28 Oct

Detoxing Pathways to be Prepared before Starting Weight Loss

toxic chemicals

Weight loss releases the toxins locked in your body. Before starting a weight loss program, it is important to open up your detoxing channels.

Body stores harmful chemicals and heavy metals in the space between cells (extra cellular matrix) and inside the cells, including fat cells. Losing weight releases the toxic muck from the fat cells and the extra-cellular matrix. Your liver must break these toxins down, convert them into harmless forms and send them out of the body through intestine, kidneys and skin.

This flow chart shows the weight-loss related detoxing process:

Detoxing Pathways

Your Personal Toxic Load

The more toxins you expect to handle during weight loss, the more mindful you should be about opening your detoxing channels “before” you start the weight loss program:

  • The faster you lose weight (e.g. bariatric surgery, fasting, VLCD), the more toxins your body will have to handle.
  • The older you are, more will be the accumulated toxins.
  • Also, if you live in a large city, eat processed food, exposed to toxins at work (which could be as benign as the carpet and furniture in your office), your toxic load is likely to be higher.

When the amount of toxins released by the body during weight loss is more than what the detoxing channels can handle, the toxins will get reabsorbed in to the body (lesser evil) or damage the organs involved in detox. The damages remain undetectable for years, if not decades. So, hardly anyone is even aware of this.

Opening up the Detoxing Pathways

Use the flowchart (above) as a guideline. Start with the components at the bottom of the flowchart and work upward.

Opening up the Skin

Anything the encourages perspiration is going to open up your skin. Here are two options available to you:

  • Sauna. If you can access a far infrared sauna, it is better.
  • Exercise

Of course, you should also drink plenty of water.

Supporting the Urinary Pathway

Take the following supplements to ensure the health of your kidneys while detoxifying:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin C
  • Lipoic Acid
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium

And don’t forget to drink plenty of water.

Evacuating the Large Intestines

Liver breaks down the toxins released into the blood stream, push them into the intestine through bile ducts. The toxins reach the intestine, mixed with the bile. At the intestine, you will have to ensure the toxins move out of the body as quickly as possible.

Supplement with Binding Agents

Supplement yourself with food grade

  • Bentonite clay
  • Charcoal and

These are known to bind the toxins using different mechanism and move them through the gut. With bentonite clay, if you over do the dosage, you will end up with constipation.

Improve Gut Lumen and Reduce Gut Poroticy

Supplementing with the following improve the quality of your intestinal wall

  • Prebiotic foods (fiber, fermented food, etc.)
  • Probiotics (prescription strength)
  • Glutathione
  • Zinc
  • Vitamin B5

Administer Daily Enema

Daily colon cleanse with plain water enema vacates the contents of the colon, with metabolized toxins in it, faster. If you are new to self-administering enema, get help from someone in the know. Also:

  • Make sure that you use pure water (boiled and cooled, at room temperature). Your body doesn’t have any protection against pathogens that may be present in enema fluid.
  • Anything that goes into colon gets absorbed into the body. So, be careful to avoid stuff in the enema fluid that will add to your toxic load.

Don’t Eat these

While you are under detox program, take care not to eat the following:

  • Don’t eat celentra as it makes you reabsorb mercury into your body

Supporting the Liver

When the toxins from your tissues get demobilized, they reach the liver. In the liver, the toxins are broken down and flushed out. This happens in a 2 step process. You will have to support both the detox phases.

Supporting the Phase-2 Liver Detox

Phase-1 detox process breaks down the toxins to highly reactive chemicals. Phase-2 takes them and converts (conjugates) into less harmful molecules and gets them ready to be flushed out. So, before the Phase-1 activity starts, it is important to ensure that your Phase-2 detox is ship shape.

Supporting the Phase-2 detaox is super-important. Consider this: Cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy should detox the drugs in their liver. Cancer studies show that many chemo patients who do not receive sufficient Phase-2 support end up developing more secondary cancer!

You will need the following to support your Phase-2 detoxification:

  • Minerals
    • Zinc
    • Selenium
    • Magnesium
  • Amino acid replacement, especially sulfur-containing amino acids
  • Flavonoids
    • Ellagic acid
    • Green tea catechins
  • Glucosinolates
    • Cruciferous vegetables
    • Onions
    • Garlic
  • Monoterpenes
    • Citrus peel
    • Cherries
  • Silymarin (milk thistle)
  • ALA
  • NAC
  • Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM)
  • Glycine
  • Magnesium glycinate
  • Malic acid
  • Calcium D-glucarate

It is a big list and you don’t need everything in it. Regarding what to take and how much to take, seek help from an expert/physician who is in the know.

Supporting the Phase-1 Liver Detox

This is where the entire detoxing starts. To support the Phase-1 detoxification, you will need the following nutrients:

  • Vitamin Bs
    • Riboflavin (B-2)
    • Pyridoxine (B-6)
    • Methyl B-12
    • Niacin (B-3)
    • Folic Acid
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA)
  • Branched chain amino acids
  • Glutathione
  • N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC)
  • Carotenoids
    • Beta-carotene
    • Lycopene
    • Lutein
  •  Bioflavonoids
    • Beets
    • Berries
    • Grapes (anthocyanadins)
    • Pomegranate
    • Strawberries
    • Raspberries
  • Walnuts (ellagic acid)
  • Omega 3 fish oils
  • Green tea catechins (polyphenols)
  • Fruit and vegetable skin (quercetin)

Again, this is  a big list. You don’t have to eat everything. Take help from an expert who is in the know.

Overall Health Status

Phase-1 and Phase-2 detoxing are metabolically expensive processes. So, before they start, it is important to ensure that the patient is healthy enough to handle them.

Detoxing Other Tissues

While losing weight, large amount of toxins from extra cellular matrix and fat cells move out. Since you are preparing your detox pathways to handle the toxins, why not use this opportunity to mobilize rest of the toxins out of the body too?

Detoxing the Lymphatic System

Lymph nodes act as a reservoir of biological toxins. To make the lymph nodes to release the storage of its toxins, you will have to do one of the following:

  • Exercise
  • Lymphatic massage
  • Ayurvedic massage
  • Dry-brush massage
  • Far Infrared Sauna

None of them is guaranteed to produce complete results. So, you will have to stack them up.

Chealation: Mobilizing Remaining Toxins out of Tissue

Chealation is as process wherein the heavy metal toxins are bounded with chealating agents (like EDTA) and flushed out of the body. This can be used to remove toxins from non-fat tissues. The most popular method of chealation is to administer the chealating agent intravenously.

Chealation also flushes out useful minerals from the body. So, anyone who goes on chealation must adequately supplement with helpful minerals.

Related Links

Proper detoxing is also important for patient with chronic diseases including

  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Cardio Vascular Diseases
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Parkinson’s
  • Autoimmune diseases and more.

Of course, the specifics of detoxing protocol is tweaked based on the disease being handled.

Feedback?

Do you have a feedback or need additional information? Please leave a comment.

26 Oct

Best Cancer Prevention Science can Offer (2017)

Preventing cancer from growing

Breakthrough understandings of cancer that have come about over the last few years have substantially improved the survival of cancer patients. Many people are already out-living their cancer. Using these latest understandings, here are a few things you can do to escape cancer.

TLDR: It is harmless when it is tiny. And you can keep it that way.

Tim Ferris, the author of 4 NYT best sellers (starting with 4 Hour Work Week), by the time we are 40, we have a 40% chance of having a micro cancer growth in our body. By the time we are 70, that probability increases to 100% (here). If you are insulin resistant (most over-weight/obese, all pre-diabetic/diabetic), that probability increases.

Fortunately, all adult cancers take anywhere between 5 to 40 years to grow and break out. While cancer is dormant, you can do several things to stop the cells from multiplying and growing. As long as you are able to keep the cancer cells from growing and breaking out, even if you already have microscopic cancers in your body, you don’t have to worry about it at all.

Other than stunting their growth, you can also do a few things to stop the cancer cells from forming or kill some of the cancer cells that have already formed.

Cancer and Anti-Cancer

Each cell in our body has thousands of tiny objects floating inside them called mitochondria. Mitochondria does the respiration in the cells. Meaning, they taken in oxygen, use it to burn the energy molecules from the food we eat and produce energy. This energy is used by the cells to sustain themselves (this post).

Mitochondria also seem to have a say on the integrity of our genes. When the mitochondria are damaged, the DNA material in our genes gets wrongly coded. To make things worse, damaged mitochondria also prevent the DNA damaged cells from programmed cell death. When the mitochondria is damaged, cells with damaged DNA flourish. One or more of these cells turn into cancer.

So, protect the mitochondria from getting damaged is important.

Environmental pollution can damage your mitochondria

» Eat organic/grass-fed, no GMO (until proven otherwise), keep off food additives and pollutants

Heavy metals and toxins can damage your mitochondria

» No hair die (cadmium), no tuna (mercury), no mercury amalgam, avoid plastics (innumerable toxins) as much as possible...

Poor blood circulation can damage your mitochondria by reducing the supply of oxygen

» Exercise, stay lean. Get hyperbaric oxygen administration once in a while

Cell are stuffed with too much of energy packets (glucose/fat)

» Ensure insulin sensitivity (HOMA-IR = 1); keeping body fat percentage to around 16% will get you there

Free radicals, which are byproducts of regular metabolic activities, can damage the mitochondria

» Use good quality anti-oxidants, eat non-starchy, multi-colored, fresh vegetables, drink black coffee

Nutritional inadequacy can damage the mitochondria/DNA

» Ensure optimal nutritional profile (needs medical supervision). Particularly
- Argenine
- Coenzyme Q10
- Curcumin
- Fiber
- Glutathione/NAC
- Indol 3 carbinol
- Melatonin
- Omega 3
- Quercetin
- Resveratrol
- Selenium
- Vitamins A, B, C, D, E
- Zinc

Chronic infections can damage your DNA

» Identify and treat chronic infections (needs medical supervision)

Cells with damaged mitochondria cannot energize themselves through oxygenation (i.e. aerobic route). These cells resort to using an ancient pathway to produce energy by fermenting glucose (mostly) and glutamine (an amino acid). Excess sugar in the blood feeds the cancer cells.

» Keep fasting blood sugar between 83mg/dL and 87mg/dL. That way, you won't have too much of blood sugar to feed your cancer cells, if any.

Keeping the blood sugar absolutely low for a few days kills many cancer cells.

» Once an year, for a week, go on water fast or calorie restricted ketogenic diet. Keeping the blood sugar between 50mg/dL and 65mg/dL for a week will kills most cancer cells (needs medical supervision)

If you do something else during this period to further weaken the cancer, it has added effects.

» High dose intravenous Vitamin C and high dose oral pancreatic enzymes both are known to destroy cancer cells (needs medical supervision)

Cancer hijacks body’s wound healing mechanism to grow and spread. For a healthy person, this is not a problem. However, for someone who is suffering from chronic inflammation (due to, for example, autoimmune diseases), this is a major issue.

» Keep the inflammation status of the body low by getting rid of autoimmune diseases and infections (needs medical supervision)

Most autoimmune diseases start in the gut, mainly due to poor balance between good and bad bacteria in the gut.

» Maintain gut microbiome balance (start here)

Cancer cells grows rapidly, though they are inefficient users of nutrition. So, cancer needs lots of blood supply to support their growth. Cancer does this by making new blood capillary to grow in its vicinity. This process is called angiogenisis. Without angiogenisis, cancer chokes and dies.

» To stop angiogenisis, drink three cups of green tea every day (soak the tea leaves for 8-10 minutes in hot water; drink within an hour).

When some of the hormones (particularly, the sex hormones) are not in the youthful levels, they can promote cancer growth.

» Balance your hormones. Ratio between the hormones is more important than the absolute numbers (needs medical supervision).

Many food items, including some vegetables and certain ways of food preparation are known carcinogens.

» Avoid carcinogenic food items. Eat cancer preventive foods.

Many food items are known to be cancer preventive. They contain anti-cancer nutrients, rich in antioxidants, etc.

» Eat anti-cancer foods wherever possible
- virgin cold-pressed olive oil without over-heating it
- turmeric with black pepper
- ginger
- garlic
- onion
- calciferous vegetables
- broccoli sprouts (excellent)
- colored non-starchy vegetables
- tomatoes (cooked in olive oil)
- soy
- mushrooms
- cooking herbs and spices
- berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, raspberries)
- stone fruits (plums, peaches)
- citrus fruits (oranges, lemon)
- pomegranate
- dark chocolate
- beetroot

Lastly, we have no clear evidence about mobile phones causing cancer. Though, many tentative evidences have been emerging from all over the world.

» But just to be safe, keep your mobile phone at about 3ft from your body (use a Bluetooth hands free device (v 4.1 or later) to speak into), particularly when you are in fast moving  vehicle or when the signal strength is poor.

Be wise. Wherever I suggested that you need medical supervision, get one. Diet, nutrition and hormones be managed within an optimal window. And the optimum varies from person to person. If you DIY these things, they may blow up and make things worse. What is “worser” is that when things go wrong, it may be so subtle that you may not even realize it.

Related Posts

Questions, suggestions? Leave a comment below.

