Problem Solving That Removes Warning Signs

When we make some change, there are sometimes visible bad results. These are a clue that there are likely also hidden bad results. If we come up with a solution targeted only at the visible bad results, we often leave the hidden bad results in place and make them harder to find and fix.

For example, the processing they do to vegetable oil makes it taste bad. The bad taste is a visible problem. It indicates the processed oil may be unhealthy. We’re lucky to have a warning we did something wrong. Some problems come with no warnings. However, companies responded by removing the bad taste from the oil. They didn’t take the warning seriously and investigate what hard-to-see problems it warns us of. And removing the taste in a factory hides the warning from consumers. Most consumers don’t know that they are eating something which tasted bad at an early stage in the process.

No consumer would think it was reasonable to take rotten food out of trash, which tastes bad, and then subject it to an industrial procedure which removes all the flavor – and then sell it to people who don’t know it used to taste bad. What’s done with vegetable oil is somewhat like that.

Another example involves the modern lifestyle and processed food diet in general. It led to some known problems. These problems were then dealt with. But maybe those problems were valuable warnings and a bunch of other less-visible problems were not dealt with. Concretely, they fortify some of our foods with things like vitamin A, C or D to address visible problems like scurvy or rickets. They know that their processing removed vitamins and other nutrients. Then they put a few things back into the food to prevent the most visible problems people have. But they don’t put all the missing nutrients back. And then consider the nutrients they know about and can re-add reasonably effectively. Vitamin supplements are often less effectively than eating whole foods containing the same vitamins. But even supposing it works, how much do they re-add? Enough to prevent visible problems. Not the optimal amount for health. Vitamin D recommendations and fortifications are based on studies of bone health and giving people enough to avoid rickets. However, vitamin D is useful for other things besides bone health, and the recommendations and fortifications are significantly lower than what our ancestors would have gotten from their diet and lifestyle (vitamin D comes partly from food and partly from sun exposure from UVB rays). So natural health and paleo diet type people recommend more vitamin D than the food companies fortify their foods with.

Another example is I have heard that it’s bad to punish your dog for growling. Growling is an early warning sign of a problem. If you get your dog to stop growling, then it may e.g. attack another dog without warning. (I haven’t fact checked this.)

Sometimes we go out of our way to get early warnings. An example is bringing canaries into coal mines. You could see a canary dying as a problem and solve it by keeping the canary at home. But then it’d be harder to know about more important problems like gasses building up towards explosion in a mine. Solving the problem by keeping the canary at home seems absurd in this context, but people often take similar actions for other issues.

This is partly related to how a lot of problem solving is (often accidentally) aimed at symptoms rather than underlying causes. People often try to fix the immediate problem they see instead of digging deeper to understand what’s really going wrong. By fixing the visible problem, they can cover up some other problems, accidentally or intentionally. Problem symptoms should often be seen as valuable warnings that help us know where to investigate, rather than as things to get rid of ASAP.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Health “Experts” Betrayed America

They’ve known, mostly for over 30 years, that:

  • we need to eat some omega 3 (n3) and omega 6 (n6) fats
  • ratio of n3 to n6 fats is a big deal
  • n3 and n6 compete with each other in some ways
  • n3 helps with antioxidants and reducing inflammation
  • n6 leads to more free radicals and inflammation
  • 1:1 is a good ratio
  • humans historically ate roughly the 1:1 ratio
  • some people eating a regular diet with a lot of vegetable oil get very skewed ratios like 1:20, sometimes worse
  • n6 fats (high ratio) cause weight in rats and mice given equal calories eaten
  • vegetable oils have a lot of n6 fats (both amount and ratio)
  • algae has a lot of n3, and is eaten by fish, so fish are a good n3 source
  • if you eat a ton of n6 from vegetable oil, then supplementing some fish oil pills for n3, or eating fish a couple times a week, will not get your ratio anywhere near 1:1 (it still helps some)
  • the only realistic way to get a good n3:n6 ratio is to limit vegetable oil consumption
  • reducing vegetable oil consumption requires reducing processed and restaurant food
  • most vegetable oil people eat isn’t on purpose. a typical person who stops buying any bottles of vegetable oil, but makes no other changes, will still eat way too much vegetable oil
  • you are what you eat. your body is literally made out of food you ate
  • if you eat more n6, you end up with more n6 in your body, e.g. in your muscles
  • n6 is less stable than n3 or n9 to light, heat and oxygen
  • building your body out of less stable molecules is bad. that can lead to free radicals, inflammation and all sorts of illnesses including cancer. less stable molecules means damage is more common which means stuff breaks more … which means heart attacks, strokes, chronic illnesses, etc.
  • evolution designs plants with the most stable molecules it can. (I mean, due to selection pressure, plants with more stable molecules evolutionarily outcompete plants with less stable molecules). one of the main limiting factors for plants is they don’t want their fat to freeze. so plants use different fats depending on where they grew. tropical coconuts have the most stable molecules. Mediterranean olives have medium molecule stability which will stay liquid at temperatures they face. and the seeds for vegetable oil grow in cold climates like Russia and Ukraine, and have to use more unstable n6 fats that will stay liquid at those temperatures.
  • animal bodies being made of lower amounts of n6 correlates well with longer lifespan. source
  • regions where humans eat more n6 correlate with more coronary heart disease. source
  • there’s some kind of modern health crisis that they need to figure out

Scientists knew this in 1993. And they still knew it in 2017. It wasn’t ignored because it was wrong; it wasn’t refuted; some scientists are still doing new experiments about basically the same issue and trying to get the word out. But the amount of vegetable oil in our diet has continued to go up, reaching roughly 20% of American calories in 2022. They knew this was hurting people for decades and they kept doing it.

Industry knows it too, which is why they’ve been trying to create modified vegetable oils with more n9 instead of n6 (making it more like olive oil).

But the government and health authorities keep telling people that vegetable oil lowers cholesterol and is therefore good, and to avoid animal fats because they contain more saturated fats. The US government continues subsidizing growing plants that vegetable oils are made of, especially soy and corn.

(What happens to the remaining plant material from soy or corn after vegetable oil is squeezed out? It’s used for animal feed, especially for chickens and pigs, but also for farm-raised fish, cows and more. Chicken is not a food that human beings traditionally/historically ate much of, and pigs were problematic in ancient times due to disease risk which led to some major religions forbidding eating pig. Pushing our diet to more of those animals, instead of cows/goats/sheep/ruminants, is unnatural and has downsides. Wild caught fish is also a traditional/historical food.)

The American Heart Association and Harvard Don’t Care About Your Health

The mainstream health “authorities” are unwilling to tell people to reduce vegetable oil consumption. They advise eating too much n6 and won’t acknowledge that many people are eating even more than their recommendation. They keep trying to tell everyone not to reduce eating n6. A ton of what Americans eat is grain, sugar/sweeteners and vegetable oil, and the elites/“experts” want to maintain that status quo.

Harvard put out a 2019 articled called No need to avoid healthy omega-6 fats. Quotes:

The benefits of omega-3 fats from fatty fish and likely from plant sources like flaxseeds and walnuts are well known.

