hours of the day and fasting for the remaining hours.

Our bodies are beautifully complex units made up of numerous small machines (proteins) working together to transform energy (food) into usable forms. When we eat food, our body first breaks it down into its fundamental components. Clearly, there is no place for a carrot in our muscle or cardiac cells, but the chemicals components that make up the carrot can be salvaged by our intricate digestive processes. With the raw materials at hand, our body can distribute the resources and initiate processes that allow the body to grow and expend energy.

The pathway that food follows before it in a usable form is one where many different machines work together in harmony. Think about a factory that takes in all sorts of materials, but those materials come into the factory all stuck together. Stuck together in these big, conglomerates of cloth, wood, plastic, glass, and anything you can imagine. Now before any of those materials are usable by the factory, the mixture has to be separated into its component parts. But it’s not that simple. In this factory there are specific machines that can grab and sort glass, other machines that seek out the wood, special machines for the plastic, etc. All of the many different machines are required to fully disentangle the mass of raw material. It is also important that all of the machines be present and working together. If the bolus of resources arrives and only the plastic and wood devices are at the scene, you end up with a huge amount of unprocessed,  improperly processed, and unusable material.

Now it would also be very inefficient for the factory to be fully staffed with all machines ready for action 24/7. Especially if the factory knew when the resources were going to brought in. If there are two major deliveries scheduled for the day, you would only want to have the machines powered up around the times when those deliveries would be made. The most profitable business plan would be to have all the machines show up just prior to the arrival of the first delivery, and then to send everyone home after the second package has been fully broken down.

This is the efficiency our body is attempting to orchestrate. Believe it or not, every system in our body has internal clocks that help it do determine daily patterns and reoccurring events. This is the essential fist step to optimizing the system. You have to have a scaffolding of something like time in order to recognize recurring events. When it comes to eating, these clocks are leveraged to ensure our body is fully prepared to break down the food and grab as many useful bits as possible. 

Now being the incredibly adaptive animals we are, our machines don’t completely go on strike, or blatantly refuse to show up to work. When we eat at abnormal times we send a signal for everyone to come back to the factory. All the machines that had already been sent home return to the factory, reluctantly or otherwise. This feeding outside of the normal window also sends a signal to the internal clock system in order to influence a slight adjustment. Its a signal saying our predictions were not quite right today, lets adjust to this new information, and try a better prediction tomorrow. So if we are constantly changing when we eat, our body is never able to realize the incredible efficiency it is always attempting to create. 

To make this concrete and applicable, try intaking all of your calories within a 12 hour section of the day. I think most people would be able to accomplish this. As soon as you have your first caloric intake (yes drinks with calories count), start your clock and make sure to finish your last meal before 12 hours later. As you get comfortable with this you can begin to shrink your feeding window and lengthen your fasting window. Not only does this help the biochemical processes in your body, you will also notice changes in the sensations of hunger and satiety. And remember Rule 1.

Going forward we will dive into the biochemical benefits of time restricted eating. Hopefully this post allows you to have a structural and foundational understanding of what the idea is. Thanks for reading.

Related:
Food Rules 1: Give Me Your Attention
Food Rules 2: Eat REAL Food

Best explorations

-Ryan; 5/6/2020

Featured

Food Rules 2: Eat REAL Food

Why we need Food Rules

Preface
Food is the greatest vehicle through which we expose exogenous (outside the body) substances to our body. What we ingest is no more than chemical information packets that direct our cellular machinery to behave and operate in specific ways. Food is the primary language we have to communicate with our body, and communication (information exchange) is key to a thriving ecosystem. 

Everyone has dieted and everyone has failed. Food choice is a psychological game that we are not well equipped to deal with. Unless we educate ourselves on what is really going on, we are severely disadvantaged in an unfair fight. A big part of this is changing the language we use to describe the food we eat. This is not a diet. Diets are temporary and don’t work. We must focus on small changes that can be implemented for the rest of our lives. We wont’t be listing foods you “can’t have.” When you mentally tag a food as something “I can’t have,” you have just lost a battle in this realm of psychological warfare – there is always that small part of us that wants only what we cannot have. This is not about counting calories or joining a Facebook group for the newest fad diet. Food can get complicated and even tribal, so we will attempt to remove the extraneous information and focus on the things that actually make a difference. These are a a few simple rules to help you change your relationship with food. 

Rule 2: Eat REAL food. If you have to question if it’s “real food,” it’s probably not. 

Our bodies were not designed for environments where food is plentiful. The behavior and functionality we developed was shaped by the absolute necessity to acquire energy in a world where that energy was scarce and fleeting. We carry the same biology and psychology with us today, however we are inundated with calorically dense, easily accessed, unending supplies of food. The intricate reward systems that were crafted to help us find and acquire the energy of life are still very much alive and functioning. The problem is that in our modern food environment, these systems that underly our decision making processes no longer lead us to a productive and healthy life. 

Our immediate job in this modern food environment is to realize those moments of bliss experienced while eating some sugar soaked dessert are not serving your organism as a whole. It is activating a particular reward pathway in the brain. Setting off a brilliant electrical display – the perfect pattern in the perfect rhythm of time that we interpret as perfected happiness. That is the very moment were everything else, the pain, the anger, the hunger, the to-do list, all fade away. It is so obvious why so many of us comfort ourselves though food. But it only last a moment. Just as mysteriously, the fleeting feeling of bliss fades as the food passes from our mouth to the later stages of our digestive system. Simply clearing mouth real estate to make room for the next bite that will assuredly set off the same beautiful sequence of events. 

The mouth pleasure is not the problem. The problem is what now masquerades as food. Food is, and always has been, that which we consume from our surroundings to nourish our energetic requirements. Think of food as an idea, a symbol. This symbol that has taken many forms throughout time. It has imbued roots, flowers, berries, organs, muscles, eggs, hamburgers, laboratory constructed hamburgers, grain, and even shelf-sustainable-indestructible-conglomerations of sugar and fat with the life sustaining force that we identify as food. 

Throughout our existence food has been sacred. It is that which allows us to move through time and space. It becomes the body. Somewhere along the way we have lost the life-sustaining dimension of food. In our blistering pursuit of reward pathways in the brain, we have disregarded those aspects of food that nourish the body as a whole. We must reconnect to those life-giving qualities of food. 

The easiest way to do this is to eat REAL food. That stuff on the outer rim of the the grocery store. If it doesn’t look like it came from the earth or from a creature that once inhabited the earth, it was most likely engineered for shelf life and reward pathways in the brain. When you eat plants and animals from the earth you are trusting that most masterful engineer, Mother Nature. That engineer that crafted the intricate harmony of life itself. She understands food goes beyond mouth pleasure. She understands that what is eaten becomes the body, for that cyclic interdependency is her law. 

Thanks for reading.

See related:
Food Rules 1
The Archetype of Food

Best explorations

-Ryan; 5/3/2020

Featured

Food Rules 1: Give Me Your Attention

Why we need Food Rules

Preface
Food is the greatest vehicle through which we expose exogenous (outside the body) substances to our body. What we ingest is no more than chemical information packets that direct our cellular machinery to behave and operate in specific ways. Food is the primary language we have to communicate with our body, and communication (information exchange) is key to a thriving ecosystem. 