 

24 Oct

Beginning of the End of Cancer

living after cancer

In the last post, I wrote about the beginning of the end of type-2 diabetes. Here is something even more sensational:

Science is beginning to understand cancer and…it is turning out to be a pussy!

Let me explain.

TLDR: calorie restricted ketogenic diet is a powerful anti-cancer tool

 

Cancer is not a genetic disease

First, some cell physiology. Let me use a hen’s egg as analogy to explain structure of the cells in your body:

  • Each cell has a membrane holding its contents (like an egg’s shell).
  • Everything inside the cell membrane is called the cytoplasm (like the white of the egg).
  • The liquid component of cytoplasm is cytosol.
  • Many pieces of cellular machinery float around in the cytosol.
  • The largest of the flotilla is called the nucleus of the cell (like the yellow of the egg).
  • The nucleus of the cell contains our genetic material (DNA, etc.).
Note: Cells come in many shapes, not just in an egg or a box shapes.

Here is a simplified block diagram of a cell.

Animal cell (block diagram)

You were told that cancer starts when our genes undergo damages (mutations), right? Well, that turns out to be wrong.

Take two cells, one normal and another cancerous, and interchange their nucliei:

normal and cancer cells

If cancer were a result of gene mutations, the cell that ends up with damaged nucleus should become cancerous, right? Surprise, surprise, the opposite happens!

cancer cell with normal nucleus

When you put the nucleus of a cancerous cell into a normal cytoplasm, the cell behaves normally. Whereas, when you put an undamaged nucleus into the cytoplasm of a cancer cell, it becomes cancerous. So…

something cytoplasm causes cancer; not the damages to the DNA!

For decades, the cancer treatment strategies were designed to go after the gene mutations. Looks like the culprit is sitting in the cytoplasm all along. No wonder cancer remained untreatable!

 

Cancer is a metabolic disease

Remember we mentioned earlier that many cellular machinery float in the cytosol? Among them are tiny structures (or organelles (ogranum = tool, organelle = tiny tool (no, not that))) called mitochondria (singular: mitochondrium).

mitochondria

Mitochondria are the power plants of the cells. Each cell has thousands of mitochondria. In a process called aerobic (using air, or oxygen) energy production, mitochondria generate energy for the cells to use.

Trivia: You get all your mitochondria from your mother. Sperms carry mitochondria in their tail. When a sperm enters an egg, the tail with mitochondria is left behind.

Billions of years ago, mitochondria were free roaming “animals” like bacteria. Then, the eukaryotic cells (which, we are made up of) captured the mitochondria and made bonded labors out of them. Eukaryotic cells feed and house mitochondria. In return, mitochondria produce fast and ample energy for the eukaryote using oxygen.

Before enslaving the mitochondria, eukaryotic cells used to produce energy through the slower process of fermenting glucose. This energy pathway doesn’t use oxygen. It is called an anaerobic (i.e. without air) pathway or glycolytic pathway.

Note: Cells can also anaerobically extract energy by fermenting an amino acid called glutamine. But we can ignore it for the time being.

When the mitochondria in a cell become damaged, they cannot produce energy using the aerobic pathway anymore. So, the cell start to fully depend on the ancient and slower fermentation route. Unfortunately, many of the gene mutations that are responsible for up regulating the fermentation pathways also play a part in:

  1. Mutation of cell DNA
  2. Evading programmed cell death (all our cells are programmed to commit suicide under certain circumstances), so damaged/mutated cells continues to live
  3. Encourage growth of new blood vessels (without sprouting new blood vessels, cancer cells cannot grow into a tumor larger than 0.2mm to 2mm)

So, DNA mutates, evade self-destruct program, encourages new blood vessels to bring it extra energy, resulting in a runaway cell multiplication. The cluster of such cells become a cancerous tumor.

Note: I have over simplified the mechanism of cancer here. But it works for our purpose.

 

Sensible Cancer Treatment Strategy

When our genes start mutating without oversight (since mitochondrial damage destroys many control systems in the cell), the mutations happen in thousands of ways. Attacking the genetic mutation in a cancer cell is like fighting the Hydra of Lerna. New mutations keep popping up faster than you can kill the old ones.

Fortunately, once you understand that cancer is a metabolic disease, a simpler and more elegant solution becomes available. We know that cancers seem to start with poor aerobic energy production, and that cancer cells rely on glucose as the primary source of energy! So…

if you keep the blood glucose levels in the range of 50-65mg/dL, cancer cells start dying out of hunger.

When the blood glucose goes this low, normal cells with functioning mitochondria can live on by producing energy through alternative means.

To keep the blood sugar levels continuously low, one must eat a lot of healthy fats (about 80% by calorie intake) and very little of proteins (15%) and carbs (5%). This type of diet is called a ketogenic diet.

 

Wait, there is more

Including the mitochondrial dysfunction, there are a total of 14 vulnerabilities in cancer’s armor:

  1. Help improve the gene reproductive integrity
  2. Fix the expression of the damaged DNA
  3. Inhibit abnormal signal transduction
  4. Inhibit abnormal transcription activity
  5. Normalize cell membrane potential
  6. Normalize mitochondrial function
  7. Encourage normal cell to cell communication
  8. Inhibit abnormal blood supply to cancer cells
  9. Inhibit spreading of cancer cells to distant parts of the body
  10. Support the immune system
  11. Maintain cellular detox mechanism
  12. Normalize cell suicide mechanisms
  13. Maintain gut function
  14. Normalize the cancer cells

We have seen how to exploit one of these 14 vulnerabilities, namely mitochondrial dysfunction. Mitochondrial dysfunction is perhaps the worst vulnerability the cancer cells suffer. But to beat cancer, you will have to attack every one of the 14 vulnerabilities.

Funny and incredible as it may sound, despite the billions we have been spending on drug discovery, we have no drugs to fight against any one of these 14 vulnerabilities. Nothing. Nada.

Fortunately there are robust, evidence based (yes, evidence based) diet and nutrition regimen that you can implement to support us with each of these 14 battles. If you go to war with cancer on all these 14 fronts, then…

cancer becomes just another chronic disease to be managed over long term. Like, say, diabetes!

Also, because these interventions are made up of diet and nutrition, they are non-toxic. Nutritional interventions even revitalize a cancer patient and make them stronger.

With nutritional management…

even the patients with the most aggressive form of cancer can live 2 to 5 more years than predicted.

If you buy few more years with nutritional therapy, new medical breakthrough may come along, adding more years. Also…

if you attack an easy-cancer using diet and nutrition, many patients may end up outliving their cancer!

 

How can I help?

Implementing a comprehensive anti-cancer protocol is super-cumbersome. If someone you know needs help with managing their disease, please get in touch with me either by leaving a comment (or sending me a message form the contact page, if you are concerned about privacy).

I will connect you with my friends who specialize in this area of medicine.

 

24 Jul

Beginning of the End of Type-2 Diabetes

The current protocol for treating Type-2 Diabetes is out dated on so many counts, it must be outlawed. Today, we have sufficient scientific understanding to reliably reverse diabetes.

Consider these:

  1. Onset of Type-2 diabetes can be predicted many years in advance. Some of these predictive methods are inexpensive.
  2. If you have Type-2 diabetes, insulin resistance in your body causes blood sugar levels to spike. Conventional treatment protocol tries to reduce the blood sugar spike (symptom). Very little is done about treating the insulin resistance (cause).
  3. A drug called Metformin is commonly used to reduce insulin resistance (but only by a small margin). It is toxic to your mitochondria. If you are diabetic, your mitochondria are already damaged.
  4. Most diabetic drugs whip up your already weak pancreas to produce more insulin. In the process, they destroy whatever insulin production capacity you have left behind.
  5. Insulin injections top up the insulin level in the blood, making the body even more insulin resistant.
  6. The 40 minute brisk walk that doctor ordered you is not good enough. Your diabetes needs something much more rigorous.
  7. Tracking Body Mass Index (BMI) is useless, particularly if you are a thin Type-2 diabetic. Instead, track percentage body fat (PBF).
  8. Diabetes seem to originate in your gut. But no one works on your gut to fix your diabetes.
  9. Many thin diabetics probably have Diabetes Type 1.5. Not Diabetes Type 2.
  10. Many micronutrients help in reducing your insulin resistance. Standard diabetes protocols rarely include a microneutrient treatment.
  11. Of all the conventional Type-2 diabetes protocol, this is the deadliest: Feeding you with high-carb-low-fat diet for a disease that was caused by consumption of carbohydrate.
  12. There is a surgery that can reliably reverse diabetes in many of you. For reasons that continue to baffle me, almost no one outside the medical community is aware of it.
  13. If you have diabetes, the earlier you get control of it the better. If you are going to be waiting for your doctor to tell you these things, you will run out of time.
  14. There are thing you can do to reverse at least some of the damages caused by diabetes to your body.

In a series of articles to follow, I am going to discuss these points in detail, and support my presentation with references.

As of 2017, we don’t fully understand insulin resistance. We don’t even know what causes it. But there is a torrent of new knowledge that can help us get control of it. Once you do that, you can keep your blood sugar levels at near normal levels and stop diabetes from killing you slowly. If you put a break on diabetes for a few years, new science will come along and help you reverse it for good.

19 Apr

Acid-Blockers Overkill

Acid-Reflux

The current treatment protocol for chronic acid-reflux is a crime. To understand why, you will have to first understand how this disease works.

All posts in this series

Introduction Agents of Dysbiosis

Digestion 101

digestive-tractThe food you swallow travels through a vertical tube called esophagus. Esophagus takes the food into your stomach, where the stomach adds some acid and grinds the food. The acid helps to break down the food and extract nutrients.

After sufficient churning and grinding, the stomach pushes the food into small intestine. As the food travels down the small intestine, more digestion happens. After the food travels some distance in the small intestine, it is mixed with bile which comes from liver (and gall bladder). Bile emulsifies the fat we eat, like soap emulsifies oil, and helps us digest it. Since the bile is alkaline, it neutralizes the acid from the stomach.

In the small intestine, the food is also mixed with various digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas and nutrition extraction happens. After the small intestine is finished digesting the food, the food is moved into our large intestine.

Up until recently, we used to believe that large intestine is largely a waste-bin, holding the digested food till it is excreted. Now we know better. Bacteria living in the large intestine breaks down and eats up our left overs like the fiber that we eat. After the bacteria has done their job, even more energy energy is released (about 30% more) for us to extract from the food.

After the energy extraction, the remaining stuff, with whole lots of stomach bacteria, are stored to be excreted out of the body.

Diaphragm 101

Between our chest and the abdomen, there is a horizontal plane of muscle called the diaphragm. Lungs, heart and esophagus (food pipe) sit above the diaphragm. Stomach, intestines, gall bladder, liver, spleen, pancreas, kidney, urinary tract, etc., sit below the diaphragm.

Diaphragm makes our breathing possible. When we we breath in, the diaphragm moves downward, increasing the volume of our chest cavity. This increases the volume of the lungs, creating a negative pressure inside. Air flows into the lungs to fill it up, creating our in-breathing. When we breath out, the diaphragm moves up, squeezing the lungs and pushing the air out.

Acid Reflux 101

We just saw that the esophagus passes through the diaphragm to reach the stomach. Some of the diaphragm muscle fibers wrap around the esophagus and act like a pinch cock. When you swallow food, the pinch cock opens and allows the food to go down in to the stomach. During other times, it remains closed so that the acidic contents of the stomach don’t escape into the esophagus.

LES-valveThis pinch cock is called the Lower Esophageal Sphincter valve (or LES valve). When it doesn’t work well, acidic content of the stomach flows back into the esophagus. We call this an acid reflux.

Since the esophagus doesn’t have the protective inner lining like stomach, if the acidic stomach contents flow back into the esophagus, the inner surface of the esophagus gets hurt. If the hurt continues for a long time, we are talking years, it might turn into esophageal cancer.

Esophageal cancer is the fastest growing cancer in many parts of the world, including India.

So, there is a sort of compulsion to reduce the damages of long standing acid reflux.

Acid Reflux 201

At times, there is surplus of pressure in/on the stomach which pries open even a normal-strength LES valve and pushes the food back into the esophagus. This is another mechanism through which you might end up getting an acid reflux disease.

Here is the list of all the things that can make the contents of the stomach to flow back into the esophagus:

  1. Weakness in the diaphragmatic muscle fibers make it difficult to keep the LES valve shut
  2. There is a hole in the diaphragm (a hiatus hernia), which makes the LES valve weak
  3. There is too much of food or/and water in the stomach that some of it escapes back into the esophagus
  4. A faulty digestive system and it produces too much of gas and the pressure from the gas pushes open the LES valve
  5. Too much of fat in the stomach (called the visceral fat) leaves too little space for the stomach, squeezing its contents out
  6. Tight clothes like corset put a squeeze on the stomach
  7. Certain food, like fat and caffeine, dilate the LES valve, making it easy for the acidic contents of the stomach to flow back into the esophagus

Let’s see what we can do fix each possible causes of acid reflux.