The n3 in flaxseeds is the wrong type. Our bodies can convert it to the right type. But people estimate the conversion is 3-10% effective. In other words, if you eat 100 grams of n3 in flax seeds, you get the same benefit as eating 3-10 grams of n3 from fish. Plus flaxseeds have n6 in them. Flax isn’t the solution here. I guess they know this and are being dishonest.

Omega-6 fats, which we get mainly from vegetable oils, are also beneficial. They lower harmful LDL cholesterol and boost protective HDL. They help keep blood sugar in check by improving the body's sensitivity to insulin. Yet these fats don't enjoy the same sunny reputation as omega-3 fats.

There are a few studies (not many, not enough) that look at health outcomes instead of just easy-to-measure markers/proxies like LDL. Some found that vegetable oil did indeed lower LDL (that’s uncontroversial) but that the people eating vegetable oil nevertheless had worse health outcomes (e.g. more heart attacks and deaths). Lower LDL is not necessarily a good thing.

The critics argue that we should cut back on our intake of omega-6 fats to improve the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6s. Hogwash, says the American Heart Association (AHA). In a science advisory that was two years in the making, nine independent researchers from around the country, including three from Harvard, say that data from dozens of studies support the cardiovascular benefits of eating omega-6 fats (Circulation, Feb. 17, 2009). "Omega-6 fats are not only safe but they are also beneficial for the heart and circulation," says advisory coauthor Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Do you see how hard they’re trying to get you to eat lots of vegetable oil?

The latest nutrition guidelines call for consuming unsaturated fats like omega-6 fats in place of saturated fat. The AHA, along with the Institute of Medicine, recommends getting 5% to 10% of your daily calories from omega-6 fats.

So the title says not to reduce n6 intake. And it’s “hogwash” that we should cut back on n6 intake.

But also 5-10% of our calories should be n6. If we get 20% of our calories from vegetable oil, that’s roughly 10% n6 right there without considering what else we eat.

And where did the 5-10% range come from? Historically humans ate under 5%, which is the recommendation you get from Paleo people, vegetable oil critics, etc. And that’s an amount you can easily get without trying even if you stop eating vegetable oils.

So first of all the average American is already over 10% of their calories being n6, and a lot of people are above average so they’re further over that recommendation. Yet they’re being told not to cut back on eating n6.

And second, the 5-10% recommendation seems like they maybe made it up just to legitimize current vegetable oil intake, not based on any medical reason. It’s maybe because it’s their way of trying to tell you to eat less animal fat, so they are setting a high n6 recommendation to balance out a low animal fat recommendation (for no good reason). They know our n3:n6 ratios are skewed to n6, and they know that’s bad, but for some reason they keep trying to tell us not to reduce n6.

Here’s a source with n6 intake recommendations. It says: In 1992, the European Scientific Committee on Food advised getting 2% of your calories from n6 (roughly 6 grams). In 2009, The European Food Safety Authority said to limit n6 to 10 grams per day (that’s 3.3% based on 2%=6g). In 2002, the Food and Nutrition Board of the U.S. Institute of Medicine recommended around 13.5 grams (that’s 4.5% based on 2%=6g). The Japan Society for Lipid Nutrition recommended 3-4% n6. The World Health Organization recommended 2.5-9%. Those are all under 5% except the WHO which gives a large range with a bigger top number. I think the WHO gave a larger maximum about based on the hypothesis that n6 lowers cholesterol and therefore reduces heart attacks, and based on hostility to saturated/animal fat. The website says other recommendations were based more on avoiding a deficiency rather than eating extra n6 on purpose to try to gain a special health benefit like reducing heart attacks.

Most Americans eat more omega-6 fats than omega-3 fats, on average about 10 times more. A low intake of omega-3 fats is not good for cardiovascular health, so bringing the two into better balance is a good idea. But don't do this by cutting back on healthy omega-6 fats. Instead, add some extra omega-3s.

Telling people with 1:10 ratios to just eat some more n3s is bad advice. That won’t work. Raising their n3 consumption by 10x (without overeating on total calories) is way too hard. And a lot of people have a worse ratio than average and are hearing this advice. And some other sources claim the average is more like 1:20 not 1:10.

To avoid any reduction in vegetable oil (since it says not to cut back on n6) while raising n3 that much, the’d probably have to cut out lots of fruits and veggies, and other stuff. Their diet would be focused on eating the vegetable oil then enough high n3 foods like fish to try to make up for it, with a limited amount of space left in their diet for other stuff.

Instead, it makes way more sense to just eat less vegetable oil. But most mainstream health “experts” don’t want to say that. Are they shills for industry? Genuinely convinced that eating so much vegetable oil is going to save us from heart attacks any day now? Or do they have some other massive bias unrelated to truth and reason? It’s hard to come up with a better explanation.

Read The Science

I’ll close with the beginning of that 2017 scientific paper which I linked earlier:


Soybean oil consumption is increasing worldwide and parallels a rise in obesity. Rich in unsaturated fats, especially linoleic acid [omega 6], soybean oil is assumed to be healthy, and yet it induces obesity, diabetes, insulin resistance, and fatty liver in mice. Here, we show that the genetically modified soybean oil Plenish, which came on the U.S. market in 2014 and is low in linoleic acid, induces less obesity than conventional soybean oil in C57BL/6 male mice. […] While Plenish induced less insulin resistance than conventional soybean oil, it resulted in hepatomegaly and liver dysfunction as did olive oil, which has a similar fatty acid composition. […]


While humans have been cultivating soybeans for ~5000 years1, soybean oil has become a substantial part of our diet only in the last few decades2. This increase in soybean oil consumption is due in part to a reaction to large-scale population studies in the 1950s and 60s, which showed that a typical American diet rich in saturated fats from animal products was linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease3,4. It was subsequently assumed that most if not all saturated fats are unhealthy and conversely that all unsaturated fats are healthy, this despite the ambiguity of evidence of cardio-protective effects of vegetable oils, which are rich in unsaturated fats5,6. Similarly, it was assumed that whatever is healthy for the heart is also healthy for the rest of the body although this assumption was never rigorously tested7,8. Nonetheless, vegetable oil, and, in particular, soybean oil, began to replace animal fat in the American diet starting in the 1970s, resulting in an exponential rise in soybean oil consumption that parallels the increase in obesity in the U.S. and worldwide2,9,10. Indeed, soybean oil is the component in the American diet that has increased the most in the last 100 years2. It constitutes >60% of all edible vegetable oil consumption in the U.S11. and is ubiquitous in the American diet, especially in cooking oil and processed foods.

Soybean oil is comprised of primarily polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), particularly linoleic acid (LA, C18:2), an omega-6 (ω6) fatty acid that makes up ~55% of soybean oil.

I think this topic is disturbing, says really negative things about mainstream elites/experts/authorities (including government and large companies), and should get people to be less trusting. (Lots of small companies are untrustworthy too, but there’s more variance; some are better.)

Some other health topics where more knowledge also reduced my trust in the status quo include: sunscreen, caffeine, decaf tea and coffee, MSG, milk homogenization, food dye, and olive and avocado oil fraud (which is poorly policed by government or industry).

We don’t live in an adequate, safe, competent, trustworthy world.