Everyone has dieted and everyone has failed. Food choice is a psychological game that we are not well equipped to deal with. Unless we educate ourselves on what is really going on, we are severely disadvantaged in an unfair fight. A big part of this is changing the language we use to describe the food we eat. This is not a diet. Diets are temporary and don’t work. We must focus on small changes that can be implemented for the rest of our lives. We wont’t be listing foods you “can’t have.” When you mentally tag a food as something “I can’t have,” you have just lost a battle in this realm of psychological warfare – there is always that small part of us that wants only what we cannot have. This is not about counting calories or joining a Facebook group for the newest fad diet. Food can get complicated and even tribal, so we will attempt to remove the extraneous information and focus on the things that actually make a difference. These are a a few simple rules to help you change your relationship with food. 

“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

Michael Pollan

Rule 1: Pay attention. Try to feel hunger and satiety. Connect what you eat to how you feel.

Try to feel when you are hungry and when you are satisfied. Do no eat because you just woke up, or because it’s 12:30 in the afternoon and that is lunch time. Hormones circulate throughout our body and occasionally cause us to feel what we label as hunger and satiety. This is the clock which we should be eating on. Three square meals a day is nothing more than a product of society and culture, and has zero connection to how the body actually works. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” is no more than a brilliant marketing ploy from someone selling you breakfast. Eat when you are hungry. Stop eating when you are full. Don’t listen to the other bullshit.

However simple this sounds, it is not simple to accomplish. You are just beginning to push back against the artificial patterns and routines that have directed your life. You can bet that if you have been eating at 7 AM, 12 PM, and 7 PM for years, you will have created a pattern your body is accustomed to. You are likely to feel a strong sensation, that you would label hunger, just before 7 AM, 12 PM, and 7 PM, as you have programmed your body to prepare for digestion at those times. However, there is no law of the human body demanding we eat three meals a day, and we are all aware that if we were forced to skip one of those meals, we would be just fine. This tells me that those hunger pangs we get around our scheduled eating times are very much artificial – at least biologically artificial, in the sense that they do not denote your body actually needing food. So I challenge you to one small experiment. Simply skip one of your regular scheduled meals (preferably the first or last, more on this later), and PAY ATTENTION to how you feel. When that sensation of hunger arises, acknowledge it. What does it feel like? Where do you feel it? Does it change your mood? How long does it last? When it passes, how do you feel? This is a simple exercise to become more conscious of when and why we are eating. 

Let’s jump to our meal. We need your attention again. Before you take a bite, take a breathe and bring your awareness to the food and the people you are eating with. Try turning off the television and putting away the cell phones, if only for the fact they detract our attention. When our attention is divided, it makes being able to detect the feelings of hunger and satiety much more difficult. Have you ever wondered how you can eat the whole box of popcorn or the entire container of ice cream and not feel anything until the movie has finished? When we are focussed on something else, it is easy for eating to shift to autopilot, outside our conscious awareness. If you have trouble with portion control, try eliminating the distractions around your meals. 

Lastly, let’s move to after the meal. Again this will require your attention. I hope you see the obvious theme here. We have eaten, so the taste of the food has come and gone. It is now time to sharpen our skills of examining how food actually affects us. How do you feel? Energized and sharp? Lethargic and ready for a nap? Bloated and gassy? Running to the bathroom as fast as possible? We often ascribe these characteristics to “this is just the way I am,” when our body is actually sending distress signals to us on a daily basis. I met a patient in the emergency room recently who told us she has diarrhea multiple times a day, everyday, but that was just how her body works. This is not how our bodies work. This is your body screaming something is wrong, begging for your attention. In this particular lady’s case, I have no idea why she had diarrhea. It could be anything, but the point is we need to pay attention to the signs our body is giving us. If you have consistent swings in energy around your meals, examine that. Maybe you are eating too much at once, maybe its too many carbohydrates, maybe you need smaller and more frequent meals, or maybe you just aren’t eating enough. This is not meant to get into the diagnostics of what is going wrong. The first step is simply paying attention to how food makes you feel.

More Food Rules to come. Thanks for your attention

Best explorations,

-Ryan; 5/2/2020

Featured

Health and Compound Interest: A Mental Model for Building a Lifestyle

Compound interest is the addition of interest to a principal sum. It is interest on interest. It is a principle that allows something to increase at faster and faster rates over time. For those visually inclined it is something like this…

https://www.fool.com/knowledge-center/compound-interest.aspx

Economics lesson over. We will apply the idea of compound interest to our approach to health.

This can take many forms. It can be purely psychological, as in a single good decision today makes me more likely to make a good decision tomorrow, and maybe even two good decisions the following day. Another way to describe this is something like the feeling of momentum. *Before we go any further, we will clarify this vaguery, ‘good decision,’ as anything objectively benefiting your health, ie. eating a serving of broccoli, walking outside for 10 minutes, doing a push-up, etc. This would be specific to you and these are general examples.* The compounding principle can also operate in a purely physiologic realm. If I do a set of push ups today, maybe I am able to build some small amount of muscle. If I build muscle, my body’s ability to dispose glucose is improved. If I can dispose of more glucose, my blood sugar goes down. That muscle it not likely to disappear any time soon, therefore I am better at disposing glucose everyday in the future. My average blood sugar over time (HA1c) goes down.

But here is where it gets fun. That same muscle (built from my push-up) that helps me regulate blood sugar helps me move more functionally, increasing my ability to meet the physical demands of life. It increases my resting metabolic rate, allowing my body to “burn” more calories throughout the day. It will help regulate certain hormones circulating in my body. Hell, doing the push-ups might just make me feel better afterwards. The single ‘good’ decision of doing push-ups generates health benefits in multiple dimensions. And the principle of compounding applies in every dimension! The general idea of health compounding is that no matter how insignificant a single ‘good’ decision today may seem, the majority of its benefit exists in your future. So cherish each and every positive decision you make, you just sacrificed a small amount today for a potential windfall tomorrow.

My favorite example of health investment and compound interest is sleep. I have learned to love sleep. We can view investment in our health through the lens of time. How many hours of the day am I doing something productive for my health versus how many hours I am doing something neutral or even negative? I will be the first to admit how difficult it is to make health conscious decisions in today’s environment. We have endless entertainment streaming right to our favorite device, delicious foods that someone would happily deliver to our very own door, not to mention all the gyms are closed! Needless to say, decisions in the best interest of our health are difficult to make. This is what makes sleep the king (or queen) of health decisions. If you prioritize giving yourself 8 hours in bed each night, you just banked 8 hours of good health decisions! You just optimized one-third of your day. Thankfully our unconscious state during sleep makes it rather difficult to be tempted by those beautiful desserts or “Click to play the next episode.” So from the abstracted point of view of wanting to make more ‘good’ decisions than ‘bad’ decisions throughout our 24 hour period, prioritization of sleep is paramount. In a more concrete view, sleep provides numerous physiologic benefits. Chronic short sleep can promote weight gain, hinder weight loss, dysregulate blood sugar levels, cause hormone imbalances (including those that regulate appetite), to only mention a few manifestations. If you are interested in the science of sleep and its physiologic outcomes, stay tuned.

I don’t want to dive too deep into the science right now as this post is more about the conceptual framework we need to adopt towards our health. Every single decision we make is a node in a network. The output from that decision node affects many other aspects of our life, it compounds. My sleep affects my energy, my energy affects my workout, my workout affects my sleep. My food affects my hormones, my hormones affect my appetite, my appetite affects my food choices. My movement affects my hormones, my hormones affect my energy levels, my energy levels affect my desire to move! Our body is a symphony. Every individual piece playing some minor role in the overall function. Don’t downplay a ‘good’ decision, regardless of how insignificant it may seem. Celebrate eating a serving of vegetables, acknowledge the victory of going for a walk, and throw a party for yourself tomorrow if you give yourself 8 hours in bed.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 4/30/2020

Featured

The Archetype of Food

“From food all creatures are produced,
All creatures that dwell on earth.
By food they live
And into food they finally pass.
Food is the chief among beings,
Therefore they call it the panacea.
Verily he obtains all food
Who worships Brahma as food.
For food is the chief among beings,
Therefore they call it the panacea.
All creatures are born of food,
By food they continue to grow.
Creatures feed on it, it upon creatures,
Therefore it is called food.”