  1. Weak diaphragmatic muscles: You can strengthen them with breathing exercises. Talk to an yoga teacher.
  2. Hole in the diaphragm (hiatus hernia): Get a surgeon to fix it
  3. Full stomach: Don’t lie down.
  4. Gas in digestive system: This may be caused by the drugs you are taking to reduce your acid reflux symptoms. More about it later.
  5. Too much visceral fat: Lose weight
  6. Tight clothes: Don’t
  7. Some foods dilate the LES valve: Avoid them

Other than these, all backward stretching yoga postures stretch the esophagus. It is believed that with the increased length of esophagus, the lateral pressure on the esophagus increases, shutting it more effectively.

Did you notice that none of the above fixes involve reducing the stomach acid?

Stomach Acid 101

Stomach acid is there for two good reasons:

  • Stomach acid breaks down the food in the stomach, helping us extract protein and other important nutrients. Without sufficient stomach acid, we tend to become malnutritioned.
  • Stomach acid kills most of the pathogens that invade us through the food we eat. Without sufficient stomach acid, we become more susceptible to infections.

Stomach acid is actually a good thing.

SIBO 101

Stomach acid keeps the bacterial content of the stomach acid in check. With weakened stomach acid, there is an over-growth of bacteria in the small intestine. We call this a Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, or SIBO.

Note: SIBO has many causes. Reduced stomach acid is just one of them.

SIBO has many nasty effects. They include:

  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Malnutrition
  • Weight loss
  • Joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Rashes
  • Acne
  • Eczema
  • Asthma
  • Depression

SIBO is also very difficult to treat with antibiotics, with very high rate of recurrence. When a recurrence happens, the symptoms are worse.

Let’s look into on only one ill effect of SIBO: Bloating. The bloating occurs because of improper digestion, particularly food fermentation in the small intestine. The gas generated in the process, which causes the bloating, also causes belching.

When the gas from the small intestine travels to the mouth (assuming that the olfactory senses don’t object to it), it opens up a valve positioned between the small intestine and the stomach (called the pyloric valve) and our friend, the LES valve.

Opening the LES valve, we already saw, causes acid reflux. So, when the stomach acid remains sufficiently low for a long time, we are talking months, SIBO to set in. Once SIBO comes to play, it contributes to acid reflux.

If you already have acid reflux, SIBO makes it worse.

Bile Reflux 101

When the contents of the small intestine open up the pyloric valve and travel into the stomach, some times they carries bile from the small intestine into the stomach.

Again, there are other reasons for a bile reflux. SIBO is just one of them.

When the bile, which is alkaline, enters the stomach, it neutralizes some of the stomach acid, making the problem worse.

Acid Reflux Protocol 101

Now that you have your fundamentals, let me take you to the meat of this post: If you have acid reflux and go to a doctor, what do they do? They give you acid-blockers! So that when the stomach contents flow back, your esophagus isn’t burnt the way it used to be. Let me paraphrase that:

Acid-blockers don’t stop the reflux. It simply stops the acid.

Acid blockers, when taken for a long period of time, give you malnutrition, start SIBO and make the acid reflux symptoms worse. Acid blockers turn evil when the treatment runs into months and years.

Pepsin 101

Here is something that no one probably told you about:

If you have acid reflux, the real damage to the esophagus is done by the pepsin that comes from the stomach!

Pepsin is a molecule that is used by the stomach to digest the protein we eat. But pepsin becomes active only in the presence of acid. When you have a reflux, along with the rest of the food contents and acid, even pepsin rises into the esophagus. When the reflux subsides, some of the pepsin hangs around on the walls of the stomach and lies dormant.

Since you now already have pepsin on the esophageal walls, if you happen to eat acidic food or drink acidic drinks, the acid in your food wakes up the pepsin and it starts to digesting your esophagus. Acid reflux is more about pepsin eating into your esophagus and less about the acid burn.

Let me repeat it:

Acid reflux is more about pepsin eating into your esophagus and less about the acid burn.

To reduce the reactivation of pepsin, you have to be careful not to eat or drink acidic foot.

pH 101

When it comes eating less acidic food, how much is too much?

The acidity of substance is measured on a pH scale. pH “0” is very acidic (battery acid). pH 14 is very alkaline (drain cleaner). Lastly, pH is a log scale. “pH 0” is…

  • 10 times more acidic than pH 1
  • 100 times more acidic than pH 2
  • 1,000 times more acidic than pH 3
  • 10,000 times more acidic than pH 4
  • 100,000 times more acidic than pH 5
  • 1,000,000 times more acidic than pH 6

Now that you understand the pH scale, here is something you are never going to forget:

  • Water is pH 7.0 (neutral)
  • Milk is about pH 6.8 (coconut and soy milk are round about similar value), almost as good as water
  • Coffee is about 5.5, a share more acidic than water
  • Coke and Pepsi are pH 2.5
  • The stomach acid is pH 2

Coke and Pepsi are almost as acidic as the stomach acid. So are many packaged drinks that we use every day.

If you drink acidic drinks or eat acidic food after you have had a reflux, the residual pepsin lingering in your esophagus will get reactivated and start gnawing into the esophageal tissue.

High pH Diet 101

If you are suffering from acid reflux, high the pH of the food you eat lesser you activate the pepsin clinging on to your esophagus.

If you have acid reflux, start eating food that has higher pH value than 5. Do this for two weeks and then stick to pH 4+ food for rest of you life.

With this, about 1/3rd of the people with acid reflux can wean themselves off acid-blocking medication. What more, to keep the pH as high as possible, you will end up eating large quantities of high fiber vegetables, which are excellent for your gut microbiome. So, when you are on high pH diet, you can effectively rule out SIBO.

About 1/3rd of the people with acid reflux can manage with high pH diet and medical intervention. However, the rest 1/3rd typically need surgical correction of their LES valve.

Plug: Food Clinic   has been advising patients on high pH Indian cuisine for controlling their acid reflux.

Criminology 101

I started this post with the sensational claim that current standard protocol for “treating” acid reflux disease is a crime. Now that you have the complete picture, are in a better position to understand why:

  • About 1/3rd  of acid reflux patients can manage their disease with high pH diet. But with the exception of just one organization (Food Clinic) in this country, no one else is even talking about it.
  • About 1/3rd  of acid reflux patients cannot be cured without a surgery. But most of the chronic acid reflux patients don’t even know that there is permanent fix for their problem in the form of a quick surgery.
  • Many patients are not educated about the damage they are doing to themselves by taking acid blocking drugs on the long run.
  • Very few acid reflux patients  have even heard of SIBO, that it has probably been started by their acid blocking drug, that it is going to be difficult to get rid of it using conventional treatment (i.e. antibiotics) and that it is making their acid reflux worse.

Whoever perpetuates this broken system, in my humble opinion, is committing a crime.

Dysbiosis 101

We already saw that prolonged usage of acid blocking drugs damages the gut bacteria balance, resulting in Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth. Often, these patients are put on antibiotics to get rid of their SIBO. If these things mess up the microbiome so the person starts have symptoms of autoimmune diseases like IBS, allergies, etc., they are also put on steroids to lower the immune response.

This is a deadly cocktail designed for disastrous dysbiosis.

Unless someone wakes up to this and starts to work on re-balancing the gut microbiome, this patient will never become healthy again. Ever.

All posts in this series

Introduction Agents of Dysbiosis

 

18 Apr

Antibiotic Overkill

Medicinal Overkill

If you haven’t learned about the antibiotic-over-medication disaster we are in the middle of, it is about time you did.

All posts in this series

Introduction Agents of Dysbiosis

Somewhere from the 1950s, incidents of several autoimmune diseases in the US started growing steadily. That is also when an uptick in obesity and autism was first observed. After much of research, the most probable suspect seem to be this:

In 1944, the world started using antibiotics.

Antibiotics

Antibiotics are drugs that are used to kill disease causing bacteria. Often, they end up killing the friendly bacteria that live in us too.

Before antibiotics came alone, the micro-organisms, including bacteria, were felling populations like fleas. Here is some statistics that will freeze your blood:

  • 30% of the population killed by Antonine Plauge (AD 165-180)
  • 40% of the population killed by Plague of Justinian (AD 541-542)
  • 60% of the population killed by Black Death (AD 1346-1350)
  • 80% of the population killed by Cocoliztli (AD 1545-1548)
  • 50% of the population killed by Cololiztli (AD 1576)
  • 90% of the population killed byUnknown disease outbreak (AD 1616-1619)
  • 75 million people killed by worldwide flu epidemic (AD 1918)

Note: See this Wikipedia page for more details

Compare that with the worldwide flue outbreak in 2009, which was worst we have had in the 21st century so far. It killed 14,286 people, according to Wikipedia (or 18,500 people according to this CNN page). Media, and us, couldn’t stop talking about it when it happened.

Antibiotics was a blessing to the entire human race. Without antibiotics we would have lost many more Srinivasa Ramanujans to the lowly bacteria  (we watched helplessly as Ramanujan’s body and brain was being eaten away by tuberculosis bacteria). And the humankind would have never made the kind of progress that we made in the last 75 years.

Antibiotic Overkill

But there is a dark side to antibiotics that we are beginning to understand only now: Prolonged exposure to antibiotics, or even relatively brief exposure during the childhood, permanently damages the diversity of the bacteria living in our gut.

When we lose diversity of the gut bacteria, chances are that the population of pathogenic bacteria increases.

Whenever the body senses the presence of harmful bacteria in the gut, the gut walls open, rush water into the intestine and flush its content out. We call this diarrhea. Diarrhea is the body’s attempt to flush out the toxic contents of the intestine.

When the toxins or harmful bacteria in the gut are present in large quantities, full blown diarrhea occurs. When these insults are present in smaller quantities, the gut opens up just a tiny bit. Through these slivers, the harmful content of the intestine (pathogens, toxic chemicals, food particles) escape into the bloodstream. Our immune system picks up on the intruders in the bloodstream and starts attacking them.

When these minor insults are caused by what we eat on a regular basis, or how we live, or what kind of bacteria we harbor in our stomach, the insults never end. With the intruders being present all the time, the immune system gets into overdrive.

When the overactive immune system attacks our own body tissue, we call it an autoimmune disease. Depending upon where or how the immune system attacks our body, the symptoms vary from asthma to allergy to irritable bowl syndrome to whole lots of other things.

Many of these autoimmune diseases reverse when the gut microbiome is re-balanced.

Unfortunately, in some cases like with Type-1 diabetes or autism, autoimmune disease causes irreversible damage.

What Should You Do

Here are some things you can/must do to protect yourselves from antibiotic overkill:

  • Take antibiotics only when your life depends on it.
  • This is more for kids:
    • Their microbiome is under developed. So, they are more susciptible for damage.
    • If you damage the microbiome of infants and toddlers, there is not much you can do to restore it
    • Damaged microbiome in infants and toddlers can result in irreversible disaster situations like Type-1 diabetes or autism.
  • If you must take antibiotics
    • Ensure that you combine it with a “good” probiotics. Stagger the probiotics and antibiotic. Otherwise, the antibiotic will kill all the good bacteria in the probiotics.
    • Ask your doctor to prescribe you narrow-spectrum antibiotic that acts on your particular villain, rather than the broad spectrum antibiotic that nukes every bacteria at sight.
  • At the earliest you can, start eating a diet that is friendly to the beneficial microbiome. If the damage to your gut flora is extensive, I suggest you take help from someone like Food Clinic to tweak your diet right.
  • Understand that some diseases for which doctors prescribe antibiotics are made worse by, well, taking antibiotics! Examples are
    • Clostrodium Difficile infection
    • Presistant Acne
  • Be dirty, but in a healthy way (whatever that is)

What Else Should You be Watchful Of

Antibiotic usage becomes particularly destructive on your gut bacteria if you are already doing something that makes your microbiome fragile and vulnerable. Some of them are:

  • You have been on acid blocking drugs for a long time
  • You have been on some steroid medication for a long time
  • You have not been feeding the good bacteria in your stomach
  • You were being too much of a hygiene Nazi

All posts in this series

Introduction Agents of Dysbiosis

 

13 Apr

Microbiome: Antibiotic for the 21st Century Diseases

Gut-Microbes

If you haven’t heard the word “microbiome”, this post is going to be the most important thing you read in a long time.

All posts in this series

Introduction Agents of Dysbiosis

I am working on creating an enterprise (Food Clinic) that will specialize on reversing/managing chronic diseases using food as the 1st medicine. Of all the knowledge we are going to use in our practice, the most fascinating and the strangest thing is the knowledge of the friendly micro-organisms that live within, and on, us. These little guys are collectively called our microbiome.

First, the fascinating bits:

  • The number of micro-organism cells we food and shelter is 10 times more than our own cells.
  • These microbes take active part in running our bodies. They even train our immune system and switch on and off our genes.
  • After our stomach and small intestine extract energy and nutrition from the food we eat, the microbes digest the leftovers in the large intestine, producing even more energy and nutrients for us.
  • The large intestine is not just a waste-bin like we were told in our schools.

What’s in it for you?