Disclaimer: I’m not a health expert or scientist. This is not diet or medical advice. On the other hand, I’m an expert critical thinker. Judging arguments and finding errors is something I’m good at. So when I say don’t trust the experts, I’m speaking as an expert ;)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Tribalist Medical Journal Editors

The Art of Problem Solving: Accompanied by Ackoff's Fables (1978):


Early in the war against cancer the medical profession's battle against smoking began. Numerous studies were published showing that smoking and lung cancer were positively associated. This could not be contradicted, but the inference drawn from such studies—that smoking causes cancer—could be. Again, smoking may be a cause of lung cancer, but their correlation is not an adequate basis for asserting that it is.

One study published in a prominent medical journal showed a strong positive correlation between per capita consumption of tobacco and the incidence of lung cancer over a number of countries. A causal connection was incorrectly inferred. To show that this was the case, Aesop used the same data on per capita consumption of tobacco for the same countries but substituted the incidence rate of cholera. He obtained a negative correlation that was stronger than the positive correlation revealed in the article. Using the same logic as that which appeared in the original article, Aesop prepared another article almost identical to the original except for the conclusion; he concluded that smoking prevents cholera. He submitted this article to the same medical journal in which the original article had appeared. It was rejected because, according to the referees, it was facetious. Aesop wrote to the editor admitting that he had been facetious, but then, was this not true of the original article? Why, he asked, had it been published? He received no reply.

Ackoff wrote some good stuff about how correlation and causation are different, but people keep mixing them up. This is one of the stories he shared about it.

The journal’s unwillingness to correct errors or discuss anything – and publication bias for correlation-based conclusions they agree with – is really worrying. It shows how irrational academic journals are. They sure don’t have Paths Forward or other reasonable error correction mechanisms, transparency mechanisms, critical debate mechanisms, etc.

I contacted a journal about DD misquoting Turing. They wouldn’t fix it. But I’m just a random guy who emailed them. Ackoff has high status. He’s a prestigious author, a successful professor and consultant, etc. He gets access to lots of status-gated opportunities.

Despite Ackoff’s status, the journal wouldn’t engage with him. High status is often ignored when people don’t like what you’re doing/saying. Also, low status is sometimes ignored when people like what you’re doing/saying. So how important is status, really? How much is it just an excuse people use? It’s not really an excuse because they generally don’t say it, and it’s pretty common to deny deciding by status.

Is status a tiebreaker among people with the right conclusions, but in-group/out-group type stuff takes precedence? They choose between acceptable people by status, but high status out-group members are treated differently. Is tribalism just more important than status? They do give Putin some special treatment due to his status despite him being out-group – too much, actually. I think that’s partly because they actually see him as kinda in-group – a fellow politician. They don’t want to assassinate Putin because he’s in the same category as them – world leader – and they don’t want world leaders like themselves to be assassinated. They’d rather 100,000 citizens die in war than raise the risk that they get assassinated.

Ackoff is in-group for many purposes but when he questioned their anti-smoking propaganda he was out-group. Even though I don’t think he’s actually pro-smoking, just pro-logic/reason/correctness. I read Ackoff as wanting high standards for scholarship and truth-seeking, and being anti-bias. And that is in fact not what the journal editors are like. It’s what they lie that they’re like. But you’re supposed to use those things as tactics to show you’re superior to actual out-groups like churches/pastors, win debates, push for the elite agenda, etc. You’re not supposed to challenge the rationality of other people in the group. They’re a bunch of fakers who don’t like being exposed.

So anyway, the simple explanation I came up with that seems plausible is that tribalism trumps status. Status is primarily for ranking people within the same tribe. It applies much less, and somewhat differently, for cross-tribe comparisons.

Disclaimer: This is just a quick, initial theory. I’m thinking out loud. This is not something I’m confident about. Criticism and alternatives are welcome.

Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand wrote some relevant stuff, e.g. in The Virtue of Selfishness:

One cannot offer a literary masterpiece, “when one has become rich and famous,” to a following one has acquired by writing trash.

The status you gained with your fans doesn’t transfer well if you change who/what you are. They liked you for one thing but won’t automatically like you for something else. Status can be pretty specific and non-transferable. You can’t just gain status with a group then say/do stuff that challenges that group – then you’re acting like the out-group (and, worse, a traitor – someone who left the in-group for the out-group instead of being born and raised into the out-group).

Similarly, if a physicist comes up with weird ideas about polyamory, their status as a smart physics person will not get many people to listen. People will just say they’re good at one thing but bad at something else. Specialization is common. Even smart people have weaknesses and can be cranks or conspiracy theorists about something else. (Imagine how fast people will turn on you if you say UFOs are real or the Earth is flat. It’s really hard to even get a hearing for that, and get any debate about it, even if you’re already very high status. Especially if you say it in public. If you say it to one person individually, they’ll know your public status is still high, and you could hurt their status, and you could deny having said it, so they’re still under pressure to get along with you, so they might try to say non-committal stuff and the kind of person who actually debates stuff might engage in some debate.)

There’s a bunch of stuff related to status in The Fountainhead including about second-handedness as well as salons, drawing rooms and dinner parties. And there are the pretzel comments:

The battle lasted for weeks. Everybody had his say, except Roark. Lansing told him: “It’s all right. Lay off. Don’t do anything. Let me do the talking. There’s nothing you can do. When facing society, the man most concerned, the man who is to do the most and contribute the most, has the least say. It’s taken for granted that he has no voice and the reasons he could offer are rejected in advance as prejudiced—since no speech is ever considered, but only the speaker. It’s so much easier to pass judgment on a man than on an idea. Though how in hell one passes judgment on a man without considering the content of his brain is more than I’ll ever understand. However, that’s how it’s done. You see, reasons require scales to weigh them. And scales are not made of cotton. And cotton is what the human spirit is made of—you know, the stuff that keeps no shape and offers no resistance and can be twisted forward and backward and into a pretzel. You could tell them why they should hire you so very much better than I could. But they won’t listen to you and they’ll listen to me. Because I’m the middleman. The shortest distance between two points is not a straight line—it’s a middleman. And the more middlemen, the shorter. Such is the psychology of a pretzel.”

And that comes up again later:

Kent Lansing said, one evening: “Heller did a grand job. Do you remember, Howard, what I told you once about the psychology of a pretzel? Don’t despise the middleman. He’s necessary. Someone had to tell them. It takes two to make every great career: the man who is great, and the man—almost rarer—who is great enough to see greatness and say so.”

Another quote:

“We have to have the Palmers,” she said, “so that we can get the commission for their new store building. We have to get that commission so that we can entertain the Eddingtons for dinner on Saturday. The Eddingtons have no commissions to give, but they’re in the Social Register. The Palmers bore you and the Eddingtons snub you. But you have to flatter people whom you despise in order to impress other people who despise you.”


He had forgotten his first building, and the fear and doubt of its birth. He had learned that it was so simple. His clients would accept anything, so long as he gave them an imposing façade, a majestic entrance and a regal drawing room, with which to astound their guests. It worked out to everyone’s satisfaction: Keating did not care so long as his clients were impressed, the clients did not care so long as their guests were impressed, and the guests did not care anyway.

Journal editors seem to care more about an imposing façade, majestic entrance and regal drawing room to impress the public than about integrity, science or truth.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Do You Really, Actually, Genuinely Want Unbounded Discussion?