Taittiriya Upanishad 2.2

“Transformation for the body cells through food intake is the most elementary of animal changes experienced by man. How a weary, enfeebled, and famished man can turn into an alert, strong, and satisfied being, or a man perishing of thirst can be refreshed or even transformed by an intoxicating drink: this is, and must remain, a fundamental experience so long as man shall exist.”

Erich Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness

Let’s travel back to the times of our hunter gatherer ancestors, and focus on the availability of calories. Let’s also not forget that this lifestyle carried on for hundreds of thousands of years, making it extremely influential in shaping our Homo sapien biology and psychology. The consumption of calories was undoubtedly more difficult in those times, and was likely often an issue of life and death. It is quite possible groups would go weeks and even months without substantial sources of food. This is the environment where are our connection to food developed. Food was not an implied part of our everyday schedule, it was not a treat, it was not something we could purchase, it was literally life itself. The ticket to the continuation of life. Every calorie we consumed bought us more time to find the next meal. It was the drive to life. Think about the psychological representations that were created during this time. Whatever instincts are, this would be the environment in which they developed. If one group had an instinctual drive to seek and consume food, they would have an advantage over those who didn’t. We are certainly descendants of those humans with a developed instinct for food identification and consumption.

“There is good reason for supposing that the archetypes are the unconscious images of the instincts themselves, in other words, they are patterns of instinctual behaviour.”

Carl Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious

Instincts come from inside of us, they are a part of us. Archetypes come from the collective unconscious, also a part of us. To illustrate their relationship, think of a pair of attractive magnets. Put one magnet on you, representing your instinctual drives. The opposite magnet resides on the the archetype. The instinct then essentially pulls you toward the representations of the archetype. The archetype is the reward which the instinct seeks. We should also clarify the difference between archetype and the incarnation of the archetype. For this, visualize a submarine surfacing from the ocean. As it breaks the surface there is a coating of water surrounding the submarine. Pretend that we could give this coating of water a particular color and make in non transparent, so we actually can’t even see the submarine, just the outer colored coating. The submarine is the archetype, and the colored coating is the incarnation of the archetype. We only perceive the outer coating, but the entity giving it psychic energy or meaning is the submarine that we are unable to see.

The archetype of food is so intimately connected to our human instincts, an undeniable attraction. This attraction is at the level of the archetype; the submarine that we are drawn to, but do not perceive. I am concerned with today’s coloring of the archetype of food, its current incarnation. We are inundated with things claiming to be food, drawing on our instinctual drives, but not rewarding us with the type of nourishment that created these deep connections. When companies label things as food, they are hitching a ride on psychological realtionships that humans formed hundreds of thousands of years ago. Unfortunately, the “food” that is most easily accessed today does not adequately nourish the body, energize the body, nor satisfy the body. This incarnation of the archetype has become far removed from the qualities that originally formed the instinct-archetype connection. Instead of creating nutrient dense foods, we made calorically dense food. Instead of seeking satiety with food, we created addiction manifesting food. Instead of finding value in the health and wellness created from food, all value was placed in the taste of food.

These are only a few of the problems with the archetype of food. Therefore if our food decisions are left unconscious, we will continue down the path of the chronic disease epidemic we are currently experiencing. Food is the major input of information we give to our body on a daily basis. It is information that generates billions of cellular decisions downstream. It is an essential part of the blueprint our cells use to create our body. Food can no longer exist outside of medicine. It can no longer solely be an instrument of the nutritionist. It must be an integrated part of everyone’s healthcare. Until we can change what food means to us as a society, we must individually become conscious of the food we are consuming.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 4/28/2020

Featured

Health Unrefined Part Three: Gambling on Health

Preface: This is a continuation of previous two posts regarding the ubiquity of chronic disease, and the necessity of a new approach to health. This post will hopefully stand alone, but reading the first two pieces will provide more context.

We largely proceed through our days with little to no surprise. That is to say, what we expect to happen, largely does happen. In a way, this is what our nervous system has developed to do. It reduces the infinitely complex world around us to groupings of patterns, allowing us to process our surroundings and act. However, even with this predictive modeling capability that is hardwired into us, we also know that the unexpected will eventually happen. At some point, at some place, our models and predictions are completely shattered, and chaos dominates our perspective. 

Imagine we each have a 365 sided dice, and every morning we have to roll the dice one time. If the dice lands on 2-365 (any number besides 1), our day is to proceed completely as expected. However, if the dice lands on 1, life is going to demand much more from us on that day. Maybe that is the beginning of a common cold, a bout of depression, an especially stressful event, the onset of neurodegeneration (that won’t be be detectable for another 20 years), back pain, a blood clot, a broken hip, stroke, heart attack, etc. Each outcome would certainly be unique to every individual, but the idea holds true for all. We all have to roll the dice every day, and chaos is lurking right around the corner.

I am proposing that we have the ability to change the size the dice we throw. We have the tools to create a robust organism that is capable of withstanding the chaos that life throws our way. I believe we have the capability to throw a 10,000,000 sided dice. That we can dramatically decrease the odds of a disease being able to capitalize on our health. The actual numbers are completely irrelevant. The idea is that we can continuously add to our dice, become more resilient, more vigorous, and more adaptable. But the 1 will always be present – even that illusory person of optimum health can be outmatched by the forces of mother nature. We should all look to increase our odds because the pursuit of health is a game we are forced to play everyday, and it only gets harder.

It should be emphasized that we can certainly decrease the numbers on our dice. In fact, the world we live in today is conducive to many behaviors that would reduce our chances of avoiding disease. Society often promotes (sometimes below the level of our conscious awareness) actions that diminish our resiliency and increase the probability that some disease will take hold. If we do not act with intention and awareness, the gravitational pull of our environment will slowly deteriorate the dice we have to throw. The ecosystem we find ourselves in today cultivates those machines of chronic disease. And it almost certainly becomes a matter of when instead of if.

The things I will talk about are nothing new. It is not cutting edge science coming to save the day. It is about finding a way to do the hardest thing in life, change the way we live. Will power sucks, it comes and goes with the wind. Diets don’t work. And the answer is not sleeping less so we can do more. We all have access to incredible levers that completely influence our state of health or lack thereof. Through food, movement, sleep, and management of stress you can create the ecosystem that pushes against chronic disease.

This concludes the table setting of our health situation in the 21st century. Going forward we will be more focussed on the strategies available to push back against chronic disease. There are issues on all levels from the healthcare institutions and laws to the individual choices we all make. We will discuss many of them, but the focus will be on the individual and the choices we can each make on a daily basis to improve our lives and the lives of those around us.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 4/27/2020

Featured

Health Unrefined Part Two: The Manifestation of Chronic Disease

Preface: This is a continuation of yesterday’s post regarding the ubiquity of chronic disease, and the necessity of a new approach to health. This post will hopefully stand alone, but reading yesterday’s piece will provide more context.

Chronic conditions affect the entire human organism. They are not limited to a single organ or tissue, but manifest complications throughout the body and mind. It seems that something so ubiquitous can only arise from that which is just as commonplace. These are lifestyle diseases.