  • If you eat the food that is eaten by the good microbes in your gut, all good things happen to you. When you avoid feeding the good microbes, they die out and the gut gets crowded by the bad microbes. Then the hell breaks loose.
  • More precisely, the gut lining breaks loose and lets undesirable things from inside of the gut (e.g. toxic chemicals, food fragments, pathogens) to escape into the blood stream.
  • When that happens,
    • The toxins in the blood cause inflammation all over the body
    • The immune system over-reacts to the inflammation
  • When the immune system overacts, you get auto-immune diseases like
    • Allergies
    • Arthritis
    • Asthma
    • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
    • Eczema and psoriasis
    • Lupus
    • Irritable Bowl Syndrome
    • Crohn’s Disease
    • Insulin Resistance
    • Multiple Sclerosis
    • Obesity
    • And more
  • Till date, there are no reliable cures for any of these diseases.
  • But now, it is beginning to look like all these autoimmune diseases can be reversed by re-balancing the gut microbiome!
  • How come? If you remember, there is mounting evidence that most auto-immune diseases start with imbalance in the microbiome.
  • There are exceptions. Certain type of autoimmune diseases damage the body irreversibly. They don’t get better by re-balaning gut microbiome. Examples are Type-1 diabetes and autism.

How do you re-balance the microbiome?

There are five simple things you can do:

  1. Eat right: Eat stuff that the your good bacteria likes (fiber, sulfur, fermented food, etc.). These are also called prebiotics. Also, avoid sugar, simple carbohydrates, red meat and high fat diet (personally, I am not convinced about avoiding high-fat).
  2. Probiotics: Only if it is industrial strength and only if you take it for several months or years. Which, to the best of my knowledge, are not available in India.
  3. Medicines on the negative list: Unless your life depends on it, avoid antibiotics, long exposure to acid reducing medication, steroidal medication and toxin filled cosmetics. When you use these medication on kids, the effect is even more pronounced.
  4. Stay dirty: Be less clean. Play in the dirt. Don’t use anti-bacterial wipes. Bath less often (ahem). Don’t use mouth wash (ahem, ahem). Don’t use alcohol based perfumes (ahemn)
  5. Fecal Material Transplant (FMT): This is a stylish way of saying that the excretion of a healthy human being is pushed into the rectum of someone with poor gut microbiome. The material is held within the abdomen of the patient for an hour or so, and then pushed out. The process transfers microbiome of the healthy individuals to the unhealthy one.

Does it work?

Yes! BIG YES!!

Anecdotes from clinics around the world have it that patients with multiple sclerosis and chronic fatigue syndrome are getting better, even  going into complete remission, after a few sessions of FMT!

There is research evidence, though with a small sample size, that FMT from lean individuals to individuals with insulin resistance makes the later become insulin sensitive! Let me translate it for you:

  • FMT can reverse diabetes
  • Diabetes is probably a disease of the gut

Reversing insulin resistance is a big deal because IR often leads to heart disease and several cancers.

For other diseases like C. Diff. (Clostridium Defficile) bacterial infection, IBD, Crohn’s, etc., balancing the gut flora, with or without FMT, is the only known possibility of a cure. 85% of C. Diff. infection gets cured within hours after an FMT. 95% cases are cured after just to FMT sessions. Other autoimmune disseases don’t have such fantastic success rate. But still, they are impressive.

Autoimmune epidemic

Incidence of every one of the autoimmune diseases I listed above started to climb around 1950. One number that has been etched in my mind is this: During 1940’s, 1 out of 10,000 American kids was diagnosed to be autistic (we are beginning to suspect that autism is an autoimmune disease). In 2010, the number was 1:68.

Many autoimmune diseases started skyrocketing starting 1950s to 1980s.

Several things happened around in the period between 1950 to 1980. They include introduction of certain pesticides to beginning of the usage of high fructose corn syrup.

One thing that seem to play a role in all  autoimmune diseases is this:  Antibiotics were introduced in 1944 and their usage exploded from the 50’s. This also includes usage of antibiotics on farm animals. Farmers discovered that when low dose antibiotic was administered to animals every day, they gained significantly more weight. With that, antibiotics were everywhere.

When humans use antibiotics for a long period of time, or if they are exposed to antibiotic while they were still infants/toddlers, their microbiome gets substantially damaged. If they are also on some other medication that can disturb the microbiome (e.g. acid blockers, steroidal medications), things get worse. If this person is a  picky eater who hates their veggies, or lives in a super-sterile environment that is an antithesis to microbiome diversity, God save them!

Looking in the wrong places

Whatever I’ve told you till now is summarized in the pyramid below:

 

Many of your chronic diseases start with bad microbiome (the technical term for this is “dysbiosis”). Unfortunately, instead of paying attention to the bottom of the pyramid and working on the root cause, we are busy treating the bio-markers (for example, cholesterol and blood sugar numbers). In medical field, it is called “treating the numbers”.

No wonder we have no medication to permanently fix any of the chronic/life-style diseases!

Take Home

When germ theory was understood, it demystified all the infectious diseases. Germ theory eventually brought us antibiotics, which put an end to infectious diseases. Till then, infectious diseases were periodically wiping out a substantial chunk of of human populations.

Take Home 1: Autoimmune diseases, lifestyle diseases and many mental disorders that plague us today are loosely called the 21st century diseases. We are beginning to understand that many of them are just one disease: Dysbiosis. With more understanding, treating the 21st century diseases is going to become surprisingly simple and elegant.

Take Home 2: Enriching your gut microbiome is a simple, but life-time, endeavor. If you put a little efforts to understand it, you can start enriching your microbiome today!

Some interesting books on microbiome

  • 10% Human (this is an intense book; but it’ll give you a nice foundation)
  • The Microbiome Solution (for the practical person, with oodles of how-to instructions)
  • Eat Dirt (five types of leaky gut and treatment for each one of them)
  • Brain Maker (effect of gut microbiome on the brain)

Localizing all this knowledge

These books constantly tell you to eat local. There are three reason for this:

  1. Local food is fresh. Processed food is nutrition depleted, sterile and destroys gut microbiome diversity. Though we don’t eat much of processed food in India, if we can eat food within few hours of farming, it brings us additional nutrition.
  2. Locally grown food, provided you live close to a place where your ancestors  evolved, must have evolved along with you. So, it must be more friendly to your guts.
  3. For a similar reason, local microbes are thought to be better than microbes that are shipped from far away land.

So, if you want to tend to the balance of your microbiome, localizing the best practices of the West is extremely important. This includes charting one’s gut microbiome. At Food Clinic, we have started to nibble at this problem from the edges. Send us a mail if you want to be posted about the exciting developments that are going to come.

All posts in this series

Introduction Agents of Dysbiosis

 

09 Apr

The Neuroscience Pyramid

Deconstructing Neuroscience

For a few years ago, I read nothing but books on brain science. I have an unique brain that works nothing like normal brains. The key to getting control of my life depended on my understanding my own brain. With time, I graduated to reading neuroscience books written for medical professionals. From there, reading medical books on other organs was just a hop.

When I got an opportunity to work on healthcare a couple of years ago, I took it up with great gusto. It as an opportunity to bring to practice several elegant solutions that I know are available, but for some mysterious reason, hardly anyone practices. But it is easy to underestimate the inertia of medical industry.

Things got a interesting a couple of months ago: I co-founded an organization called Chennai Neuroscience Foundation, which works exclusively on neuroscience. Though I would loved to have started with biohacking and cognitive enhancement, the business compulsions have it that we start from the exact opposite end.

 

Neuroscience Pyramid

When building the business model for CNS, I realized that the entire neuroscience industry falls into a four layered pyramid

 

4-layers-of-neuroscience-pyramid

Bottom-most Layer: Neurosurgeons and Neurologists work on anything that goes wrong with the tissue of the central nervous system and its blood supply.

Second Layer from Bottom: Cells of the central nervous system communicate by exchanging electrical signals and chemicals. When the brain chemicals (called neurotransmitters) go out of balance, behavior issues like ADHD, OCD, Schizophrenia, Depression, etc., come popping up. A psychiatrist works on the brain chemicals. They try to balance the neurotransmitters as a means of curing us of mental diseases.

Though the electrical signal exchange is crucial for the function of the brain, we don’t understand it well. No medical specialty works on brain electrics. You might just find few doctors and non-doctors dabbling with brain electrics. The days of neuro-electric field is firmly in the future.

Second Layer from Top: Host of other professionals like psychologists, trainers, teachers, coaches, etc., work on the information content of the central nervous system. The information content include memory, fears, addiction, behavior, habit forming, creativity, logical reasoning, muscle memory, etc. Despite 100 years of psychoanalysis, there is much garbage to be thrown out. Novel techniques (like NLP and psychotropics aided psychoanalysis) are taking the pants off from archaic work horses like CBT. This layer of neuroscience is in for a major reboot.

Top-most Layer: The top layer of neuroscience pyramid, the wellness space, is where the charlatans and pseudoscientists roam. This is the least understood part of neuroscience, though it is going to create super-humans out us. Today, there is enough evidence based science out there to make some feeble attempts at neuro-protection and cognitive enhancement. Though it is not much, anything is better than nothing that we had  until now.

 

Education and Training

The deeper you go down the layers of the pyramid, the more education and training the professionals need.

  • A Neurosurgeon, for example, needs 20 to 25 years of formal education, if not more. After this, they undergo 5 to 10 years of in-field training before they reach a decent level of proficiency.
  • A Neurologist, the doctors who work on tissues using pharmacology, goes through similar amount of formal training. Bu their in-field training is shorter.
  • The formal training required for a psychiatrist is very similar to the training required by a Neurologist. However, their in-field training is even less demanding.
  • A psychologist goes through shorter formal education, with a less demanding curriculum.
  • Trainers, Coaches and the like are often made up of people who jump into the field as an after thought. I am yet to come across a kid who dreams of becoming a trainer or a coach when they grew up.
  • All that a neuro-wellness professional needs is a self-certification. As of today, the neuro-wellness field is full of amatuers and snake oil salesmen.

 

Sickness vs Wellness

As you go deeper down the neuroscience pyramid, the sicker the patients must be. And their sickness is more tangible.

Whereas, the customers on the wellness layer shouldn’t even be called a patient. They are already in their pink of health and they are looking for making themselves healthier.

 

Potential of Each Layer

All the life threatening conditions are addressed by the professional operating at the bottom most layer of the neuroscience pyramid.

The challenge faced by professionals operating higher up the neuroscience pyramid is with recovering the potential lost to mental health issues.

But the highest layers of neuroscience pyramid have the capacity to release immense human potential like we have never seen. At least, that is what we technology-optimists believe.

Today, economic activities in neuroscience industry are limited to the lower layers.

In the future, the neuro-wellness industry will grow to be worth several billions of dollars. By then, all the most exciting things on earth will happen in neuro-wellness industry. I am hoping that the business I’ve started in neuroscience industry, CNS Foundation, will eventually take me there.

A guy can hope, can’t he!

24 May

Idea Age is here. How can you get yourself ready?

Idea Age It is not a secret that we are facing exponential threats from resource crunch and environmental degradation. This 5 post series argues that in response, we are inventing a new idea age.

  • Exponential Threats talks about the seriousness and inevitability of growing threats humanity is facing.
  • In Exponential Technology, we argue that our technology, our best ally, is not sufficient to tackle these threats. We will also need unprecedented level of human ingenuity.
  • In Origin of Ideas, we see where human ingenuity comes from.
  • In Age of Creativity, we see that we are entering an era of unprecedented global creativity.
  • In this last post, we address how you can prepare for the idea age

 It’s all about Networks

To understand creativity, we need to understand networks. Network

  • Creativity is the process of combining two or more existing ideas (shown as a ‘node’ in the image above) in a new and useful way.
  • Every idea is a network of two or more ideas. So, each node is a network in itself.

We can use the image above to represent a single brain by taking each “node” as an idea (or knowledge or information) inside that brain. Or we can use the same image to represent creativity at the level of a society. Then each node is taken to represent an individual brain. A network becomes ‘stronger’ when the number of nodes or the interconnection between the nodes increase. Now, let’s see how we can prepare ourselves for the idea age.

Idea Age is also Exponential Era

We live in an exponential era where changes happen in ever increasing pace. One bad thing about the exponential era is that the difference between the winners and the ‘also-ran’ is huge. Exponential Era We are presently in an important point in history. People who ride the exponential tide now will have a very different future from the people who remain in the 20th century. Of course, we are not arguing that the life in the bleeding edge of exponential era must necessarily be better than the slow and steady pace of the past. But some like it hot. And fast. Here are few simple things you can do to hitch your super-exciting exponential ride.

Get out of Paucity Mentality

Openness will be a substantially important hallmark of the idea age. People who operate with paucity mind-set are usually too afraid to open up. In the Idea Age, operating in isolation are too slow. Also, team consisting of different skill sets is usually much more effective than a genius operating in isolation. The difference will be more striking with passage of time.

What are the things that you are too afraid to share? What is the worst thing that will happen if you start sharing them? How do you know you are right about it? Don't forget to apply this question to your personal life too!

Become an Idea Altruist

In Idea Age, everyone has an idea that they don’t have enough time to implement. So, you are less likely to have your idea stolen today. Start sharing your ideas. You can start by sharing ideas that are not critical to your livelihood. And then move on to sharing life-or-death secrets. When you start sharing ideas, you become visible to others with similar interest. They might incorporate your ideas in their scheme of things, or lend their ideas for you to use, there by making both of you better off.

List three ideas that you think others will benefit from. And how can you share them with others? Blog, FaceBook, talks, forums, interest groups, white papers, stories...?