When people post in the Unbounded section of my forum, and claim that they wanted unbounded discussion and criticism, I broadly don’t believe them. I tend to treat it like somewhat less bounded discussion.

What could people do to convince me that they actually want unbounded criticism?

You could build up a positive reputation by responding well to criticism and other comments, and by putting effort into learning. That helps. And there are other reasons to do those things. But there are also more direct approaches.

You could show knowledge of what unbounded criticism looks like. You could write some essays attempting to do unbounded criticism of some example stuff. One good source of examples/targets is public intellectuals. They’re suitable because there is public information available to discuss, they say some somewhat intellectual things, they have volunteered to be criticized, and they have generally already been flamed a lot and developed a thick skin so they won’t be hurt if some random guy on some random forum says something negative about them (even if they actually saw it). I think some of them can read their own subreddit, read some negative comments, and be emotionally OK. Others can’t, but they are frauds who should consider changing professions and leaving more room for other more deserving intellectuals to get attention. To be clear, this is not a comment on celebrities – just the intellectuals who claim to be rational. There is no particular reason someone good at acting, singing or sports should be good at being insulted or criticized, but intellectuals should be good at it. This particularly applies to the sort of intellectual who debates people, says they’re involved in truth seeking, says they’re smart and have good ideas, or something like that.

You could write self-criticism.

You could engage in highly critical debates and share them.

You could explain what you did to become emotionally stable.

You could explain what problems you identified and solved to become better at taking criticism.

You could find and read things I’ve written about various types of criticism that people sometimes don’t like. You could respond to and discuss those articles and ideas. There are some in Being Open to Debate (and Judging Intellectuals) and there are many more you could find elsewhere.

You could brainstorm more things that could go on this list and do those.

You could read some of my past debates and comment on some of the criticism I said. You could share thoughts and opinions on parts where people got upset by criticism. You could talk about what happened, how they could have had a better perspective, where in the debate you could see things going wrong, what early warnings signs there were (and how you could identify those in yourself), etc. You could also do this with other debates that didn’t include me.

You could talk about what you’ve done to become less biased and what you’ve done to test that it worked. You could do similar things regarding being social, second-handed, and more.

You could talk about the purpose and meaning of unbounded discussion. What are the upsides? Downsides? Why do it or not? What’s it like? How does it end? What rules, guidelines or limits are there?

When someone says they want unbounded criticism, but I’m not sure they’ve even read a single example of someone reacting negatively to some of my unconventional criticism, and they don’t explain any self-improvement projects they’ve done to gain the very-hard-to-acquire super power of actually wanted unbounded criticism, then I’m not really going to believe them.

Ultimately, you have to put effort into being good at unbounded discussion. If you’ve actually put in a lot of effort, you could communicate about that. If you don’t share about any effort – what you did, how it went, etc. – then I’ll probably just guess that you didn’t do it.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

I Less Often Reply to Anons

I reply less to short term, temporary identities. Why?

They don’t have a positive reputation. They haven’t shown any past willingness to put in effort, past knowledge, etc. They’re just throwaway accounts.

People often repeat the same mistakes. When they use a consistent name, I can know what to expect from them. I can work around those mistakes, or not reply when I know it's repeating something that already came up before, or refer back to a prior conversation.

If a new person makes a mistake for the first time, I’d handle that differently than an existing person making a mistake for the tenth time. With a new anonymous account, I can’t tell which case I’m dealing with. So it’s hard to answer.

I could ask a question but that brings us to another problem. Anonymous people are less persistent. They more often leave at any moment in the discussion. Asking a clarifying question is investing in the future – it’s doing something with no immediate benefit for me right now in hopes of maybe getting something good in the future like a better conversation. That is generally not an investment I want to make with anonymous people who might leave at any moment.

What can anonymous posters do to help with these problems? Here are some ideas: Put higher effort into your posts, and make the effort visible – e.g. say what your goal is and what actions you already took to try to accomplish that goal. If you couldn’t find the information on google, say that instead of just asking a question that I might think you could answer by googling. Provide more upfront value instead of potential later value. Address why you’re anonymous – e.g. if you want privacy for a specific personal topic, I’ll be more sympathetic since that reason makes sense. You could also direct message me your identity if you just want anonymity from the general public. You could also make stated commitments about how much you’ll persist in the discussion, however that doesn’t work well when you can just break your word and switch names.

Having no reputation to protect can result in worse behaviors.

I have talked multiple times about how to ask better and higher effort questions. I’ve talked about explaining your ongoing, independent, autonomous problem solving process, what you already did, and where you got stuck. When people ignore this, I respond less. When short term anonymous accounts ignore it, I don’t really have a good option except to ignore them. Trying to tell someone about higher effort questions is a reasonable option with a persistent identity which I can tell once or twice, and then if they keep doing it I can point out it’s a recurring problem. I sometimes like to talk about patterns of errors. They’re an important issue. I might or might not want to do that with a persistent identity. But if it’s an anonymous account, they could do the error ten times on ten different anonymous accounts without me knowing there’s a pattern. They could be a very bad listener without me seeing what’s going on. Having short term anonymous names, and switching them, deprives me of information about the problems in the conversations, and makes the conversation even less like an unbounded, rational conversation with ongoing long term problem solving.

In general, I’m trying to demonstrate other people’s flaws to them less, even if asked, but especially if not asked. It’s not my job to point out their errors. And I certainly want to do that less with anonymous accounts that’ll probably not appreciate it and will probably just stop responding. Or they might get upset, be a jerk about it, say things they shouldn’t have … and then switch identities for the next conversation so that I’ll underestimate the risk of the new anon getting triggered. (I’m also more distrusting of explicit appreciation or praise than I used to be. The majority of the time it’s actually done for manipulative reasons, not as part of the pursuit of objective truth. That’s very foreign to how I think and act, but I’ve come to accept that it’s widespread. Note: This does not mean that you should cut back on praise or appreciation comments. I do not prefer that and I’m not requesting it. For more of what I think about that, see Specialist Creators with Small Audiences.)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Beware Processed Food

There seems to be broad agreement that something significant is currently going wrong with health in the modern world. It seems related to food, obesity, diabetes, heart attacks and more. It affects some countries, like the USA, more than others.

There is widespread disagreement about the underlying cause. What should we blame? Fat, sodium, gluten, carbs, overeating, under-exercising, lectins, meat, dairy, soy, sugar, caffeine, vaccines, microwaves, chemical additives, pesticides or GMOs? A lot of potential culprits involve what people eat, though some don’t.

My current, tentative understanding/opinion/conclusion is that there’s something bad about the modern, industrial, mass-produced American/Western diet with its heavily processed food. We don’t know exactly what it is, but something in our food and beverages is bad. Disclaimer: I am not an expert on food and this is not diet advice.

People see improvements on many different alternative diets, particularly diets that have already worked OK for a culture for hundreds of years. The common theme for why many diets work appears to be that they cut down on processed foods and eat more whole foods. There seems to be a pattern there.

Our heavy reliance on a small number of foods (including over half our calories from 4 seeds) seems bad. Eating more variety is generally better.