Our lifestyle is an ecosystem in which the components of our body are forced to function. It is no different than the way other aspects of life organize all around us. The plants and animals that flourish in the tropical rainforests are vastly different than those that inhabit the northern hardwood forest, which look nothing like the creatures of the desert. Life suits itself to its surroundings.

Ecosystems are a collection of energy transforming machines. The outputs of one machine are the inputs of the next, and this cycle allows for different pieces to function and grow together. Each ecosystem contains unique sets of raw materials, or primary inputs. These would include things like amount of sunlight, rainfall, soil conditions, temperature, and diversity of organisms. These parameters are essentially the gatekeepers of what type of life will develop in that particular environment. Life is dynamic, diverse, and infinitely creative. These primary inputs drive the creative output of life. Only the organisms (energy converting machines) that are best suited to their particular environment will survive the endless competition for resources. 

Chronic disease is a form of life that emerges from the primary inputs of our body. It is the group of machines best suited to the inputs of the way we live our life. It is type of life selected for through the environment we live in! Therefore, if the inputs are not changed, the disease state will continue to thrive, and we will be forced to live a life confined by chronic disease. 

Disease is a confluence of genetic predisposition and environment, more heavily influenced by the latter. Our genes are no more than a starting point. A beginning state from which we can move largely in any direction. There are certainly those diseases in which the individual’s fate is sealed from the beginning, but these are few and far between, and much less interesting for no other reason than they are entirely out of our control. The vast majority of disease can be viewed as an opportunistic drive, capitalizing on particular set of environmental factors at a particular time.

We should start with a definition of our environment. It will function as an all encompassing term, denoting any phenomena, internal or external, that exerts any level of influence on the human organism. This includes, but is not limited to, the food (or food like products) we consume, physical movement (or lack thereof), our thoughts, social and family interaction, light exposure, sleep, emotional state, etc. These environmental factors represent the tools we have at our disposal to create a state which minimizes probability of disease gaining a foothold. These are our primary inputs

These are the levers with which we can influence our health outcomes. You will notice I did not list medications, surgical procedures, or any other “medical interventions.” The goal is to construct a suitable environment so that we do not develop the conditions requiring complex medical intervention. Disease is constantly probing for a chink in our armor. This has been clearly displayed in the recent COVID-19 pandemic. It affects individuals in vastly different ways, posing a more significant risk to those already dealing with underlying health conditions (diabetes, obesity, etc.). We cannot control when our bodily ecosystems are going to be challenged by some external threat, but we can certainly try to maintain our defenses. We can push back against those lifestyle diseases that increase our risk. We can stack the deck in our favor.

To be continued…

Best explorations

-Ryan; 4/26/2020

Featured

Health Unrefined Part One: Medical Problems of the 21st Century

Pause and think about what diseases concern you you today. What diseases do you see or hear about frequently? Which conditions affect someone close to you? Those that populate my mind are cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, depression, and dementia, among others. There is something that connects these seemingly disparate diseases, they are all chronic diseases. A chronic condition can be defined as a physical or mental health condition that lasts more than one year, causes functional restrictions, and requires ongoing  monitoring or treatment [1]. Let’s break down this definition.

Chronic disease can be physical or mental. We interpret the world through differentiation. We like to have clear cut distinctions, labels, and discrete entities which have specific meaning. The disease process, of course, exists in the natural world, outside of our psyche and outside of our distinctions. In the natural world these clear boundaries we perceive are not so well defined, as things exist on a continuum or gradient. I make this point to emphasize that although we separate physical and mental diseases, they are not exclusive to one another. From the perspective of the disease, there is no distinction between the mind and the body. This means that even though we may consider depression to be a “mental” condition, there are very real physical effects of depression. Just as there are very real psychological effects of cancer. Disease is not limited to the artificial boundaries we use to perceive the world. 

A chronic condition lasts more than one year and requires ongoing monitoring or treatment. There is a lot to unpack here. Many of us may believe that modern medicine has a drug or procedure to fix the majority our ailments. The so called silver bullet. However, if a disease is still lingering after a year, then clearly there has been no drug, no treatment, and no procedure that has done anything to remove or reverse the disease. We certainly have many tools to suppress symptoms that arise from the disease, but the root, the disease state itself, remains relatively untouched. And when the disease remains untouched, you get exactly what the definition tells us, ongoing monitoring and treatment. Ongoing monitoring and treatment is a euphemism for lifelong prescription medications (often with side effects that instigate the need for additional medication), frequent visits to the doctor, numerous referrals to specialists, occasional trips to the emergency room – all while the actual disease remains largely unchanged beneath its cloak of symptoms. And lastly, we get to the real kicker with chronic disease, chronic disease causes functional restriction. So not only do you get to deal with the disease for an extended length of time, but the life that you are able to live is no longer the life you have lived. There is the obvious loss of time and money associated with the ongoing monitoring and treatment, but the real problem is the decrease in quality of life. Dependencies are limitations. Chronic disease erodes the body’s ability to thrive, reduces its capacity to function, and forces dependencies on medical interventions that seem to only be bailing water from a boat riddled with holes. 

Modern medicine has saved countless lives, and it will save and improve the lives of many more. However, I think it is largely missing the mark when it comes to the prevention and treatment of chronic disease. The numbers almost seem fake. 45% (and growing) of Americans have at least one chronic disease. 25% have multiple chronic diseases. Chronic disease is responsible for 7 out of 10 deaths in the United States. 96% of all Medicare spending goes towards the treatment of chronic disease and 83% of Medicaid spending [1]. And these are just a few of the statistics. Chronic disease is clearly demanding a different approach. *Side note, you may not use Medicare or Medicaid, but if you think you are not paying for these expenses, you would be dead wrong.*

I will be starting medical school in less than four months. There are daunting challenges ahead for the healthcare industry, but this is exactly why I made a life altering career change at the age of 24 after being an established engineer. There are big problems with an institution we all trust and depend on. We need big ideas and big solutions. Chronic disease is the downstream effect of the way we live our lives. Every individual has to take the responsibility on themselves. If we fail to give proper importance to sleep, food, movement, and our mental or emotional state, we are selecting for chronic disease. Medications are often much too late of an intervention when it comes to these diseases. It starts today, and health is a conscious decision we all have to make day in and day out.

This is a fairly dramatic change from all my previous posts, however I would certainly say it is all connected. If you have read any previous posts, you are likely aware of my fascination with the mind. At the end of the day, the mind is where our health crisis lives. The vast majority of the time it is not a lack of knowledge that prevents us from being healthy. We all know we should eat better, exercise more, manage our stress, etc. The problem exists in our inability to consistently implement behaviors that promote health. So if this interests you, we will certainly be exploring ways to build a health promoting life. If not, well, the esoteric posts about consciousness, infinite dimensions, and God are not going anywhere.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 4/25/2020

Sources:

  1. Raghupathi W, Raghupathi V. An Empirical Study of Chronic Diseases in the United States: A Visual Analytics Approach. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018;15(3):431. Published 2018 Mar 1. doi:10.3390/ijerph15030431
Featured

We Are Our Addictions

“We must never forget that the crooked paths of a neurosis lead to as many obstinate habits, and that, despite any amount of understanding, these do not disappear until they are replaced by other habits. But habits are only won by exercise, and appropriate education is the sole means to this end.”