Education and Experience

Education is a journey. Not a destiny. Never stop educating yourself. We have cart load of online educations resources available these days. Some of them are listed below:

Most online education resources are free. There are interest groups, discussion forums, group efforts… In Idea Age, education is a life long process. Every time you learn something new, you increase the number of idea-nodes inside your brain.

If self-education is not your cup of tea, try by learning something that you love. It does't have to have practical value.

Once in a while, learn something that is completely unrelated and irrelevant to you. In an area where you already have proven expertise, any new learning will bring only incremental advantage. When you deal with a completely unrelated subject, anything you learn will increase your knowledge graph by a huge margin.

Of course, we shouldn't forget that 'doing' is a form of learning too! So, go and do something that you haven't done before.

More importantly, block time out for solitude. Most people require some quite time once in a while to digest and assimilate what they have learnt.

Future favors the Networked

Idea Age is all about networking of ideas. Learning increases the number of idea-nodes inside your head. To increase the number of nodes outside your head, connect with other heads. Identify at least one person from each of the following category and connect with them:

  • People who have common interest
  • People who have no common interest
  • Idea altruists
  • Super-networkers
  • Life-long learners
  • Opinion makers

Have habits built into your life that provide ample networking opportunities. For example

  • Participate in networking events
  • Write/talk about your ideas
  • Participate in online forums
  • If needed, block out time every week (or every day) specifically for expanding your network

Of course, when you are expanding your network, you must take care to ensure that the quality of your network is maintained at all times. Or else, you can easily end up being inundated.

Network. Look for quality, similarity and variety.

Healthy Body and Brain

Of course, if you can’t maintain a healthy body and a physically fit brain, none of the above really matter. Here are some basic guidelines for maintaining healthy body and brain. These are rudimentary, but non-negotiable:

  • Maintain healthy weight
  • If you have cardiac or glycemic issues, eat low GL, zero oil, no dairy, vegan
  • Moderate alcohol, no smoking
  • Supplement with multivits, antioxidants, Omega 3, etc. Anti-ageing?
  • Exercise
  • Sleep prepares the brain for creativity

Here are three best kept secrets that will help you live much longer and have a healthier life:

  • You are the designer of your body – at least, from this point on
  • Your brain starts dying when you stop learning
  • Your body starts dying when you stop having sex – except when you go on calorie restriction, in which case you extend your lifespan, but shut down your sex drive

A New Chapter?

In all probabilities, Idea Age is mark of a new chapter in human history. By the time this renaissance is through, our lives would have become more different than any of us have dreamed of. When you prepare yourself to enter the Idea Age, I want you to keep one thought in your mind: You are very likely to live past 100. If that is true, how do you plan to spend the additional time?

This post has four prequels and they are listed below in their order
- Exponential Threats identifies the growing threats that are going to hit is so fast we won't have a choice but to change our present way of living
- In Exponential Technology, we argue that our technology, our best ally, is not sufficient to tackle these threats. We will also need unprecedented level of human ingenuity.
- In Origin of Ideas, we ask where human ingenuity comes from.
- In Age of Creativity, we see that we are entering an era of unprecedented global creativity.
23 May

Age of Creativity

Age Of Creativity

This 5 post series addresses as to how “we are facing exponential threats from resource crunch and environmental degradation and in response, we are inventing a new idea age”.

  • Exponential Threats identifies the growing threats we are presently facing
  • In Exponential Technology, we argue that our technology, our best ally, is not sufficient to tackle these threats. To do that, unprecedented level of human ingenuity should come into play.
  • In Origin of Ideas, we discuss the source of human ingenuity, both inside an individual’s head and across the society.
  • In this post, Age of Creativity, we will see why we are entering an era of unprecedented global creativity.
  • In the last post, we address how you can prepare for the coming Idea Age

There are a bunch of reason for us to believe that we have entered a new age of creativity. Another renaissance. But in its scope, this one will be like no other. By the time it has run its course, humankind would have, I speculate, made a clean break with the past.

New Knowledge

Creativity is a process of combining existing ideas/knowledge in a new and useful way. The process of creativity can be thought of as forming new connections in a network of ideas. In a network, addition of a new node encourages sprouting new connections (image below).

Network with newNode

If we are considering idea generation at social level, then we can treat each human being as a node in our network. As we have seen in an earlier post, bigger human population creates more new nodes.

But if we ignore the physical containers of idea/knowledge/information, every new discovery or idea becomes another node in the fabric. When a new node is added to a network, it makes new pathways possible (image below).

New Node New Pathways

Birth of an node (idea) increases the number of existing connection (ideas), which in turn increase the possibilities of several more connections (ideas) germinating.

Note: If you have already noticed the fractal nature of ideas, you will find intuitively understand the recursive nature of the paragraph above.

Thus, the new ideas increase exponentially in quantity! Today, we are seeing important new ideas coming in every day, with each new idea begetting even more ideas. We are getting inundated with creative opportunities. Understand the idea-inundation is key to preparing for the age of creativity.

New ideas have another interesting effect. When we come across novelty, it increases the levels of a brain chemical called dopamine. Among other things, dopamine inside our brain increases the alertness and focus.

 

Note: Dopamine is also responsible for feel-good and libido. It also plays a major role in romance. Effect of dopamine is designed to wear off with repeated exposure. Translation: Less novelty, less dopamine.

Brains are built in such a way that we love to work with novel stuff. Novelty tickles our brain cells into working with them. With so many new things popping up all around us, we are all gradually becoming idea generating machines (the only way to work with a new information is to integrate it with the rest of our knowledge base, which is same as forming new connections to the novel idea).

New Tools

Vast majority of younger generation is familiar with tools for data analysis, visualization and (product) design. These tools are helping us to combine ideas much more easily, and with far less resources and time.

We also have massive interest-groups online, who come together to create, fine tune, implement and exploit new ideas. Idea generators get almost instantaneous quality feedback. Instantaneous feedback is the corner stone building expertise in any domain.

Global Size Melting Pot

Large Melting Pot

Today, we not only have more than 7 billion brains in the network, these brains are also inter-connected in a way that was unheard of even 25 years ago! While internet is the pipeline through which the connectivity happens, we have several internet-dependent devices that improve the quality and pay-off of the connections.

Social media is one such device that helps us extract more juice out of global connectivity. The world has now become a huge monkey-see-monkey-do society, with each of us learning from everyone else. Because we all show our best face in the social media, we are learning positive habits/attitude from each other in unprecedented speed. And by helping us to learn to express ourselves in small steps, social media is helping us all to become creative.

Other devices that help us make the world one huge melting pot are online communities, special interest groups (already discussed above), cheap access to markets, free online education, etc.

Attitude Shift

Honey Bees

We are not strangers to the win-win nature of idea sharing. However, we have had tremendous reservations in sharing ideas that brought power and money. But that has changed now.

Today, we have more opportunities than any one of us can handle alone. Besides, the speed of change is so rapid that there is not enough time for a single person to build sufficient expertise to exploit a domain. Consequently, we are beginning to more freely share all sorts of ideas. In a world where a product has a typical life cycle of 3 to 5 years, one lone individual trying to build an edifice out of a single idea over 20 years is often a recipe for disaster.

We are also going through another important attitude shift: We are rediscovering the pleasure of belonging to a community.

We are social animals. We seem to be biologically pre-disposed to deriving pleasure from sharing. We are taking the pleasure community to new levels by becoming pioneers of sharing. We already share things from cars to clothes to house. Sharing, or Collaboration Economy, is becoming the next big thing and a manna for the folks keen on sustainability.

Role of Current Economy

american-financial-crisis-comparison

With the global recession, the people in the West now have more time than they have money. The resource crunch is incentivising them to become more creative and democratizing the process of idea generation.

In the same time, masses of people in the developing countries across Asia and Africa are leaving poverty behind. These people now have some surplus time and money. They are beginning to explore things beyond basic survival. There is a good chance that this population, which has leapfrogged into knowledge world, will be more adapt in working with ideas than the earlier generations that came off the boat.

Threat to Survival

The last factor that democratizes the idea generation process is the pressure from the serious survival threats that our civilization is facing presently. Because of their exponential nature, the threats will hit us so fast that our existing creative infrastructure won’t be able to handle them. We will end up recruiting all creative faculties, every human brain that is ready to contribute.

In the next article in this series, we will see what we can do to prepare for the idea age.

22 May

Origin of Ideas

Origin of Ideas

This 5 post series will addresses as to how “we are facing exponential threats from resource crunch and environmental degradation and that in response, we are inventing a new idea age”.

  • Exponential Threats identifies the exponentially growing threats we are presently facing
  • In Exponential Technology, we argue that our exponentially growing technology, our best ally, is not sufficient to tackle these threats. To do that, unprecedented level of human ingenuity should come into play.
  • In this post Origin of Ideas, we discuss the source of human ingenuity, both inside an individual’s head and across the society.
  • In Age of Creativity, we address as to why we have reasons to believe that we are entering an era of unprecedented global creativity.
  • In the last post, we will address as to how you can prepare for the coming Idea Age

Before discussing how human creativity is likely to save the day, we must first understand the origin of ideas, either inside a human head, or across a society. After all, there are striking similarities between both types of idea generation.

Human Mutation and Population

First, a small detour. Faster Human Mutation A paper was published in 2007, showing how the rate of human mutation was picking up speed with time. The reason was discovered to be the rising human population! More humans meant more mutations. More mutations, of course, meant more variety and better chances of human race continuing to eke a living. According to Matt Ridley, as he argued in this TED talk, there is one other thing that becomes more common with increase in population: Ideas. Ridley argues that since people make ideas, where there are more people, we have more ideas generated. But ideas funny creatures. With ideas, 1+1 = 11. Value of an idea goes up multi fold when it is in the midst of other ideas. For example, take the idea of petroleum mining. When this idea is not combined with any other idea, it has zero value (imagine a guy digging out tarry goo, with no idea what to do with it). But when it is combined with other ideas like IC engines, automobiles, jet planes, plastics, war, pollution, etc., the idea of petroleum mining becomes a formidable! Idea Having Sex Each idea makes several others come alive. To better understand how ideas work, you can think of ideas having sex (an analogy introduced by Ridley in his TED talk). But since ideas combine in every which way possible, we should think of them as polyamorous, egalitarian, libidinous and indiscreet! Ideas Are Indiscreet But the value of an ideas is derived from its ability to combine with other ideas. Not from its ability to stand alone. According to Ridley, an environment that fosters mixing of ideas is much more productive and valuable than sheer IQ. For example, industrial towns like Tiruppur and Sivakasi pop up out of nowhere to become an island of superior performance only because these towns end up having a bunch of people thinking, eating and breathing closely related ideas. Interestingly, a reasonably large population is needed to sustain idea generation and specialization. And when it comes to playing the idea catalyst, no population is large enough. There is evidence from the past that China stopped advancing its science and technology when it cut itself out from rest of the world. Similarly, it is my personal belief that India fell short of exploiting its potential to innovate when it decided to cut itself off from the West (the chief idea generators at this point in the history) after obtaining its political independence from the British.

Creativity Inside your Head

Interestingly, creativity inside your head works in a very similar fashion: Generating a new idea inside your head is just a matter of combining two or more existing ideas in a novel way. To foster your own creativity, you will need rich knowledge base. The more ‘idea raw materials’ you work with, more appropriate will be the ideas generated by you.

Ideas

You get to work with more ‘idea raw materials’ when (a) you are knowledgeable and (b) you get to retain more of what you learn. Retention is partly genetic, partly due to repetition and partly due to physical health of the brain. Of course, we will have better understanding of memory as more research throws light on the subject.

Next  to memory, your ability to communicate between different models of your brain is important to combine ideas in a novel way. The physical health of your brain like blood circulation, health of the myelin sheaths insulating the axons, etc., determine how well you can combine ideas inside your brain and create new ones. If the circulation is poor (supplies of less energy) or the myelin sheaths are damaged (increased noise level during communication), all energy hungry neural operations like creation of new ideas get down regulated.

Sustained attention is a faculty that is known to play an important role in creation of new ideas. As if, the longer you hold an idea in the center stage of your head, the more opportunities you give it to finding a suitable  partners to hook up with.

Living and interacting with people who have a knack for creating new ideas certainly helps your own creativity. They teach you that it is alright to come up with new ideas and supply you with building blocks for generating new idea.

Most importantly, learning to suspend one’s critical factor is an important ingredient of personal creativity. People have a tendency of snuff out new ideas, even before the idea was given a decent chance.

Of course, intention/motivation is another huge factor in fostering personal creativity.

The last factor in personal creativity are external. Some people respond to external pressures (e.g. impending deadline) by becoming creative. In these people, pressure activates their norepinephrine, increases their mental alertness and actually makes them more creative. Another brain chemical that increases the mental alertness is dopamine. Dopamine levels in the brain increase when you are faced with a novel situation, when you are suitably rewarded or when in love (among other things). Typically, when you are in any of these situations, the level of your personal creativity go up.

Interestingly, we have entered an era that supplies ample quantity of several factors that we saw above. In the next installment of this series, we will see as to how creativity across the globe is in the process of reaching unprecedented levels.

REFERENCES:

- This post is a sequel to Part-1, Exponential Threats and Part 2, Exponential Technology
- All the posts in this series are based on the presentation Idea Age is Here
15 May

Exponential Threats

Exponential Threats

This 5 post series will addresses as to how “we are facing exponential threats from resource crunch and environmental degradation and that in response, we are inventing a new idea age”.