If I’m right, not all diets would help. An example diet that doesn’t reduce processed foods well is a vegan diet that uses fake substitute foods, like fake meats and cheeses, which are designed to resemble the real thing. Replacing a burger with a portobello mushroom, slice of eggplant or black beans is fine but obviously a different food. Replacing a burger with soy (Impossible Burger) or pea protein (Beyond Burger), plus refined vegetable oil, may taste like a lot like a burger, but it’s probably less healthy than a burger, not an improvement. Be wary of highly processed recipes meant to mimic real foods.

Similarly, some people eat a gluten free diet with highly processed substitutes like gluten free bread and pasta. Another diet that doesn’t cut processed foods is trying to eat a low fat version of the regular industrial diet, or any other version of the regular diet with a few specific things removed. Eating an “organic” version of the regular industrial diet also probably wouldn’t help much. Note that none of these questionable diets are traditional diets; instead, they’re all variants of the modern industrial diet.

Vegetable oils are commonly added to processed foods and might be one of the main problems. They’re a heavily processed food in their own right. They’re made with stuff like high heat, solvents, bleaching agents, etc. Note: “Vegetable oil” is a misleading name which mostly means seed oil and soybean oil, but excludes olive, coconut or avocado oil (which are commonly made with less processing).

Factory farms (and fish farms) mass-produce meat with poor living conditions and unnatural diets for the animals (the diets often involve a lot of US-government-subsidized soy and corn). The animals become unhealthy so the farms add bandaid solutions to cover up the problems, such as antibiotics and heartburn medication. They’ve also bred the animals to be significantly different than wild or historical animals, and the breeding wasn’t designed or tested for health, safety or nutrition. The breeding had other goals like producing a lot of meat quickly with less food, producing a large volume of milk, laying a large number of eggs, etc. (It’s easy to imagine how an animal that produces more milk, muscle or egg might have less nutrients in each ounce of food. Breeding larger plants could similarly dilute nutrients.)

Large plant farms overuse fertilizers and pesticides to cover up problems created from poor, unnatural growing conditions like dense monocrops. And they’ve bred and genetically modified the crops based on concerns like getting more food to market more cheaply, not health or safety. So our plants are different than what humans ate in the past. One thing they’ve done is breed plants to resist pesticides like Roundup so that they can use more of it (but, to borrow a quip, they neglected to also breed humans to resist Roundup). Another change is dwarf wheat (wheat with short stalks, since we don’t eat the stalk – this change might be fine; I don’t know). They’ve bred the parts of plants that we eat to be larger.

Note: There have been some efforts to modify plants for nutrition, such as golden rice, which has more vitamin A. Golden rice could reduce blindness and the deaths of children in poorer countries. Last I checked, they had a lot of trouble getting people to eat golden rice due to the golden color, and it’s a tragedy. Consumers can be unreceptive to plants designed for health rather than color, size, taste, texture, etc.

Here are some aspects of processed foods and the modern industrial diet, which could be good to reduce or avoid:

  • Over-eating the foods that the US government subsidies (e.g. wheat, corn, soy, dairy, factory farmed meat)
  • Eating foods unintentionally, without realizing you’re eating them. (They put soy, corn and vegetable oils in a bunch of packaged and restaurant foods. People apparently eat multiple tablespoons per day of vegetable oil without knowing. A lot of corn and soy is also mixed into other foods without people realizing what they’re eating)
  • Factory farms, processed meats, farm-raised fish. (One of the problems here is feeding a bunch of soy and corn to the animals instead of their normal diet, so you’re indirectly eating corn and soy)
  • Additives including: vegetable oils, gums, fillers, dyes, preservatives, artificial flavors, sweeteners. Generally watch out for any packaged food with a long list of ingredients (especially with weird names that you don’t recognize as a regular food)
  • Candy, chips (with vegetable oil), processed snack food
  • Drinking caffeine and alcohol
  • Processed drinks like soda and juice
  • Food extracts rather than whole foods. (The most concerning extracts require modern machinery or chemistry to get, and use things like solvents, bleaches, high pressure or high heat)
  • Shipping food long distances. (E.g. picking slightly unripe fruit in South America, where it’s warm when North America is cold, then shipping it to the U.S., then spraying it to change the color to look riper than it is. Maybe long distance shipping is fine if the food is effectively preserved first, e.g. by freezing, dehydrating, salting, pickling, canning, etc., but maybe not by adding modern preservative chemicals or just refrigerating it)

One can accept some ideas like this while remaining fairly neutral on specific diet ideas like: carnivore diet, paleo, keto, Mediterranean, vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, dairy free, etc. And you can still pick some of those that you agree with since they’re compatible with the anti-processed-foods ideas. But if in doubt about diet, and trying to be moderate/conservative, then less processed food and more whole foods looks like a good approach. There seems to be something wrong with the modern industrial diet even if we don’t know specifically what’s wrong.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert on food. I have not extensively researched this. I am not offering advice or recommendations about what you personally should do. I’m just thinking out loud.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Plants vs. Mammals (Energy, Digestion, Broad Conceptual Explanations, and the Lion Diet)


This is not diet advice. I’m not a diet, nutrition or medical expert. And I’m not saying to stop eating plants. My guess is that a meat-only diet is a bad idea for most people. My article does not reach specific, actionable diet conclusions. These are incomplete, exploratory thoughts based partly on limited, initial research. I’m posting this primarily to allow for criticism or feedback, plus as an example of how to begin looking into an issue. This could also point people to some resources they could read which they might not have found otherwise. People should read resources from multiple sides of the debate, multiple perspectives, etc., before changing their diet. You should not try to use these ideas without doing your own research and forming your own opinions. I advise against making health-related decisions based on this article.


Why do we eat (and drink, breathe, and otherwise take external things into our bodies)? The high level answers is to get energy and mass.

Our bodies are made of atoms. We need to get atoms to grow as children. As adults, we need to build new cells, repair damage, and get some nutrients that we use in temporary ways (a bit like how cars need periodic oil changes).

In the abstract, we could eat anything with mass to get mass. Our actual eating is much more limited. We can’t turn stone into blood, bone or muscle. We can’t usefully eat dirt, wood or metal either (except some little bits here and there). To some extent, we need to eat the same atoms and molecules that our body is made with. And we need to eat things that we can digest. (We also get a bunch of mass from drinking water, and I don’t know how much from breathing.)

It’s hard to get a lot more specific, so let’s turn next to energy and see what we can figure out by thinking about energy.

Note that I’m not a scientist (nor historian, nor doctor). If someone knows of good sources of information from experts covering similar issues to what I discuss in this article, please share it. And if I got something wrong, please correct me. Thanks. What I am is a philosopher, so I know something about analyzing issues using conceptual explanations. I also know something about researching and learning about issues. So I’ve used those skills to hopefully figure out some useful explanations from a different perspective than other people bring.


Where does energy come from? The Big Bang. But that was in the distant past. The main sources of energy now are stars. Energy on Earth comes primarily from the sun that Earth orbits.

If you look at power plants we build, you can trace their energy back to the sun’s light shining on earth (with some exceptions like nuclear or geothermal).

Hydroelectric plants get power from the flow of rivers. That flow has energy. Why do rivers flow? They go down hill and the water is pulled by graviety. If they run down hill, why don’t they run dry? What replenishes them? What gets more water up to the top of the hill? Rain. Rain comes from clouds – a bunch of water in the sky. How does it get there? What makes the water go up into the sky? What lifts it against the force of gravity? The sun heats water (primarily from the oceans which are lower down than rivers) and evaporates it.