Carl Jung, Modern Man in Search for a Soul

What if we are our addictions? Playing passenger to drives that ultimately direct our lives. As terrifying and helpless as that might sound, I think we retain some control over how those addictions actually manifest. Certainly we have uncontrollable factors in our life that shape our tendencies. By right of birth, some are thrown into horrific living conditions and exposed to endless trauma, and much less are fed from a silver spoon their entire life. These things that lie outside of our control most definitely play a role in forming those initial addictions. The initial drives that initiate our journey. However, I must make the claim that we can maneuver these addictions, or rather, direct the addictions to other physical manifestations. I suggest we dedicate our energy to aiming our addictions rather than trying to remove addiction itself.

One of the most identifiable aspects of consciousness is our understanding of time. We operate on a 24 hour cycle that continually repeats. Therefore a primary task of consciousness may be the need to fill those waking hours with some sort of engagement. We must direct our awareness somewhere. Most of you will be familiar with the way some basic computer programs works. For example, they could take a task that is repeated ad nauseam and streamline the process. Or they could take a set of variables and determine values in order to create a specific optimized output. If we have a goal of filling our waking hours with awareness of something, addictions would easily develop as a tool to help this drive. Addictions could act as a highly powered computer program, running rampant, trying to direct our waking hours to some object or activity. When we are addicted to something, we simply want to spend more time doing whatever that activity may be. So not only do addictions help solve the current problem of what do I do now, they also have this lurking power to populate our futures. As the addiction program runs, it becomes more powerful. It becomes harder and harder to pull away from whatever it is driving your towards. Over time, it has an exponential effect on our awareness and can become all consuming – even increasing the bounds of consciousness by sacrificing sleep.

Sex, drugs, alcohol, money, competition, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, etc. There are endless things to which we can be addicted, and most people would ascribe an overall negative to being addicted to any one of those items. But here is the idea: All of the above listed addictions (plus those not cataloged), are downstream, or on the surface, of the addiction itself. The computer program of addiction is operating behind the scenes. The constant obsession with Instagram is just the surface level output of some impressive evolutionary machinery. I think we are much better equipped to change to output of the machinery rather than to tackle the machinery itself.

I do not want to emphasize a score keeping mentality, or a ‘my addiction is better than yours’ attitude, but I think most people would agree that in today’s society, an addiction to exercise is more productive than an addiction to alcohol. I think we may also agree that a moderate addiction is better than a severe addiction. For instance, an addiction that compels two hours of my awareness per day is less damaging than an addiction that compels ten hours per day. For argument’s sake, we could make a correlation between the strength of the addiction and the amount of time we spend on the activity. Going back to the original premise, if we are our addictions, it would be beneficial for us to have eight different two hour addictions rather than two different eight hour addictions. This would be something like keeping the strength of the addictions at bay. This allows us to retain some level of defense, as the presence of many addictions make it difficult for any one addiction to spiral out of control.

In closing, this is not to make any moral judgements. For instance, on a moral level, I am not convinced an addiction to exercise is any more virtuous than an addiction to alcohol. However, we have to play by the rules of our society. From the perspective of society, an addiction to exercise is much preferred to an addiction to alcohol (not to mention the obvious preference of your body). So in a way, this whole theory is about structuring our addictions to align not only with ourselves, but the society we live in. This theory also implies the ubiquity of addiction. It is something every single one of us struggle with. With this understanding, hopefully we can push back against the stigma associated with addiction. In the above paragraph I am arguing for MORE addictions! Taken out of context, that would be read as totally outrageous. Clearly, I am using the word addiction in a different light than it is commonly used today. We need to stop condemning the idea of addiction and start progressing on how to live and work with ourselves. Meet reality on reality’s terms. I am not a psychologist or a psychiatrist. I am certainly no professional. I just enjoy thinking about difficult problems, and trying to come up with approaches that get us to a better place. If we are not free to develop new ideas about old problems, we get to keep the old problems.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 4/23/2020

Featured

On Words

Words are acoustical signs for concepts; concepts, however, are more or less definite image signs for often recurring and associated sensations, for groups of sensations. To understand one another, it is not enough that one uses the same words; one also has to use the same words for the same species of inner experiences; in the end one has to have one’s experience in common.

Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, aphorism 268

I had been thinking about words for a while before I came across Nietzsche’s explanation of the problem. Words are an immediate abstraction. They are always trying to denote an underlying idea or meaning, or in Nietzsche’s words, a concept. I like to think about it visually. Imagine some foundational structure, a slab of concrete. It takes up some amount of space, and let’s assume this space is its meaning, in entirety. Words are the structure that sit on top of the foundational slab. They have a definite connection, certain points of contact, but in no way represent the entire concrete slab below. The structure on top, gives us certain advantages at the expense of objective truth. It may be the very tool that allowed Homo sapiens to flourish. Language gives you the ability to reduce complex tasks to its essential parts, while also making the process repeatable. Through language one can formally share experiences with other members of the the tribe. And because of the tribe’s shared experiences, they can learn as a community instead of individuals. Language (effective communication) is a prerequisite to specialization. Through specialization and sharing of experiences, the tribe can exponentially grow in its ability to withstand the challenges of the world.

But let us move to our situation in today’s society. We have significantly increased our interfacing with individuals from places unlike our own. Now, we have words that are the same on the surface, but stem from different concrete slabs. While we are in a place to benefit from truly understanding the perspective of someone unlike us, we should not underestimate the possible miscommunication between groups of people. It is hard for us to truly understand the values of someone from the opposite political party, much less those of someone from a different country. When we hear or read words, their effect is not at the level of the surface structure, but at the level of our own concrete foundation. Do we not all experience some feeling or sensation in response to words? This level of affect not only sits below the surface level interpretation of words, but it might sit below the level of our conscious awareness.

Every word has two components. We will define the surface level as that immediate registering of a known word in your brain, it carries the factual content of the word. The other part is the emotional baggage that every word is associated with. That aspect that drives how we feel and often how we respond to a word. The principle of Russell Conjugation, or emotive conjugation, is the relationship between these two layers. While two words or phrases may be synonymous on the surface level, they could have distinct or even opposite emotional connotations. Examples given by Bertrand Russell himself:

I am firm”
You are obstinate
He is a pig-headed fool”

While each of these phrases has a very similar factual meaning, they evoke a very different emotional response. The factual aspect of the words most often occurs in our conscious awareness, but the emotional tag-along may operate below our awareness. This discontinuity between fact and affect is a prime target for manipulation. At some level when we logically and consciously declare something as true, or right, we are signaling to the rest of our being that the emotional response to those words is validated. So in a way, one could engineer a phrase that passes the logical gate, while instigating an emotional response that may or may not be aligned with the logical conclusion. This is often deployed in the media where factual reporting is not enough to garner the attention desired. It is certainly displayed in political campaigns, and essentially everywhere one is trying to convince another of their perspective.

This is really just to call attention to the power of words. Be precise in your own words and judicious when interpreting those from others. While the above paragraph emphasized how language can be used to manipulate, it can equally be used to bring people together. Through the diversification of culture, our acoustic signals are no longer the same, but the concepts underlying them are universal.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 4/21/2020

Featured

Sleeping With Jesus and Darwin

I grew up in a religious home. Do not take that to mean I was religious. I went to church because my mom made me. I was not exactly waking up cheerful and proper on Sunday morning, singing harmonies of Amazing Grace. We didn’t go every single week, but I was exposed to many of the common teachings of today’s non denominational Christian church. And I at least knew enough to be completely turned off when I was exposed to science in high school. How was I supposed to believe some dude died and CAME BACK TO LIFE three days later, all to somehow save mankind? How was I supposed to believe God created literally everything when I had learned about Darwin’s theory of evolution and selection? And the fact that none of these contradictions were even broached in church really turned me off. The church goes on acting as if many of the things they preach are not in direct opposition to hard science. These contradictions were not spoken of – more or less tucked away in the DO NOT DISCUSS category. Surely, if you ignore something long enough it will just go away right? 