  • This post, Exponential Threats, identifies the exponentially growing threats we are presently facing
  • In Exponential Technology, we argue that our exponentially growing technology, our best ally, is not sufficient to tackle these threats. To do that, unprecedented level of human ingenuity should come into play.
  • In Origin of Ideas, we discuss the source of human ingenuity, both inside an individual’s head and across the society.
  • In Age of Creativity, we address as to why we have reasons to believe that we are entering an era of unprecedented global creativity.
  • In the last post, we will address as to how you can prepare for the coming Idea Age

 

We (humans) are facing an imminent danger to the present way of life. Something must change. The popular belief is that change will drastically reverse the decades of advances that we have made in obtaining ourselves substantially better quality of living. Whereas, the popular hope is that we will come out on the other side much stronger than we are today.

Given that I am an ever-hopeful, I fall into the second camp and strongly ‘hope’ that some incredible breakthrough will come along (after all, what is the point in living, if one belongs to the ‘hopeless’ camp). The obvious candidate for the ‘breakthrough is coming’ camp is the exponential technology. That may not be the case.

All available evidences go to argue that over the coming decades, idea generation will be democratized, quality of average idea generated (or quality of idea generated by average Joe) will improve and give us new solutions that we didn’t even know were possible. This coming Idea Age will be very similar to various renaissance periods from the history, but much more potent. It is my hope that by the time we are finished with the idea age, we would have changed the human race both biologically and culturally.

More importantly, when idea generation is going to be democratized, a significant portion of human creative energy is going to be spent on improving human happiness. After all, in the centralized idea generation era that we currently live in, there is too much focus on economic value of the ideas.

Read on to understand more about the coming cultural and destiny shift, to learn what it would mean to you, and how you can prepare for it.

Growth vs Resources

We are stuck in an economy which is required to grow year on year, endlessly (image below).

Growth is Exponential

For example, no one (at least, no value investor) will ever buy shares in a company that doesn’t promise year on year continuous growth. You wouldn’t want to take up a job that can’t give you continuous increase in revenue. For reasons that I am not getting into here, we can’t wish away the exponential growth cycle without substantial hardship.

The trouble with exponential growth is that our consumption of raw materials doubles once in a few years (image below).

Exponential Growth

If, for example, take Oil. The global consumption of oil grows at 7% per annum year on year. At that rate, the global consumption of oil doubles every 10 years (1.07^10 = 1.97). Every time when consumption doubles, the amount of oil consumed during the new 10 year period equals the amount of oil consumed during the entire period coming before that! That kind of consumption growth can’t be sustained indefinitely.

Way back in 1972, a bunch of European scientists have modeled the global population growth and resource utilization and put their results into a book titled The Limits of Growth and updated it in 2004. The book predicted that our civilization would face a collapse during the mid to later half of current century.

In 2012, New Scientist published a paper wherein the predictions of 1972, as laid out in the book, were compared with the actual date obtained till the first decade of 21st century, and using much better modelling techniques. The result was a chilling conformation that the reality is not much different from the predictions of doom made in 1972 (image below)!

Boom and Bust

 

While the original 1972 predictions have been hotly contested and called deficient, surprisingly very little criticism has been heard about the 2012 New Scientist paper.

In the meanwhile, NASA recently announced that it has come up with climate model that matches with climate changes remarkably well. Based on this highly reliable model, NASA predicts that if we continued ‘business as usual’, by end of the current century, the global temperature would raise by as much as 14°C in the arctics and by lesser degree in other parts of the world.

Global Warming

 

Of course, NASA also pointed out that if we respond to impending climate change aggressively, we might just be able to get away with minimal damages. But the political will and preparedness seem to be widely lacking.

Given the looming resource crunch and consequent economic collapse, aggravated by global warming that is at least partly irreversible, we will have no way but to significantly change our present way of living.

Exponential Technology

While we are facing exponential problems, we have one exponential solution at hand: Technology. In the sequel to this post, we will understand exponential technology and how can it help us to deal with our exponential problem.

REFERENCES:
- This post is based on the presentation titled Idea Age is Here
- You can find the next parts of this series at Idea Age is Here: Part-2, Exponential Technology and at Origin of Ideas
01 Aug

John Galt was a Psychopath

Psychopaths

So was Howard Roark.  And, very probably, Ayn Rand was a psychopath too.  But they were all so called ‘high functioning’ psychopaths.  In other words, they have a psychopath’s psychological make up, but they have used the traits constructively.

For reasons that I don’t quite understand, twentieth century was the century of psychopaths.  May be industrialization happened too fast that we didn’t have time to learn to live with strangers.  Or the World Wars (another product of rapid industrialization) promoted leaders with psychopathic tendencies.   Or may be we were tired of living in a close nit society for too long that we were wallowing in our new found individuality.

Whatever may be the case, twentieth century idolized the lone wolves.  Towards the end of the Twentieth Century, we recognized our true social nature.  And we are just beginning to understand how important it is for our physical and psychological well being that we are emotionally connected to other people.

Few posts ago, we saw the SCARF model proposed by David Rock, which identified five central human drives (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness).  Couple of earlier posts addressed Status and Fairness.  This post is about Relatedness.

We are beginning to see research coming out from all over the world, showing that the quality of life and the longevity are tightly correlated with the quality and (to an extent) the quantity of meaningful relationships we have.  Meaningful relationships will include people with who we can have a real conversation or do something with full immersion, people who care for our wellness dearly and people we care for deeply.  People can have such relationships with pets or even plants.

Our default state of response to strangers is suspicion and fear.  Strangers are treated as enemies unless proven otherwise.  For our threat antennae come down, we need to know that the strangers mean no harm.  Hence, for a person who lives among people he or she doesn’t know well enough, the whole world is made up of enemies.  Everywhere they go, they are treated with hostility and the fear that others are always out to get them.

Add loneliness to this constant state of fear, it is no surprise that lone wolves are a bitter and unhappy lot.

Fortunately, a little while ago, longevity scientists have begun to notice a strange anomaly with the people who lived in well nit societies.  It appeared that they lived much longer and happier, and with far less lifestyle diseases, than the normal people.  Even tending to live plants seemed to have some positive effect on people!

And then, the internet and the social networks came along and the fabric of society changed once and for all.

Today, we are much more connected in every sense possible than we ever where in the past.  The trend will only continue.  Because the world is so very networked, we have more number of people to relate to than ever before.  Because we share more online, our relations are typically deeper than they were in the yesteryears.  Similar thinking people are now able to discover each other from different corners of the world.

Good practices discovered in one part of the world spreads to the other parts very swiftly.  More importantly, xenophobia is on the decline.  And meaningless or outdated taboos are falling down one after another.  Because the world is so well connected, there is a free flow of scientific and productive ideas and even the lay people are beginning to discover their creative and thinking skills.  And the world is going to become richer, and happier, by many folds over.

Because we have discovered the necessity and joy of relatedness, the world today is much happier and richer than it ever was.  Because we are so well connected, there is never likely to be a Third World War.  When it comes to networking, we have barely begun to scratch the surface.  What we have seen as the benefits of networking is nothing compared with what is waiting to happen.

Given how beneficial networking ‘among the masses’, isn’t it strange that lone wolves like John Galt and Howard Roark wanted to create an utopia that was made by, and made for, a handful of intellectually gifted people who had near zero social skills!  To understand this anomaly, we should take a quick look at the typical personality features of high functioning psychopaths (taken from the book “Wisdom of the Psychopaths“; a more elaborate character set is here):

  1. Ruthlessness
  2. Charm
  3. Focus
  4. Mental Toughness
  5. Fearlessness
  6. Mindfulness
  7. Action

Galt, Roark, Dagny Taggart or any other protagonist created by Ayn Rand almost always had all the 7 features given above. The epitome, I think, is the way she explains child rearing as an objective profession (or sorts) that one opts in!  Anyone who is oblivious to the magic of rearing having and raising a child, in my mind, must be a psychopath.

22 Dec

Anoxia of a Negative Thought

Happiness

We’ve heard people claiming that we use only 20% of our brain (or is it 10%).  It’s wrong!  We know beyond doubt that the brain is a finite resource and the demand placed on it often surpasses the resources available.

When the brain is assigned more than one task, they compete inside the brain for resources and the energy hungry tasks usually are sacrificed.  Of course, unless it is more critical or more rewarding (in which case, other tasks are sacrificed).

The neocortex (and particularly, the Pre-Frontal Cortex) is central in high cognition (though, higher cognition occurs outside the cortex too).  It is also the most energy inefficient part of the brain.  Evolutionarily, it is the most recent part of the brain, whereas the rest of the brain has been around for millions of years more.  The rest of the brain has had time to evolve better efficiency.

Neocortex is the part of the brain where you hold a thought and process it.  It is also where we hold a negative thought and ruminate over it.  If such a thought is about something that happened in the past, we call it sadness or regret.  If the negative thought is about the future, we call it worry.

Ruminating the past doesn’t change a thing.  We all know it but we often find ourselves unable (the thought it too powerful) or unwilling (we feel guilty to let go) to extricate ourselves from this thought pattern.  The sad thing here is that none of this will ever change the past.  But the rumination will deprive our ability to be available to the people and the challenges that are right in front of us today.

But there is a very interesting perspective to worrying that is not immediately obvious.  When we are facing a future challenge, we ‘usually’ do not need more than a few seconds (if not minutes) of thinking to find the solution.  If we are unable to find a solution after a short reflection, we probably lack data/skill and we need to go out and get some.  In the former case, worrying is a meaningless sacrifice of our mental health.  In the later case, worrying stunts our ability to acquire additional resources that will help us actually solve the problem.  Either way, worrying extracts huge cost from us.  Almost always, it is a wasteful exercise.

Here is a simple technique to stop from dwelving in a past or future negative event:

Do something that shifts the flow of blood (i.e. energy) from the neo-cortex!  It is that simple!!

Get up and walk.  Exercise.  Dance.  All these things shift the energy flow inside your brain to the regions that have the motor control.  If you are good at it, sing a song, play a music or simply listen to a type of music that doesn’t accentuates your negative mood.  Play with kids, play with pets, go to a movie, go to some chat room, spend time with friends.  Start a movement, contribute time to a cause, join a mission, join a competition.  Meditate. Cook.  Shop.  Party.  Watch a movie.  Fall in love.  Travel.  Bunjee jump.  Wear Spandex and fight crime.

The choices are limitless.  The point is to get on to something that shifts the blood flow from the structures that ruminate or worry, to anything other structure in the brain.  All the grand strategies that are taught to stop worrying/ruminating all boil down to this simple thing.

Most of the typical anti-worry or anti-rumination methodologies work ‘on’ the negative thought.  While working on a thought, you must hold it in your mind.  The more you hold a thought in your mind, the more deeply entrenched it becomes and the more difficult it is to extinguish it.  There lies the simple elegance of the shift-blood-flow technique.  It takes just a second to implement and it doesn’t ever involve working ‘on’ the negative thought!

20 Dec

Laser Beam, Table Lamp and DLPFC

Lights

We often focus like a laser beam: Precise and with high intensity.  When we focus like a laser, anything that is not under the beam vanishes from our attention, including our  perception of time.  We are usually under flow state and we are reasonably confident about cracking the problem that we are focusing on.

When we focus like a laser, a portion of our brain called Dorsolateral Pre-Frontal Cortex becomes highly active.  DLPFC is involved in our executive functions, working memory, self control, etc.

Other than laser focus, there is a diametrically opposite powerful mental state: Illuminate like a table lamp!  The light has no specific agenda.  But it has its fingers in every pie there is.  This is the state of mind we typically acquire when we become spontaneously creative.  Examples include composing a new tune, writing a poem, flirting with someone special, etc.

Interestingly, when our mind lights up like a table lamp, the DLPFC become under-active!

DLPFC often underlies the difference between the well-organized disciplinarian and the artsy-creative types.  The former has overactive DLPFC and the later has under-active DLPFC.

Each mental state has its own advantage.  There are times where we need to focus like a laser and there are time where we need to bounce around like the photons from a table lamp.  Usually, every individual is good in one type of thinking.

But there is a ridiculously simple way to acquire each mental state:

Mimic a laser beam or a table lamp with your attention!

Don’t think.  Just visualize your light source and mimic it with your attention.  You can shift your mental state in a jiffy.  With that, your whole persona changes!

20 Nov

Questions No One asks about Human Sexuality

Questions No One Asks

Here are a bunch of questions about human sexuality that no one wants to ask.  Probably because the answers frighten everyone!

01: If men are genetically programmed to spread their seeds as  wide as possible, why shouldn’t we expect women to be genetically programmed to collect as varied seeds as possible so that the best one wins?

02: If women have muted sexuality, or naturally monogamous, why did men have to build societies that so severely restricts women’s independence.

03: If families are economical units lead by man-the-provider, what is going to happen to the unit in a world where women have larger average income than men?

04: Many people who are alive today are likely to live beyond 100, and spend much of that life in their sexual prime.  What will happen to marriage, monogamy and other conventional values?