When we burn fossil fuels like coal or oil, the energy in them originally came from sunlight. The energy from burning wood or dung also came from the sun.

Solar power panels use sunlight directly.

Wind turbines rely on the sun to heat some air more than other air which leads to a flow of air. If there was no more energy coming from the sun, the air would calm down eventually stop moving around much (and after a very long time, stop entirely). For something to move around, there has to be an energy source.

So how can people get energy? The most obvious or direct answer is to get it from sunlight. That is what plants do. But we aren’t designed that way. We can’t just absorb the sunlight to power our bodies.

Since plants harness sunlight for energy, a second idea is to take energy from them. They can do photosynthesis and then we can eat them. This works, and we do it, but it has some drawbacks.

Plants vs. Animals

There has been an evolutionary battle for millennia between plants and animals (and let’s specifically focus on mammals).

Plants came first. They evolved to absorb energy from the sunlight. That powered them and let them grow. That is a good strategy for life. Plants also get mass from the air (carbon dioxide) and, secondarily, from the ground (water and nutrients). Carbon is one of the main things plants are made of, and many people don’t realize they get the majority of their mass from the air. That’s why you don’t get giant holes in the dirt where big trees grow. All that mass in the tree didn’t come from the dirt; only a little did. The tree got most of its mass from the air and rainwater (water provides hydrogen, and plants both use and excrete oxygen).

So plants replicate all over and use available resources (sunlight, air, water, dirt) to grow. Some plants also take advantage of other resources like wind or fire to help with some aspect of their life cycle (like spreading seeds to other locations).

Then, skipping some steps, along came mammals. What’s special about them? They don’t absorb sunlight directly. They can’t do photosynthesis. And they can move around. And they eat plants for energy.

Also, mammals live on land. The ocean is different because the water currents move things around without them having to move themselves. For everything I talk about, think of it happening on land not in the ocean (though a lot of it does apply in the ocean too).

The basic idea is, instead of getting sun energy, you eat plants. But if you can’t move, then you’d only be able to eat a couple plants before you run out of food. The strategy of eating plants has to be paired with moving around so you can eat plants in many locations.

Why don’t plants eat other plants? There aren’t enough plants to eat without being able to move. Plus growing a mouth and stomach is a lot of work.

Why don’t plants have legs to walk around? Legs take a lot of energy to grow and use. And it’s unnecessary. Plants don’t need to travel to get energy. Energy, in the from of sunlight, comes to them.

Wouldn’t it be nice for grass if it could run away from predators like cows to avoid being eaten? There’s an upside there. But the energy cost would be high. The grass would need legs and muscles. It’d need a brain to figure out when and where to run. It’d need eyes to see predators coming and see where it’s going. At that point, it’s sounding more like a rabbit than a blade of grass. Grass is really cheap and efficient, so it’s OK if some is eaten.

Why don’t rabbits do photosynthesis? They could run away from predators while having green backs and being powered by the sun. The problem is the sun doesn’t provide enough energy for that to work well. To support the rabbit lifestyle, more energy is needed.

The amount of energy you can get from the sun depends primarily on how large a surface you’re absorbing light from. If you harvest sun energy from a square foot, you’ll get way more energy than from a square inch.

Rabbits don’t have large enough backs to get enough energy. They can’t fit enough (organic, biological) solar panels on their backs.

To harvest the sunlight that falls on a larger area of land, rabbits can eat plants from a large area of land. They can use the plants as solar panels covering a whole e.g. square mile, then go around and collect that energy. Importantly, plants are also batteries. Eating a plant doesn’t just get you the sun energy from the last second. Plants still have some energy from sun that shined days ago (perhaps even years ago). So rabbits can get a lot of energy by eating plants covering a much larger surface area than their backs, and by letting the plants grow for a while (charge up their batteries) before eating them (they can eat one plant at a time while letting others grow).

So rabbits use a lot more energy than plants, but they also take in a lot more energy. The key elements of their strategy are being able to move around and being able to eat plants. So they need a way to travel (feet), a way to find plants (senses like sight and touch), their body to be in a portable bundle (skin), a way to take in plants (mouth) and a way to get energy from the plants (digestion – teeth, stomach, intestines).

Other mammals work broadly the same way as rabbits. Except predators. Another possible strategy, besides eating plants, is to eat rabbits. You can eat the things that eat the plants. The advantage is that they gathered a lot of energy in one place. The downside is they can move, so they’re harder to eat than stationary plants. Rabbits and other prey evolved many defense mechanisms including hiding and moving away from predators.

Humans can eat both plants and animals but not sunlight. What should we eat? What’s healthier or better, in broad terms?

People today broadly view eating plants as healthy, particularly fruit and vegetables. People seem somewhat more doubtful about whether meat is actually good for you or not, though most people enjoy eating meat and do eat it.

Plant Defenses

Rabbits don’t want to be eaten. They have defense mechanisms. So do plants. (That’s an approximation. Rabbits actually don’t want things. Their genes evolved under selection pressure to be good at replicating those genes. You can go read Richard Dawkins books if you want to know more about that. I’m not going to worry about being precise about evolution here.)

What do plants do to discourage being eaten?

Trees have armor called bark. I think it has other purposes too, but keeping stuff out of the middle of the tree is one purpose. That’s similar to how turtles and crabs have armor (shells).

Trees are mostly made of wood which is really stiff and hard to eat. Most mammals can’t digest wood, so we mostly leave trees alone. Their defenses work well. A lot of mammals do eat tree leaves, though humans mostly don’t.

Some plants put important or vulnerable parts in difficult to reach places. Trees put leaves high in the air where some animals can’t reach. In response, some animals evolved to climb trees to eat the leaves. Giraffes evolved long necks to eat high leaves. Birds can fly up to tree leaves, but I don’t know if any birds actually eat leaves.

Even putting things (e.g. fruit or berries) a little above the ground, like 12 inches, helps. From a human perspective that’s low, but for a mouse it’s pretty high and hard to reach.

Some plants have thorns to injure animals that try to eat them.

Some plants try to hide, e.g. with camouflage.

Some plants, like carrots, bury a lot of themselves underground. Some mammals can dig in order to eat underground plants, but that’s extra work, and not all mammals can do that.

And one of the big defense mechanisms plants have is being poisonous. Plants can contain toxins so that if you eat them you get sick. They can also be designed to be less nutritious for mammal digestion. The less benefit we can get from a plant, the less we’ll seek it out and eat it.

Caffeine is an insecticide. It evolved to discourage insects from eating coffee beans, cocoa beans, tea leaves, etc.

Some plants will kill humans if we eat them. A lot of plants will give us indigestion or otherwise make us mildly sick.

This issue of plants containing things that are bad to eat, as a defense mechanism, is a key concept for understanding what’s good to eat.

Broadly, plants have evolved for many thousands of years to be bad to eat! There is genetic selection pressure on them to be a bad food.

However, we have evolved to be good at eating plants. We’ve evolved countermeasures to let us digest plants well, to tolerate their toxins, etc.