One of the things that bothered me most as a kid was the extreme geographical bias of the great savior Jesus. Was I simply lucky to be born in the blessed holy land of the southern United States where Christian churches were on every other street corner? What about the billions of people born around the world who will never be exposed to the Bible, Jesus Christ, nor ever see a church? Did the great forgiving savior simply forget about those billions of people? Were they sentenced to Hell simply by virtue of birth location? That didn’t strike me as a great strategy by the almighty one. It was also not difficult to see that many of the religions shared a great majority of their teachings. Sure they were dressed up in different words and practices, but they seemed to almost be coming from the same source. If my God was teaching the same principles as your God, should we not go to the same Heaven? Unfortunately the dogma and traditions of religious institutions seek to emphasize distinctions rather than embrace the many of qualities connecting the world’s religions. 

My largest stumbling block was the manner in which the Bible or Christian stories were taught to me. They were taught as objective truths. God did create the entire world in 7 days (or whatever), and Jesus did in fact come back to life after being crucified and killed. The basic theory of evolution I was taught in high school clearly contradicted the truth of creation I was taught in church. But factual contradiction was not the the only problem here. I was forced to entertain the idea hypocrisy. How can one assemble a tome espousing the virtue of truth and honesty, when the first book on the creation of the world is a blatant lie when interpreted literally? At this point I was not aware of the metaphorical and metaphysical truths actually being described by the creation story. I did not have that belief structure because the idea of the Bible as metaphorical truth was never discussed during my time in church. From the viewpoint of the dogmatists and traditionalists of institutionalized religion, claiming a metaphorical truth would be the largest surrender and step backwards possible, so I understand their predicament. I could go on with the problems I was finding in the teachings of the Christian church, but these illustrate the point clearly enough. These sentiments generally sum up my spiritual position from high school up until about 1 year ago (I’m 26 now).

“The power of moral prejudices has penetrated deeply into the most spiritual world, which would seem to be the coldest and most devoid of presuppositions, and has obviously operated in an injurious, inhibiting, binding, and distorting manner.”

Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil


I never had a feeling of contempt or disdain towards those who considered themselves religious, or believers. In fact, I admired those people. Not only because they were generally good people, but because it was evident that religion was this intricate connecting fabric of all peoples. I went to engineering school and was surrounded by people who were technical, science minded individuals. Many of my classmates were religious and seemed to have no problem building a career based on science while also believing that a man rose from the dead. I don’t know if these people were living their lives with some form of low grade cognitive dissonance, or if they were spiritually advanced to the level of holding paradox and understanding deep metaphor (I would have to guess the former based upon my experience with religious teachings). Anyways, I suppose I always had a deep respect for religion even if it I didn’t understand it or believe it. 

Over the last year my views have changed rather dramatically. Or perhaps, they have simply come full circle. I became very interested in the ideas that lay under religion, those common threads. This led me to Jospeh Campbell (The Hero With a Thousand Faces) which led me to Carl Jung (multiple books), while previously being influenced by the metaphysical ideas of Marcus Aurelius (Meditations), Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now), and Don Miguel Ruiz (The Four Agreements). Over the many months of these readings, I eventually realized they were all talking about the same thing. Each, through a different perspective, attempting explanations of the divine – that force or essence connecting all things, that is all things. The thing that gives rise to religion. 

The fundamental problem with teaching religion is that God is all things. Therefore, when you speak about God, you are always making some sort of abstraction. Words can be classified as denoting substance, activity, quality, or relationship. For example, dog and human would belong to the category of substance, he runs or she jumps would belong to activity, dark and light would belong to quality, and lastly, having wealth or status would belong to the category of relationship. The idea of God does not fit into one of these categories, for it is all things. God is ineffable by nature, words are no more than partial descriptions. This is the fundamental reason why we must look to religion as teachings of metaphorical truths rather than concrete, objective, or historical truths. The fact that words unfailingly recoil from the idea of God demands a deeper interpretation than simple historical fact. When one views religious teachings as metaphors, the room for development and spiritual growth is magnified. Dogma feels this as reduction, when in reality, this opens the door to the infinite. 

This understanding creates plenty of room for both Darwin and Jesus. The genes that are the units of selection for Darwin’s theory have been through innumerable events of birth, death, and re-birth, just as the followers of any religion have been. Science and religion are not diametrically opposed. They are two distinct lenses through which one can gaze upon reality. They are both tools capable of fantastic dynamism, growth, and innovation. Both able to generate insights into our existence, and quite possibly into our purpose. When the western scientific approach seals its walls to religion, it is limiting its possibilities and trapping creative minds. It is quite literally placing bounds on what is possible. If we limit science to only that which we currently understand, we will not be able to meet the demands of our world. We must be willing to leap into the unknown, and we must reward those bold thinkers, nay, bold adventurers. When religious institutions rely on dogma and tradition to spread their message, they are alienating future generations and severely limiting the profound spiritual wisdom of our ancestors. They are acting as a reducing valve to an unfathomable beauty and source of insight and creativity. Tomorrow’s church must embrace the deeper truths, those that underly all the religions. It must embrace the complexity of God instead of attempting to reduce the ideas to flat historical fact. We must fight the tendency to identify with only one of science or religion. Together, they can be constructive and their collaboration might just be necessary for the fantastic problems of our future. Here is to future scientist shamans. 

Best explorations

-Ryan; 4/19/2020

Featured

A New Psychology

Preface: This will be my first post digging into Nietzsche. Nietzsche is incredibly deep and it is easy to spend hours on one passage. However, there is usually a point when it clicks. A point when I understand (on some amateur level) the profundity of his ideas. So don’t feel inferior if you have to read his quotes five times for some intro level of understanding, you are in good company. And it is well worth your time. So let this stand as my simple interpretation. It should by no means be considered the only interpretation nor a correct interpretation.

All psychology so far has got stuck in moral prejudices and fears.” – Nietzsche

Nietzsche believed we had not even come close to honestly broaching the spectrum of psychology. That we have only been playing on the surface of an ocean with tremendous depth – “insofar as it is permissible to recognize in what has been written so far a symptom of what has so far been kept silent.” He states, “A proper physio-psychology has to contend with unconscious resistance in the heart of the investigator.” This approach to psychology depends on the reciprocal nature of the opposites. It requires a temperament that treats the “wicked” drives with the same care and righteousness displayed to those “good” drives. This view is a complete and total acceptance of evil, of suffering, and of all that would fall under the ever-changing umbrella of ‘bad.’ “If, however, a person should regard even the affects of hatred, envy, covetousness, and the lust to rule as conditions of life, as factors which, fundamentally and essentially, must be present in the general economy of life (and must, therefore, be further enhanced if life is to be further enhanced) – he will suffer from such a view of things as from seasickness.” Here, Nietzsche warns this understanding is not to be taken lightly. For he is asking us to level what we have grown to assess as good and evil. Unification of opposites is no small request! However, if one can come to terms, it provides a new arena for advancement and understanding of the psyche. 