05: Why do women reach their sexual prime in their late thirties, just when men start their downhill slide?  Or why do men reach their sexual prime in late teens and early twenties, exactly when most women their age are unable to even get a decent orgasm?

06: While we believe that the clitoris is the only human organ built purely for pleasure, why doesn’t it occur to us that women may be selecting men for their pleasure giving ability?

07: If size doesn’t matter, why almost every man is perennially insecure about his size?

08: Why internet search terms describing male endowment is one of the most popular search terms by heterosexual men?

09: Why internet search terms, to everyone’s surprise, show that men stay very close to few selected porn preferences whereas a woman’s taste is all over the chart and varies largely from time to time.

10: While most women don’t enjoy visual porn as much as men, why are stories like 50 shades and slash stories are very popular with women folk?

11: In the social networking age where copying others has been taken to unheard of heights, and mate search has become lot easier, what is going to happen to people’s social and sexual life?

12: While it is becoming clear that power inequality between  partners is a strongest aphrodisiac, what is going to happen to the equality movement?

13: Why is it that youngsters ridicule spiritual values that is so dear to people who are beyond their sexual prime? And the older people ridicule sex drive that determines almost every action of the youth?

14: While our values and priorities change with our age, why do we have our key social structures designed for the youthful mental state?

15: While attraction, attachment and sexual drives are three mutually independent faculties, why do we have a social structure that pins all three on a single individual.

Because we were prudes for several centuries now and never dared to ask some of the important questions, there is so much of clutter and misinformation out there.  If these questions are answered honestly, the answers will move the ground from under our feet.  I intend addressing all of them, supported by hard scientific data, neatly tucked into some innocuous-looking and academic-sounding posts!

However, this blog is not just about human sexuality.  I happen to believe that our sexuality is a huge part of who we are and without understanding it, we will never know who we truly are.  Also, without understanding our true self, we will never have a chance to be truly happy.

Since my blog is about all of human nature and not just about human sexuality, you will find the answers to these questions peppered in between several other topics that I believe are important in understanding human nature.  If you are interested in keeping track of the future posts so that you will know when your favorite topic comes up, you can do one of these things:

  • Subscribe to the blog by entering your name and email address in the form on the top-right.  Of course, your email address will not be shared with anyone.
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  • LIKE the FaceBook page you will find here.  I update this page only when I post something in this blog and you will easily miss the updates.  Hence, after LIKEing the page, you will have to click on LIKED button and select GET NOTIFICATIONS.  Otherwise, the updates from the FaceBook page tends to get lost.

By the way, if you can think of more unasked questions, please feel free to add them in the comment section below.

18 Nov

ADHD Brain

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is easily the most fascinating, misunderstood, contested and over-diagnosed psychiatric condition.  Through ADHD, we will see how our brain affects our behavior.

There is a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) called Dopamine.  When you get something right, the dopamine levels in the brain go up.  Of course, getting something right is often closely linked to improving one’s chances of survival or reproduction.  Dopamine is the reward chemical.  It supplies the feel good when we solve a mathematical problem, find delicious food or a delectable mate.  Cocaine high is also supplied by drug induced dopamine.  Dopamine is also responsible for movement, motivation, impulse control, alertness and focus.

There is a neurotransmitter called Norepinephrine (NE).  NE increases secreted in your brain when your stress levels go up.  NE also increases the alertness and focus.  NE is a product of Dopamine.

A small set of the population seem to have a mutation that leaves them with sub-optimal levels of dopamine and/or NE.  Because of the sub-optimal levels of alertness/focus chemicals, unless something excites them (and increases the dopamine levels) or frightens them (and increases the NE levels), these people tend to remain distracted and under-motivated.  These people are thought of attention deficit.

There is also a difference in the way an ADHD brain in wired.  When a baby is born, the neurons inside the brain are cross wired in an almost random fashion.  As the baby grows up, surplus connections are pruned out.  This pruning is needed to build specialized modules inside the brain and make the brain more efficient.  Often, parts of an ADHD brain remains under differentiated.  As you will see later, this not always a bad thing.

It is interesting to see how these subtle changes inside the brain express as personality traits:

  • There is a portion of the brain called striatum, which is partly responsible for physical movement.  People with sub-optimal levels of dopamine in striatum can’t sit in one place.  These are the physically hyperactive types.  The physical movement seem to increase the dopamine levels in the striatum.
  • Striatum is also responsible for motivation.  Less dopamine here results in poor motivation.
  • There is a part of the brain called pre-frontal cortex (PFC) that sits just behind our forehead.  It is believed to be responsible for several functions, including acting as the breaking system of the brain.  When someone has less dopamine in the PFC area, they exert poor impulse control.  It makes them short tempered (bad) and/or spontaneous (good at times).
  • PFC also smothers the creative insights to some extent.  This is one reason why creative people often have poor impulse control.
  • PFC is responsible for forethought, planning, executing, etc.  People with less dopamine in PFC show deficiencies with these skills.
  • PFC is also thought of as the seat of working memory.  Poor dopamine levels in PFC impairs a person’s working memory and makes them poor with details.  On the other hand, they become good at dealing with the big picture (which amounts to consolidating several smaller details into one bigger package).
  • Because of poor level of dopamine in PFC, this brain type is typically disorganized.  On the other hand, some of these people who learn to organize are super-organized.
  • Poor dopamine levels in PFC also results in poor time sense.  Even estimation of time required to complete a task is difficult for them.
  • People with low level of dopamine in cerebellum become physically sluggish.  But all the action happens inside an overactive mind, encased in a still body.
  • Novelty increases dopamine levels.  People with this brain type are usually novelty seekers.
  • Routine task doesn’t generate dopamine.  While these people can handle a novel task of higher difficulty, handling even a simple routine task is such a drag for them.
  • Risk taking pumps up dopamine and norepinephrine.  So, this brain type actively goes looking for risk.  Several of soldiers, police men, stock brokers and other high risk professions are filled with this brain type.
  • Of course, verbal quarrels also increase NE.  Some people with this brain type are pugnacious, particularly when they also have a short temper.  Almost everyone with this brain type is a drama queen.
  • Dopamine is also responsible for salience.  People with sub-optimal dopamine levels forgive others easily.  Except if they also have deficient levels of serotonin in anterior cingulate gyrus, in which case they won’t easily forget a slight.
  • The sub-optimal level of serotonin is ACG is often seen in people with ADHD brain type.  ACG is like the gear shift of the brain and serotonin acts like the gear fluid.  With deficient serotonin, their brain tends to get stuck in the same state.  Combined with poor working memory, these people tend to forget the rest of the world when they lay their hands on a task that fascinates them.
  • Throughout the brain, dopamine and serotonin are in a balance.  As less serotonin is known to cause depression, ADHD brain type with less dopamine (and hence, more serotonin) is not easily susceptible to depression.  However, we live in a world that is designed for non-ADHD brain and living in this world often puts them into very high level of stress.  This high stress often makes them prone to depression and anxiety.
  • Because the wiring inside the brain is criss-crossed, this brain type often results in traffic congestion.  This traffic (data) congestion expresses itself in several ways, including dyslexia.
  • Because of the hyper-wiring, people with this brain type usually have sharper senses.  Some of them can hear very feeble sound and/or sound from wide frequency range.  Many of them wear soft and casual clothes as formal clothes (and wrist watches) are too rough on their skin.  Many of them have a nose that can overwhelm them.  As a matter of fact, any of the senses can overwhelm easily them.  Of course, more severe cases of under-differentiation results in complications which have their own jargon and we are not getting into them here.

There are two people inside every person with ADHD brain type.  One is the dull, distraction prone, absent minded, careless and low-motivation person they live most of their life as.  The second character is highly charged, super-motivated, quick, sharp, intelligent and daring person they turn into when they are in a dopamine or norepinephrine pumping situation.

In other words, the baseline of performance for these people shift from situation to situation.  This dynamically shifting baseline is not understood by most of the people, including the ones who have this brain type.  That leads them to falsely under or over estimate their self worth.

In the next post, we will see how our compulsion to generalize ruins the lives of millions of people with this brain type.

14 Nov

Madonna-Whore and Generalization

Madonna-Whore Generalization

We are naturally inclined to associate only one idea with one person.  This innocuous cognitive limitation called generalization is hugely responsible for decoloring people and societies.

Sigmund Freud originally identified a condition wherein some men couldn’t get sexual arousal in a committed relationship.  He claimed that these men suffered from Madonna-Whore Complex, wherein  they could see a woman either as a saintly Madonna or debased Whore.  Of course, social biologists (and even some psychologists) these days would tell you that these men suffer from the ennui of monogamy.  But their argument can’t hold water when you consider that men marry certain type of women and sleep around with different type of women (women are no different either; but that is the topic for another post).

The reason that most people can’t see both a dependable partner and playful sex-fiend in a single person is due to the cognitive error of generalization.  We can associate only one image with one person.  Even when we look at our own self, we like to generalize!

People in marketing have known this cognitive limitations for a long time (you can read more about it in Marketing Warfare by Al Ries and Jack Trout).  For example, we all think of Toyota as ‘value for money’ car.  So, when Toyota wanted to sell luxury cars, it named it Lexus and formed a completely independent sales and service network.  When Coke did a brand extension (by coming up with more varieties like Diet Coke, etc.), people got confused about what that name stood for and it lost market share to rivals.

Remember how we are usually surprised that the topper of the class back in the school/college days ends up with just a ho-hum life.  Or, how the back benchers always seem to have a knack for coming on top in real life.  We are surprised only because we have wrongly generalized that someone who is doing good in studies must be good in everything else too.

This compulsion to want to put people into neat categories is a cognitive trick used to reduce the amount of energy spent by our brain.  When people behave in a way that demands rethinking on our part, we go out of the way to deny the reality or for the deviant to confirm.  It is a lazy way of living.  But we should not under estimate the power of mental inertia.  The entire multi-billion dollar advertising industry is there only to change our mind by working against the mental inertia.

This is a basic limitation with it origin in the core of our biology.  We have always lived with this limitation.  Our societies and social norms have integrated this limitation into the very fabric.  While generalization has its own advantage (saves on time and energy spent thinking), damages due to generalization pops up everywhere we look.

We will see several more manifestations of generalization in the future posts.

12 Nov

In Celebration of Eccentrics

Bell Curve

If you take the human population and plot any of its characteristics (height, IQ, etc.), you will find that the curve takes the shape of a bell.  Most of the people fall near the center.  As you move away from the center, the population falls off rapidly.  Farther you go from the center, the drop off flattens out.

For some reason that we don’t understand, bell curves are there everywhere.  It is so common that it is often called the “Normal Distribution”! Distribution of Human Height

The curve above shows the actual distribution of height of Americans.  The normal height for women is about 162cm and the normal height for men is about 178cm.  There are very few women who are taller than 188cm and there are very few men who are taller than 203cm.  Women tend to stick closer to the normal than men (sharper bump) and men seem to have much wider variety than women (flatter bump).  There is similar variation between men and women when it comes to IQ distribution as well. You can say that the people who are farther away from the normal have eccentrics.  For example, men who are shorter than 160cm or taller than 195cm have eccentric heights.  Similarly, women who are shorter than 145cm or taller than 177cm have eccentric heights.

To summarize it, people whose traits are clumped around the center are normal.  People who are farthest from the center are eccentric.  It is easy to understand the simple concept when it comes to measurable quantity like height or IQ.  What is interesting is that this distribution is applicable for other traits qualities as well.

Put it in other words,

  • Normal are the people whose traits are most common in a population.
  • Eccentrics are the people whose have rare traits.

A trait becomes more common in a population usually if it had an evolutionary advantage in the past.  But it is not always true.  For example, we could have lived just as happily with four or six fingers.  There is no special evolutionary advantage of having five fingers.  

Also, just because an evolutionary adaptation had been helpful in the past (and hence, it is normal in the population today) doesn’t mean that we can’t live without it today.  An example is the hair on the head.  Except that it is usually thought of as an indicator of youth, that too a weak indicator, hair on the head has no survival or mate selection advantage.  If the entire human population becomes bald overnight, no one other than the hair dressers will find their life threatened!

Interestingly, there are traits that were disadvantageous in the evolutionary past, but are considered an advantage today.  For example, Thom Hartman suggested that people with ADHD behave as if they are hunters in a farming society (this hypothesis is turning out to be more true than he imagined).  He argues that farmers produce such strong societies that every time in the past when a farming society confronted a hunting society, the farmers was completely vanquished the hunters.  However, within a farming society, people with hunter traits ‘can’ perform much better than typical farmers.

Normal is not always superior.  Normal is just that: Normal.  The most common.  Eccentrics are not always inferior.  Eccentrics are just rare.

Normal is made by mixing a little bit of each color.  It results in a dull gray. Eccentrics, on the other hand, is all of few shades and none of the rest.  Eccentrics are like a riot of colors.  A celebration of colours, if you will.  Very rarely does an eccentric come across another eccentric of matching or complimentary color.

But then again, we are all eccentric.  Some of us show it on the surface and the rest of us manage to bury our colors deep down inside in order to match colors with rest of the colorless people who have learnt to bury their own colors just as deep.  We have standardized ourselves to the least common denominator!

That is sad.