In this evolutionary battle, we’re doing reasonably well. We can eat plants and survive. We haven’t lost. But it’s nothing like a paradise, utopia or garden of eden. Eating plants is hard. We don’t have a huge margin of error. We’re not winning in a landslide. Plant defenses affect us. They matter to us. Our digestion, immune system, ability to cook with fire, and other traits aren’t powerful enough to make plant toxins negligible. We have to avoid eating some plants entirely. We have to watch what we eat and put effort into choosing plants that work well for us.

Different people have different food sensitivities. In other words, for a lot of plants, the current human gene pool means that 90% of people (or some other amount) can eat that plant without a big problem, but not everyone. Fortunately, people tend to be sensitive to some plants but not others, so pretty much everyone has some plants that work well for them. But this illustrates how the battle against plant defenses, particularly toxins, is not just won and done. It’s not over. It’s ongoing. Plant defenses should still be respected and thought about. (Food sensitivities for some meats, like beef or chicken, are rare. Seafood sensitivity is more common.)

The FDA says 90% of food allergies are for just 8 foods, 4 of which are seeds. The foods are cow milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, wheat, soy and fish. (How allergies work is unclear, so they may not be from plant defenses.)

Some plant defenses, like caffeine, aren’t targeted at us. But they’re still bad for us. Why? Because we have a lot in common with insects. We share a lot of genetic code with insects. We have evolutionary history in common with them. We can somewhat tolerate caffeine, but it still harms us. (See my article Caffeine Is Bad.)

We have a lot more in common with mammals than insects. Plant defenses aimed at any mammal are more likely to be a larger problem for us.

Plant Parts

Plants have different parts. We can consider some broad categories like roots, stems, leaves, fruit and seeds.

Some plant parts are actually designed to be eaten. Those are fruit and sometimes seeds.

Roots, stems and leaves don’t want to be eaten. There’s no benefit to the plant when those are eaten. (There are probably some exceptions.)

Fruit and seeds are crucial to how plants replicate. Seeds are what can grow into more plants. The seeds need to be distributed to other locations that might be good for more plants to grow. But plants can’t walk so how will that work?

If a plan grows sideways a bit and then drops a seed, a new plant can grow with a different center point than the old plant. If seeds are light, wind or water can move them. Animals can move seeds around.

How can a plant recruit an animal’s help? How can it get animals to distribute its seeds to other locations? That’s what fruit is for. Fruit is meant to be eaten. It attracts animals on purpose.

Inside the fruit are the seeds. Seeds can have two different strategies. They either don’t want to be eaten, or they want to be eaten but not digested. If an animal eats seeds but poops them out whole, that’s a success for the plant. And plants can make a lot of seeds, so if some get chewed up but some other seeds survive, that can be good enough.

How can seeds avoid being eaten when the fruit is eaten? For example, peach pits are really hard to eat. Apple cores are not great to eat either. So we might just eat the apple fruit (flesh), then drop the core with the seeds on the ground.

So, broadly, as a first approximation, fruit is safe and good to eat. Some seeds are safe to swallow whole and don’t digest them, but that isn’t useful (you have to digest stuff to get energy). Many seeds contain toxins if you chew them up. Seeds really need to discourage being digested because if they all get eaten then the plant can’t replicate. And stems, leaves and roots also may contain toxins. But there are many other defense strategies that plants use, so they don’t always have dangerous toxins.

Another defense strategy plants use is just replicating so much that it’s hard to eat all of them. That strategy is harmless for us. Similarly, a tree might create a lot of leaves, so it’s OK if some are eaten. It’s the same for seeds and roots. Having extra stems is less common, so stems are probably worse to eat on average.


So plants contain energy and nutrients. They are good to eat. But they also contain toxins and antinutrients (things that have a negative nutritional value for us). They’re also partly bad to eat.

We have a powerful digestion system that’s good at eating plants, but it’s imperfect so we still need to watch out some. Different people have different food sensitivities.

Our ability to tolerate bad things from plants is limited not unlimited, so eating a variety of plants can help. That way we don’t get too much of any one bad thing. Different types of plants tend to have different toxins or antinutrients, though some plants share some of the same ones. Eating a variety of plants also helps us get all the different good things we need from plants. If we only ate one or two plants, we’d probably become deficient in some important nutrients.

The modern, industrial western diet means people average getting around two thirds of their calories (energy) from just four plants: wheat, corn, soy and rice. (I have not fact checked this statistic.)

That’s not enough variety. And all four of those plants are fairly similar to each other. Three are grains and one is a bean. All four are seeds. All of them have some antinutrients. For example, wheat contains lectins, which are bad to eat (everything else being equal). In general, eating seeds always has some downsides.

One way to look at plant variety is color. There is advice to eat a variety of colors of plants. E.g. you can eat some green, red, orange, yellow, blue and white. You might try to have some of each color every week. (Eating a balanced diet on the timespan of a single meal or day is totally unnecessary. There is some bad advance floating around about that. I don’t know the optimal timespan to balance your diet for. Maybe it’s 5 days or 18 days or 42 days. I couldn’t tell you. And actually it’s complicated. It varies by nutrient – you need some more frequently than others. So any single time period will just be an approximation.)

Wheat, corn, soy and rice don’t have good color variety. They’re basically white, yellow and brown. There’s no green, red, orange or blue.

Why do we eat so much of just a few plants? Because we figured out how to mass produce them. We got good at growing a lot of them. They’re cheaper and enable a large number of human beings to be alive and fed. There are major positives. But we didn’t choose to eat so much of these few seeds for health reasons (besides getting enough calories being a health issue). We didn’t think they were especially nutritious. We didn’t think that we’ll have fewer illnesses if we eat this diet.

There are a lot of other diet common modern choices that also weren’t made for optimal health, such as eating lots of cow milk or chicken. I’m not saying cow milk or chicken are unhealthy to eat, but they were not optimized for being healthy, and they do have downsides. There’s also a lot of stuff done with processed foods for reasons other than optimizing health.

We selectively bred animals like dairy cows and chickens to optimize for things like getting a lot of milk or meat. We didn’t breed them to be as nutritious as we could. We tried to avoid obvious downsides but we didn’t do much to avoid subtle downsides.

Eating Animals

So, eating plants have lots of upsides but also downsides. Other than the fruit, they tend to contain some things that are bad for us, which were evolved to discourage animals (sometimes specifically mammals) from eating them.

How else can we get energy? We can’t absorb sunlight for energy. We can’t burn fuels to power our bodies. We can’t eat oil. Besides eating plants, our main alternative is eating animals.

What are animals? Basically big bundles of digested plants. (A few of them ate other animals, so they are more indirectly a bunch of digested plants. Ultimately animal energy and mass basically just comes from plants, air and water. There’s also a little bit of mineral and metal, e.g. salt. The plant part is really important and is where the energy/calories comes from.)

What are the upsides of eating animals? They have different defense mechanisms than plants. They run away. They have teeth and claws. But they don’t generally have a bunch of toxins in their flesh. Animals rely less on being poisonous to eat than plants do.

It’d be hard for animals to contain anti-animal toxins in their bodies because they’d poison themselves. Plants can contain anti-animal toxins more easily because plants are different than animals and are affected by different toxins.

Some animals have poisons in a particular part of their body, e.g. rattlesnakes have some venom. But they don’t just have the venom running through their veins, muscles, organs and whole body. It’s kept in a container. We can eat the other parts of an animal and throw away the poisonous parts.