Speaking from a perspective of appraisement, good deeds must stand in contrast to evil deeds. There is simply no ground on which to discriminate good if one does not maintain the the polarity, evil. I would like to make this idea more concrete. First, examine yourself. Your emotions. How do you currently feel, right now? Comfortable, tired, restless, joyful, depressed, excited, etc. Now consider how you felt 24 hours ago. Realize there is some sort of line connecting how you felt yesterday to how you feel right now. This is not to say you can’t dramatically change moods or you can’t remain relatively emotionally constant, but to point out the connection of your emotional states through time. Now realize this line does not only connect the two simple states you identified 24 hours apart. It connects the continuum of emotional states you exist in from moment to moment. If you were somehow able to assign a number to your overall emotional state every hour, with 0 being the absolute worst most horrible, depressed state imaginable, and 10 being pure bliss, you could construct a table of values. Then if we connected those discrete points you would have a crude visual representation of the emotional ride you had been on for the last 24 hours. It might look something like this.

Visualization of emotional status throughout a day

Now take this same idea and extend it over two days, a week, a month, a lifetime. We are simply zooming out from the above graph.

Visualization of emotional status over an extended period of time

The y-axis of ‘Emotional Rating’ is completely unique to you. My graph may have a value of 10 at some point in time because I had a great night of sleep (big sleep guy). Another day my 10 might be because a loved one’s cancer went into remission. And maybe your 10 is simply because you were able to have a hot meal today. Our emotional states are completely relative to our experience and perceptions. They are subjective. There is also a concept of emotional inertia or momentum. This is the idea that it is easier to make a ‘good’ choice after a previous ‘good’ choice; likewise it is easier for a ‘bad’ choice follow a prior ‘bad’ choice. In our graph this would be represented as an event’s likelihood to affect our rating. If your are currently at a 10, some minor annoyance may not have the emotional valence to drop you down to a 9. So you keep cruising right along at 10. On the other hand, if you were trending down from 7 to 6, that same minor annoyance may shoot you down to 3. Graphically, this is giving weight to the derivative of our emotional rating curve. 

This is a laborious explanation in order to drive home the point that your present state is unique, incredibly complex, and also relative. Here is the pay off of this exercise: Think of another person. Maybe in your house, maybe across the world. Now realize their “Emotional Rating” graph is equally complex and unique to them, but also connected to yours through time. At every point along your graph, billions of people are experiencing their own unique drama. Your particular rollercoaster of a graph is built from your range of emotions but it is only the smallest slice of the world’s emotions. We each exist at every point in time, holding space in another’s world. When we are at a 10, having the day of our lives, there are millions of people across the world experiencing 0’s, trying to see just the smallest of touch of hope. Fighting to feel the tick back up the scale.

Let’s close with a return to Nietzsche and an abstraction of our graphs. Nietzsche claims when we approach psychology from this perspective, “we sail right over morality.” Now imagine our graph, but the y-axis is no longer ‘Emotional Rating.’ Now the 0 and the 10 simply represent any pair of opposites. For example, 0 = ‘Good’, 10 = ‘Evil’ , and all numbers in-between represent the spectrum of possibilities between the polarities. You could do the same exercise, assigning values to different aspects of your experience. The unifying principle remains. While you may be experiencing a 10, someone across the world is experiencing (at the same time!) a 0. This is why we all exist for each other, we hold space for each other. We hold the 10 while someone else is experiencing the harmony of 0, hoping to one day experience the 0 ourselves. The existence of the 0 requires the existence of the 10. Good requires evil. In this new psychology we must appreciate and equally value the complexity and different requirements of our existence. We cannot favor the 0 nor the 10, good nor evil. In this way, “we sail right over morality.” The psychologist who “makes this sacrifice…will at least be entitled to demand in return that psychology shall be recognized again as the queen of sciences, for whose service and preparation the other sciences exist. For psychology is now again the path to the fundamental problems.

All of the above quotes come from aphorism 23 of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, Walter Kaufmann edition. Thanks for reading.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 4/16/2020

Featured

A Shortcoming of Science

As an engineer and future medical student I have no love lost for science. It is a beautiful machine that churns out rules of reality and forms a formidable scaffolding for our futures. It is the vehicle we use to get from the ordinary present to the unimaginable future. However, every tool has its strengths and weaknesses. So as any good strategist would, I wanted to contemplate a possible shortcoming of the tool I have chosen to dedicate the majority my life to. And if you have read any of my other posts, you will not be surprised at the metaphysical turn this took.

In science, only what is measured exists. What if, at our current resolution, the sand still falls through the sieve? To believe that we understand fundamental cause and effect is arrogant and dangerous. And our understanding of probability is probably well overstated. It is completely obvious that forces operate and influence outside of our perceptions. To think that we are seeing the full picture is no more than the bliss of ignorance. 

In the realm of united duality, all exists as one. The essence of everything. Perception and consciousness undoubtedly exist downstream of the bifurcation of the ultimate cause (a priori). Science lives in our beautifully constructed consciousness. It weighs, measures, and identifies the patterns that are tangible. But in this dualistic universe, we must acknowledge its opposite, the unconscious void. At best science is mastering half of the causal phenomena, at worst, it only perceives the air bathed cap of the glacier.  

Science demands boundaries and categories. Do we lose the big picture when we focus on boundaries? 

Beautifully confined by consciousness.

Thanks for reading. Think outside of your box.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 4/14/20

A Perspective on Our Improbable Existence

Featured

*note to any statisticians out there, the probabilities calculated below are more intended for metaphorical purposes, so if the math is not completely correct, please forgive.

Motivation

I was walking outside, down a path that I had traveled more than 100 times. Suddenly, an epiphany. One of those curious thoughts or realizations that fundamentally alter the way you view the world, or I should say, they way you perceive your experience. I saw a tree, then I saw its trunk, its bark, its texture, its border, its repeating structure, its carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and electrons. Aligned in cosmic symmetry, the only way it could possibly be. The journey of those particular molecules had undoubtedly been incredible. For they, like everything, had escaped the beginning (Big Bang, or God’s creation, or the original splitting of opposites, or whatever metaphor you like) and managed to aggregate into a beautifully complex arrangement on Earth, 13.8 BILLION years later. 

Our Briefest History

Let’s start with our own improbable journey. The series of unique events that have surmised to the very ethereal moment you are currently perceiving. This is the infinite now, and all the other platitudes you hear espoused by your preferred mystic, yogi, or spiritual compass. We all have equally intricate and unlikely pasts, and if you can begin to appreciate your own, you have a chance at appreciating it all.

Say that a generation consists of 25 years, for no more than the sake of simplicity and the requirement to make a designation. Let us take 2.5 million years ago as a benchmark for the emergence of the genus Homo, which is almost arbitrary for our purposes, but a useful point of reference. I do not suppose that it is much of a stretch to contend that these first creatures of Homo and their progeny reproduced in generally the same way we understand Homo sapien reproduction today. Requirements of this reproduction would be something similar to the selection pressures articulated in the theories attributed to Darwin. The endless competition of matter altering machines, in the quest of maintaining and propagating genetic material into the future. 

Proving The Impossible

2.5 million years divided by 25 years per generation. This crude estimate gives us 100,000 generations. Your existence here today amounts to your ancestors winning the most complex and dynamic game 100,000 times in a row. We will use the math of sequential probabilities to illustrate this colossal accomplishment. Take the example of flipping a coin and it landing on a preferred outcome. By our perceptions, we can confidently state that the chances of landing on tails is 1/2, or 50%. So if landing on tails is our defined “winning” state, and if we want to win twice in a row, the probability is simply (1/2)*(1/2). This results in a 1/4, or 25%, of us “winning” twice in a row. What follows is a simple extension of this idea. The probability, P,  of winning n times in in row, where n is any number of observed coin tosses, is P=(1/2)^n. So let’s examine the probability of “winning” our coin toss 100,000 times in a row. 