This blog will be an exercise for you to discover your true colors so that you can flaunt them proudly.  This blog will also be an exercise in learning to appreciate the colors that others display.  More importantly, this blog will an exercise to learn to live your life without muting your real self or without demanding similar harsh sacrifice from others.

From your side, you just need to make sure that you bring two things to the table: An open mind and eccentric level of IQ that falls on the right side of the normal.

Riot of Colors

Happy festival of lights!

09 Nov

Little Bit of Madness

Starry Night, showing van Gogh's madness

4 out of 5 writers are known to have incidence of bipolar disorder in their family.  1 in 2 entrepreneurs are known to have ADHD spectrum disorder.  People are known to get powerful religious visions after epileptic seizures.

What is going on here?  Why haven’t these conditions go away from human gene pool, even though they usually are detrimental to the carrier’s ability to reproduce?

Consider gayness.  Gay people don’t get a chance to pass their genes.  Gayness is an evolutionary dead end.  Then, why does gay genes still exist in the population?  Some people think that androgynous people are selected more often.  Nature, in its efforts to produce androgynous people, ends up over-doing by producing gay people.

Likewise, little bit of madness offers an evolutionary advantage, which more than compensates for the debilitations.  Nature, in it ability to produce slightly eccentric people (who are typically more successful) ends up overdoing at times.

Interestingly, how much madness is good for you is decided by how well you are able to handle your condition, if you are able to extract an advantage from it, if you are able to nullify the damages, etc.

If you are one of the people who have a beautiful mind, don’t try to be normal.  Before you do that, please think (a) what unique advantages does your eccentricity bring you and (b) how you can counter/manage its debilitations.

If you ace these two requirements, the world will praise you for your uniqueness.  Not call you mad!

At the top of this post, I’ve clip a Vincent van Gogh’s painting called ‘Starry Night’.  This work, the way he draws the stars in it, is considered to bear evidences to his epileptic seizures.
06 Nov

Importance of Human Sexuality

Human Sexuality

We can’t understand human beings without understanding human sexuality.  Recently, I had a post that discussed the orgasmic potential in women.  It was well received by people I happen to know in real life.  Whereas, for the first time, I had people unsubscribing to the blog updates!  I thought I should explain why I keep straying into human sexuality every now and then.

Under the category Mental Mess, I am posting on stuff that will help us get better clarity on things around us.  Because we are social animals, large chunk of these posts are going to be on understanding the human nature.

In other words, I believe that our biology largely determines our behavior.  I also believe that most of our biology is a product of evolution.  So, I rely on social biology to help me understand the human nature and behavior.

Long before Darwin, farmers were crossing-breeding domestic animals and (not ‘with’) plants to modify/improve the stock.  Darwin realized that this process of selective breeding happened in the wild too.  He called this process the Natural Selection (in order to benchmark it against the ‘artificial selection’ which people were already familiar).

Sometimes, natural selection acts on mate selection alone.  One such example is peacock’s tail feathers (or a diamond studded Rolex).  It has no utility other than advertising to a potential mate the fitness levels of the peacock (or, the affluence of the guy who is wearing the watch).  This type of selection is called the Sexual Selection.  It is a sub-set of natural selection.

Group Selection is another sub-set of natural selection.  It happens when one collection of individuals evolves a trait that is beneficial to the group, even though it may not be beneficial to the individual.  Our sense of spirituality is thought of as a product of group selection.

Natural selection and all its subsets all run on one type of fuel: The Selfish Gene.

Huge, HUGE, part of our nature and behavior is determined by the forces of Sexual Selection.  Till about a couple of decades ago, we completely under-estimated the impact of the forces of sexual selection on human nature.  Also, since many forces of sexual selection act only during the reproductive age, its effects are often thought of as vain by people who are outside the reproductive mind set (too young, too old, celibates, religions, etc.).

Because of the immense prudishness that surrounds human sexuality, we hesitate to look into this subject or talk about it.  As a consequence of all this confusion, general public knows next to nothing about how sexual selection makes up who we are.  Because we don’t understand sexual selection, we keep berating human behavior that is perfectly healthy or encouraging behavior that is totally unhealthy.

There is no way we are going to truly understand the human behavior without understanding how the forces of sexual selection act on us.  I believe that understanding our very nature is essential to help us redesign our society, our values, our morals, etc.  And to live happily ever after.

05 Nov

God, Evolution and Internal Compass

Internal Compass

Whenever a belief or an attitude is shared by all (or most) of humanity, it must have offered us a significant survival advantage in our evolutionary past.  After all, people without this belief/attitude were wiped off from the gene pool!

In an earlier post, I discussed about how our sense of spirituality is suspected to be an evolutionary by-product.  Scientists working on evolution suspect that our compulsion to subscribe to concepts like God and Life-Purpose might have similar evolutionary origins.

Take, for example, an animal which sees a movement in the bush.  The animal must quickly decide if it is a fake alarm (say, rustling of the wind) or a predator.  An animal which mistakes a predator for rustling of the wind will get eaten up.  Whereas, an animal which wrongly concludes the rustling of the wind to be a predator lives to see another day.  Over a period of time, the “better safe than sorry” animals, the ones who see an agent in the rustling of the wind, dominates the gene pool.

This compulsion to err on the safe side has endowed all of us with a bias.  Because of this bias, we (and all other animals) often see an agent/pattern in most random noises.  Social biology thinks that we may have invented God and Life-Purpose because we have this compulsion to imagine an invisible hand in everything.

Of course, this doesn’t disprove the existence of God.  But it certainly puts a strong argument that our internal compass might be always stuck towards the North.

02 Nov

What can OkCupid tell us about Women

In the very first post, I discussed how internet is becoming a very rich source for researchers on human behavior.  One such source is a online dating website called OkCupid.

OkCupid has a nice blog, where they keep publishing interesting pieces of researches, based on gargantuan sample size.  Compared to their studies, the regular University researches look laughably puny and homogeneous.

These are some of my favorite findings: Agewise orgasmic potential of women

Almost half the young women have difficulty reaching an orgasm.  While OkCupid doesn’t get into why, experts on the subject claim that young women have difficulty only with vaginal orgasm and that clitoral orgasm is easy.  Interestingly, women reach their peak orgasmic potential in their mid forties (no wonder that women in their forties enjoy sex much more than the younger women; they also have much more self-confidence).  But if the women exercises, she typically reaches her orgasmic peak potential by late thirties and sustains it for fifteen more years!  So, for a woman in her forties, exercising is a huge, huge advantage.  If there is a forty-something woman in your life, you know what you should gift her for the new year.  A gym membership, of course!

Curvy vs Skinny Women: Drive and Self Confidence

But be careful about the dangers of overdoing the exercise bit.  She needs exercises only to keep her physically active.  Not to make her skinny.  Because, curvy women have biggest sex drive and self confidence.  Whereas, skinny ones fare the worst.  All other body types fall somewhere in between.

By the way, I happen to intimately know one curvy woman, who has just entered her forties and exercises regularly.  I wonder what should I get her this new years! In the meanwhile, you can read the original article here.

Both men and women lie

In America, both men and women lie (I see no reason why it should be any different in other countries).  Men lie a little bit more than women, at least when it comes to talking about their income.  As they age, people become more comfortable with lying.

Male income and response received

May be men lie more about their salaries because women are the officially certified gold diggers.  If the guy earns about $100k, the woman is for him to lose!  Of course, if you go to the original post, you can see color charts.

Straight vs Gay Women

This is just my gut feeling, looking from the chart above, gay women seem to be living a full live, whereas straight women seem to be shackled by the culture (original article).    I can’t help wondering, while looking at this chart, if women will be much, much more sexually active and adventurous if our religious and cultural shackles are dismantled.

Now, here is some information you can actually use: If you want to take an attractive self-portrait, try around 4am or 4pm.  Around 9am or 9pm, you are likely to make the worst pictures (original article).  Why?  God knows!

When to take attractive self-portraits

29 Oct

Sexual Ornament

Sexual Ornament

We didn’t grow a large brain to help ourselves find better food, fend from predators or to change the very landscape of the planet, like we are doing today.  We evolved a large brain hundreds of thousands of years before we did all that.

In his book Descent of Man, Charles Darwin discusses two types of evolutionary pressures:  Natural Selection and Sexual Selection.  Natural selection arises from the struggle to survive (fangs and hooves).  Sexual selection (antlers and peacock tail feathers) arises from pressure to reproduce.  There are two types of sexual selection.  One is challenge between the same sex to outwit one another (intrasex).  Other is a challenge to charm and attract the opposite sex more successfully (intersex).

A feature that evolved due to intersex sexual pressure is called a sexual ornament.  It is usually un-fakeable.  For example, only a healthy antelope can afford huge antlers.  Similarly, only a healthy peacock can afford a long and lustrous tail feathers.  To start with, an animal needs plenty of nutrition (i.e. physical fitness) to build and maintain a sexual ornament in top condition.  Sexual ornaments also adds more handicap, often in the form of burden over animal’s ability to move around freely.

For the huge cost that an animal suffers, sexual ornaments usually have zero utility value.  They don’t help the animal to fend a predator, catch/gather food, shelter from nature or increase the longevity.  If at all, sexual ornaments increases the animal’s chances of dying an early death!  If you think for a moment, there is a common theme for all sexual ornaments: Only I can afford the wastage!

In his wonderful book The Mating Mind, psychologist Geoffrey Miller puts forward a hypothesis that the brain developed as a sexual ornament.  During the initial days, Miller proposes, women selected men for men’s ability to excite and entertain the women.  Over time, pressurized by choosy women, men ended up developing larger and larger brain.  Of course, women were not left behind either.  They needed to evolve an equally intelligent brain to appreciate what men produced.

These are some of the implications of Miller’s ‘ornament brain’:

  • In a romantic situation, wastage (and luxury) is essential.  Waste is what keeps a fitness indicator honest!  A act or gift of high romance usually carries huge cost on the giver, but zero utility value to the receiver (e.g. diamond, flower, poetry, etc.)
  • Brain evolved as an entertainment system; we eventually hijacked it for doing rocket science
  • All activities that put a high demand on the brain are perceived as sexy.  Examples are singers, sportsmen (excelling in sports is a matter of the brain; not just the brawn), actors, poets, etc.  Of course, if you work in Intel you might find nerdyness sexy too!
  • Men are major producers and women are major consumers
  • While men are usually busy searching for women who would appreciate their sexual ornament, women are busy sifting through all suitors.  It is wrong to think that women don’t actively participate in the mate selection process.
  • Monogamous species do not have to develop sexual ornamentation (in all monogamous species, both the sexes look identical).  Humans developed sexual ornamentation because they were (moderately) polygynous (at best, serially monogamous) by nature.
29 Oct

Honest Signal

Honest Signal

There is a term called “honest signalling” in evolutionary biology.  It is not a new insight, but it is going to form basis for some of the key discussions we are going to have in the future.

Peacock’s tail is a wonderful example of a honest signal.  The luxury of the tail fathers correlates well with the fitness level of the animal which carries it.  A peacock with lower fitness can’t fake a luxurious tail feathers.  So, peahens have come to use the fitness of the tail feathers as a primary mate selection criteria.

Gazelles are known to stot (quadruple jumping) in the presence of a predator.  By stotting, the gazelles  signal their fitness level to the predator (Hey, look, I am very fit.   No use chasing me.  Find someone else easy).  As a weaker animal can’t stot as well as a fitter animal, stotting turns out to be a honest signal.

In humans, wealth indicators are easily understandable honest signals.  A Rolls Royce car is a honest signal of one’s financial resources.  Or, a Nobel prize is a reliable indicator of one’s mental resources.  Great skin, shining nails or lustrous hair is a honest signal of someone’s physical fitness.  But with humans, there is one ‘not so obvious’ fitness indicator: The Brain!

While a Nobel prize might be a reliable indicator of one’s cognitive resources (but then again, several Nobel prize winners had notoriously troubled family lives), brain itself is thought of as a honest signals of an individual’s genetic fitness.  In a wonderful book Mating Mind (which has cart load of politically incorrect assertions), Geoffrey Miller claims that the large humans brain evolved as a honest signals of genetic fitness.

No other animal has evolved large brain because large brain is a pain.  Consider these:

  • Large brain is simply redundant for eking out a life on this planet.  After all, none of the other animals have bothered to evolve a large brain.
  • Our brain is metabolically very expensive.  We end up spending about one fifth of our energy budget on the upkeep of the brain.
  • Large brain makes child birth a very risky venture for both the mother and the child.
  • Large brain made it difficult and awkward for us to move quickly like most of our primate cousins could.

A large brain has loaded us with plenty of disadvantages.  There must have been some compelling evolutionary advantage that the large brain brought us.  Otherwise, evolution would have weeded it out.

If we think that the intelligence of a large brain gave us any survival advantage, you may  be wrong.  After all, till the advent of agriculture, our life was hardly any different from that of any other animal on the planet.  We were not even the top predators on earth, even though we evolved our large brains some 200,000 years ago!  Why did we go through so much of trouble and evolve such large brain if it didn’t afford us any survival advantage?

Geoffrey Miller argues that a large brain evolved as a honest signal of the genetic fitness of the individual who carries it.  So, we have probably come to regard all ‘products of mind’ highly.

This has several interesting implications.  We will address them tomorrow.