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

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

What is happiness?

At first thought this bounces off as a simple, obvious question. But really think about it. Because if you can come up with an an answer, shouldn’t that help direct where you go and what you seek?
*not claiming happiness should be the ultimate goal, but it would be nice to be happy wherever you go.

Good writing gets the point across in as few words as possible. Something I am working on. So here is my attempt to succinctly, yet completely, answer: What is happiness?

A sense of approval of your current state and your projected future state. Without both temporal elements, happiness is out of grasp.

Best explorations

-Ryan; 4/29/2020

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

Writing Your Story

*This was written 2/3/2020, the day I received word I was not accepted into medical school.

I tried to prepare myself. I knew it was a coin flip at the end of the day. But there is always some small part of you that doesn’t acknowledge the possible reality of failure. You can be the most rational, objective, even robotic person out there, but this part of you still exists. You may know the odds to perfection, but that part of you will still feel blindsided. This is the part that is crushed when the letter is read and the verdict is passed. The alternate futures you were holding in your mind instantly reduce to the one reality that is. That’s when emotions and feelings start to secure more of your consciousness. That’s when all the questions you never wanted to think about slowly trickle into your awareness.

I was officially rejected from medical school today. It was a long, tired process that was not improved by the preceding months of waiting and radio silence. I told myself the waiting was the worst part. The feeling of dangling in the air and not knowing where you would be in the future. I told myself it would simply be a relief to know. To know whether the upcoming fall I would be beginning to act out my goal of becoming a doctor, or if I would need to buckle down for another year of applications and waiting. Either way, it would be better than the waiting. 

I was wrong. The rejection and objective failure were worse. The wave of emotion that immediately hit after scanning the email (because obviously with such important news you don’t actually read the email, you just quickly search for the words that give you your answer) was worse. It revealed that I did not match into a school and that I would be placed on a waiting list. And yes, it is beautifully ironic that after months of waiting I can now officially start waiting on a formal list of some sort. 
I’ve have been very interested in the idea of narrative. The idea that we live through stories, and that we indeed act out our own story. This, mixed with some sense of spirituality, stoicism, and a curious desire to understand what we do and why we do things, led me to what may be the most profound realization of my life: We cannot control what happens to us, the objective realities of our lives, but we get to write our story. We get to connect the dots of our past in any way we see fit. This becomes our guide to the future, and the thing we always take with us.

It’s the same realization as the other banalities everyone has heard before. “Everything happens for a reason.” “It’s all part of a bigger plan.” While it is clear to me these statements symbolize the same idea as my self narrative representation, I cannot ignore the dismissive and slightly repulsive feeling in my gut when someone tells me “everything happens for a reason.” Such is life, and now I understand what everyone actually means. There is wisdom hardwired into everything around us, but we simply can’t access it until is is metaphorically spoon fed to us. And even that may require multiple attempts. 

So now I am at the point were I get to start connecting the dots. I get to create the ‘why I did not get into medical school’ and decide what that means for me going forward. The key insight is that you can do this in any number of ways. And as long as you are honest, there is no one story that is more credible than another. However, all stories are not created equal and all stories are not equally useful. Some stories don’t help us get to where we want to go. Some stories lead us down paths that take us deeper and deeper into our very own personal hells. Cherish your story.

Maybe this can shed some perspective on anyone struggling with rejection or failure in their life. If you enjoyed the above post, maybe this would also peak your interest. I will continue to put together my story and invite you to share yours.

Best explorations

-Ryan

5; 4/4/2020

*As of 4/8/2020 I was accepted into medical school off of the waitlist. I was lucky to be forced to deal with the failure first.

Following Failure

Not to feel exasperated, or defeated, or despondent because your days aren’t packed with wise and moral actions. But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving like a human – however imperfectly – and fully embrace the pursuit that you’ve embarked on.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

The thing that jumps off the pages of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations is the unmistakable feeling that he is writing to himself. This reads as a journal. When that is taken into account, along with the fact that he was arguably the most powerful person in the world, the aphorisms somehow gain credence in my subjective interpretation. It is easy to dwell on the multitude of problems we have in our lives. And it is just as easy to look around and fantasize about how life would be so much easier in another person’s shoes. Maybe it’s their house, their family, their money, or their status, but they all have something that makes their life easier than the beatdown existence you are forced to contend with every day. When you read Meditations, it is a chance to view the world through the thoughts of that person who lives in the biggest house, who wields the power, who has the money, access, and privilege. What you find is that we all contend with the same demons. There are much deeper forces at work, and the problems we label as money, status, or love are no more than the surface layer of a tidal wave. Aurelius is not speaking to you as the Roman Emperor. These conversations remain true, even when we are stripped all the way down to only that substance we all share. 

There are a number of skills and qualities we praise and strive to build in ourselves. We have all heard about the power of positive thinking, or practicing gratitude, developing empathy, or turning the other cheek. I am not discrediting any of these ideas (how fantastic they are!), but what if there was a single idea you could believe in that would eventually show you the above mentioned behaviors? I emphasize show because I think we can all agree there is a difference between experiencing something and knowing it versus simply holding the ideas in your mind as beliefs. I think failure is the great showman of being human. It shows us where we messed up, where our assumptions were false, and where we have to improve. Well, it can do that. It is not necessarily automatic, nor easy to grow through failure. It takes courage, humility, and quite possibility the ability to step outside your self in order to do it properly. So I contend that learning how to respond to failure, how to get up off the mat, is the behavior that can show us what we need to grow as humans.

Not to feel exasperated, or defeated, or despondent because your days aren’t packed with wise and moral actions. But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving like a human – however imperfectly – and fully embrace the pursuit that you’ve embarked on.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Sorry for the re-print, but I wanted to close with the words once again fresh. We will all fail, even the Marcus Aurelius’s of our 21st century (I feel like Aurelius’s is not correct grammar, but you get the point). Failing is one of those ties that is shared among all humans. So let’s not judge ourselves, punish ourselves, or pity ourselves, and instead “celebrate behaving like a human.” We will each stumble into a variety of types and styles of failure in our life, but if we can cultivate the mindset to embrace these failures, we will grow. We will be something entirely different on the other side. 

To be discussed: There will definitely be more from Meditations, it’s one of my favorite books and there are so many more lessons to expand on. I will also be writing about a personal failure I have been dealing with. Thanks for reading!

Best explorations

-Ryan

4; 4/5/2020