P=(1/2)^100,000
P = …. 0?


Do yourself the revealing experiment of typing this overly simple equation into a basic Internet calculator (https://www.desmos.com/scientific). Most of you will likely found the result displayed to be 0. Now this is not mathematically exact, but this really hints at the point I am trying to make. Doing ANYTHING 100,000 times in a row is unfathomably difficult. Let’s try to massage the numbers in our equation into giving us a non zero probability. In our equation we only have one variable to adjust, that is the probably of the singular event occurring. Let’s say that the probability of “winning” the game of life is higher than 50%. Let’s say the likelihood of your ancestors, going back to the beginning of Homo, had a 90% chance to survive long enough to achieve the minimum requirements to complete one generation. To have sex, successful conception, and successful birth.


= (0.9)^100,000
P = …0?


Again the internet calculator jumps to the conclusion of 0 probability. What about 99% chance of “winning” life 100,000 times in a row?


= (0.99)^100,000
P = …0?


Yep, still 0. Still impossible. So is there a number, a singular event probability, that we can assign that results in a non zero outcome with our simple calculator? Of course there is, if something is zero at one point and non zero at another point, then there is some point at which it must change into its non zero entity. In order to get closer to our non zero probability, we have to increase the individual event probability. The easiest thing to do is just add another digit and allow it to assume maximum probability of occurrence. 


= (0.999)^100,000
P = 3.54 x 10^(-44)


We finally get an answer. The singular event probability of 99.9% results in a total probability with 43 zeros before its first non zero integer. Which for all purposes relating to human perception is still zero. You can play a game to see where this particular calculator actually becomes non zero. This is fairly straightforward through the mathematical procedure of bisection. You know a probability of 0.99 results in zero and a probability of 0.999 results in a non zero number. The extension of decimal places allows you to get ever more precise, but you can limit yourself four digits post decimal to illustrate the phenomena. Start by decreasing the last digit, AKA decreasing the probability of the winning event occurring. If you get a non zero number, decrease the digit again. You can do this to find the smallest three digit, singular probability, that results in a non zero number. Note the drastic probability change simply by decreasing the probability from 0.999 to 0.998.

Concluding Remarks 

This is just an extremely long winded way to show how IMPOSSIBLE our existence is. But we are here…somehow. Our very presence is a masterpiece of the highest order. There has been incalculable amounts of suffering before you and there were certainly be more in the future, but if you are able to take a step back and look at the panorama of human existence, it should leave you breathless. There is no doubt our ancestors have been through multiple iterations of hell to bring us to this point. Maybe this perspective can help us cultivate gratitude and appreciation. Let us briefly smile, and try our best to make the most of it. 

If we affirm one single moment, we thus affirm not only ourselves but all existence. For nothing is self-sufficient, neither in us ourselves nor in things; and if our soul has trembled with happiness and sounded like a harp string just once, all eternity was needed to produce this one event—and in this single moment of affirmation all eternity was called good, redeemed, justified, and affirmed.

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power (Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale translators).

Thanks for reading.

Best explorations

Part II

-Ryan
9; 4/11/2020

Featured

God Value and Opposites

To maintaining tension between the ego and the unconscious. The ego acts as the necessary anchor, but the unconscious is the portal to the idea of God. The extreme acceptance and submission to the inadequacy of your own perspective and the admission of its equality with that of the other. This is empathy, conscientiousness, and the thing that should take the god value. 

For those unfamiliar with the term God Value, it is simply that which we value most. In order to act in the world we have to establish a hierarchy of values. Although much of the ordering may occur unconsciously, this hierarchy must exist in order to maneuver in such a complex world. The God Value is simply the value that rests at the top of your personal hierarchy.

What is your God Value?

Best explorations

-Ryan

8; 4/10/2020

Why Myth?

Featured

One method of exploration I would like to try here is presentation of a quote and a reflection. This of course is just my narrow interpretation of some idea, but perhaps it can be inspiring enough to provoke thought or incite further investigation.

“The individual, through prolonged psychological disciplines, gives up completely all attachment to his personal limitations, idiosyncrasies, hopes and fears, no longer resists the self-annihilation that is prerequisite to rebirth in the realization of truth, and so becomes ripe, at last, for the great at-one-ment. His personal ambitions being totally dissolved, he no longer tries to live but willingly releases to whatever may come to pass in him.” – Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces

If you are unfamiliar with The Hero With a Thousand Faces, I have to start by recommending the book. It would not qualify as an easy read, but I think most would have no trouble understanding the bulk of the ideas presented. In this work, Joseph Campbell presents the archetypal myth through its many different constellations. He highlights the seemingly unmistakable similarities found in stories originating from all stretches of civilization. The ubiquity of the over-arching principles leads one to the possibility of autochthonous generation of a story common to all human kind. As if the need to tell this story is somehow programmed in our DNA. I would lean towards the idea that these commonalities are found in a psychological realm, the collective unconscious, but either way, the story seems attached to our existence. In fact, I would say it is the story of our existence.

A beautiful aspect of our nature is the ability to attribute mental states to things around us, known as a theory of mind. This is the phenomena that allows us to be captivated with movies, books, and generally any social situation. It is the risk-free version of living different lives. This is the ability to infer another person’s emotions, drives, and potential actions, simply based on some limited set of information. Mind you, this all is taking place in some sort of psychological space. No physical interaction with matter is required. We are allowed to set up and run infinitely varied simulations of reality from the comfort of our own psyche.

What if the archetypal myth is the through line of beneficial psychological simulation? What if understanding this story allows us to become more suited for survival? What if this story instills in us the very adaptability that has given Homo sapiens such an advantage up to this point? If true, it is clear there would be a survival benefit to these ideas, and those species who where unable to develop such stories would be at a sizable disadvantage. I would like to bring your attention back to the fact that we see some version of this myth arise repeatedly throughout the world, and in many circumstances with no connection to previous incarnations of the story. The story seems to force its way out of us, coming into existence colored with the particular culture and time of its emergence.

When we read a book, watch a movie or series, what are we actually doing? Do we not suspend disbelief and place ourselves at the center of the situation being portrayed? The camera crew we know to be behind the shot never touches our consciousness, and we simply immerse ourselves in the situation being constructed. Does true art not make us feel as if we are actually there, in the moment? This sounds a lot like what Joseph Campbell said in his quote at the top of the page. Those moments when we are there, in the scene, we give up “all attachment to his personal limitations, idiosyncrasies, hopes and fears,” in order to take a different perspective. And when we take another perspective, we get a glimpse into another world. A different set of feelings, fears, drives, skills, and shortcomings. A brief exposure to something beyond ourselves.

The last sentence of the quote certainly summons my bias for stoic philosophy. It is very much the idea of Amor fati, literally “love of fate.” Some may dismiss Amor fati as a quality of the easily manipulated pushover. And it there is no logical flaw with that interpretation. However, that view is too myopic and fails to take into account the strength that can be found in this belief. There is power in the idea that things happen for you and not to you. You are forced to construct a future with whatever circumstances are thrown your way, and there is no regard to the distribution of equality of those circumstances. Your circumstances are what make your hero myth unique, and no one will ever be able to claim your individual story.

There are certainly more directions to go with this one. I will undoubtedly expand on the supreme importance of moving beyond our sense of self (more perspectives!) and the idea of Amor fati. Part of this experiment is to direct my mind on an idea without forcing any particular conclusion. When I picked this quote, this was not the direction I thought I would follow. So here is to exploring different lines of thought, building creativity, and following the intuitions.

Best explorations,

-Ryan

3; 4/4/2020