Animals digest plants for us. Whatever toxins or antinutrients those plants had, the animals may have already dealt with the problem for us by the time we eat the animal.

Some animals may be better at digesting certain things than we are. Cows can eat grass effectively but we can’t. Eating cows lets us indirectly eat grass. Otherwise the grass would go to waste.

Suppose an animal eats some plants and processes antinutrient A in a safe way but ends up with a bunch of antinutrient B in its body because its digestion is bad at handling B. Then we eat the animal and our digestion handles B well. This way of eating will work well for us even if we couldn’t digest A well ourselves.

What animals are the best eaters, which can best digest plants and handle the antinutrients? The short answer is the animals with multiple stomachs. They are better at eating than we our with our one stomach. Their bodies are designed to be more focused on digestion and they put more resources into being good at digestion.

What animals have multiple stomaches? Cows. Also sheep (lamb), goats, bison, deer and some other related animals. These are called the ruminant animals. They’re the super-eaters with the best digestion. They’re good at eating grass and leaves that we aren’t. They’re better than us at extracting nutrient value (and neutralizing antinutrients and toxins) in their food than we are. It’s their speciality.

So beef is a particular good, nutritious, safe meat. Chickens and pigs only have one stomach, so they’re not as good.

Cows are also something humans have domesticated and eaten for thousands of years. Chickens and pigs have worse histories. Pigs were a source of disease which is why Judaism and Islam say not to eat them. Chickens were much smaller than today and hard to feed (they don’t eat grass and leaves; if they eat grain that is taking away food that people could eat). Eating chicken became a lot more prominent after 1900.

Fish are another animal that we’ve eaten successfully for thousands of years, so that’s another promising candidate thing to eat that’s probably especially compatible with our digestion. There are some potential downsides including heavy metals (the more fish you eat, the more of an issue that is, so it could be bad if you designed a diet primarily based on fish). And there are some problems with farmed fish.

Any kind of traditional diet that people in a region ate for thousands of years probably works pretty well. Modern western eating changed how we eat significantly without enough understanding of what we’re doing and how nutrition works, so there have been downsides.

Note that we’ve bred our main plants and animals to be significantly different than the old wild varieties. So the fruit, berries, meat, etc., that’s in our grocery stores is different than what people traditionally ate even if it has the same name like “apple” or “banana”.

As a quick aside, what about foods other than eating plants or animals? Dairy is problematic because over 50% of people alive are lactose intolerant and casein (a milk protein) is hard to digest. Some dairy products like cheese have less lactose (hard cheeses have very little). Butter has very little lactose or milk protein. Dairy is designed for young cows not adult humans. (Human breast milk isn’t available in large quantities for adults to drink, and even if it was it still wouldn’t be designed for adults.) Lactose intolerance started becoming less frequent after we domesticated cows (around 10,000 years ago). And eggs, like dairy, are are a common food sensitivity. So there are some concerns with dairy and eggs, though they could be good foods for people who don’t react poorly to them. As to fungi, I’d expect them to have some of the same defenses as plants, and a lot of mushrooms are poisonous, but maybe some are good for humans to eat. I don’t know much about eating insects except that it hasn’t been a large part of our historical diet.

People with Big but Vague Health Problems

Humans are pretty robust and resilient. Do you have to think a bunch about what you eat? If you’re doing fine, then maybe not. Trying to understand food better and eat in a more healthy way shouldn’t be everyone’s priority. I think it’s interesting though.

What if you have health problems that conventional medicine is failing to help with? Like chronic fatigue, anxiety or “depression”? Changing your diet, even drastically, is probably less risky than taking psychiatric medications.

Your problem might be some antinutrients and toxins from your food.

So you might consider the Lion Diet which focuses on eating ruminant animals (the super-eaters with multiple stomaches), salt and water. It’s meant as a temporary diet to heal you and help you figure out which foods are hurting you. If you can fix your problems, then you can reintroduce foods one at a time to figure out which ones are OK for you and which aren’t.

You may have a leaky gut where some foods harm your gut and then it starts leaking other foods into places they shouldn’t be. Then your immune system sees stuff that shouldn’t be there and tries to fight it. This can cause autoimmune disorders.

If you heal your leaky gut, you may be able to tolerate a lot of foods. It could be that a few foods really hurt your gut and cause it to leak, and then if it’s leaky a lot of foods cause you problems. So after doing the Lion Diet for a while, you may only need to avoid a few foods. But just avoiding those few foods right away might not work, even if you knew which ones they are. You might need to avoid a bunch of extra foods temporarily, then a few foods permanently.

What are some of the main candidate foods that may be hurting you?

Gluten, soy, and dairy. After that, more candidate foods are other grains and seeds, plus sugar (which may lead to too much of the wrong bacteria growing in your gut). The sugar issue makes eating a lot of fruit potentially problematic. After that, what could be cut next is more or all plants, plus animals that are less safe/healthy. The extreme conclusion is the Lion Diet of ruminant animals, salt and water.

So there are some big, broad conceptual reasons why the lion diet, or a milder approximation of it (which is suitable for people without major health problems) makes sense. By contrast, some other diets have no good conceptual explanations behind them (that’s particularly true of most diets aimed at weight loss not health).

Also, vegan and vegetarian diets are motivated primarily by ethical concerns, not health-based reasoning. Basically everything that vegans say about how healthy plants are is said because they want to save animals from being eaten, not because of an unbiased, objective study of nutrition. It’s like how you can’t trust environmentalists, who care a lot about global warming, who then try to tell you about how electric cars are superior to gas cars for transportation. They start with a predetermined conclusion (electric cars are better) with a predetermined reason (to help the environment), and whatever they say about transportation is designed to support their agenda.

A milder approximation of the lion diet could mean cutting gluten, soy and dairy, limiting grains/beans/seeds and sugar, and eating more meat particularly beef and lamb. There are some arguments that gluten and soy are just plain bad for everyone (in a somewhat mild way that doesn’t kill you), but I haven’t researched it enough to say. Another thing that generally helps is eating whole foods instead of parts, juices or extracts.

Modern society has a lot of stuff that’s very good for our health. We don’t starve. We have antibiotics. These huge improvements can mask downsides and problems, and make it less obvious if some major parts of our food supply are actually bad for us.

Also, because I think it’s relevant to my serious fans who intend to learn from me for years to come: I do not have a major health problem. That’s not why I researched and wrote this.


The final section of this article is some quotes I found notable when reading about nutrition and downsides of plants:

From Does Meat Rot In Your Colon? No. What Does? Beans, Grains, and Vegetables!:

Most of the edible part of a plant is cellulose, a polysaccharide (i.e. a very long chain of sugars) that is very difficult to break down. In fact, no digestive enzyme, in any animal, is capable of breaking down cellulose!

It turns out that pepsintrypsinchymotrypsin, and our other proteases do a fine job of breaking down meat protein, and bile salts and lipase do a fine job of breaking down animal fat. In other words, meat is digested by enzymes produced by our own bodies. The primary reason we need our gut bacteria is to digest the sugars, starches, and fiber—found in grains, beans, and vegetables—that our digestive enzymes can’t break down.

rabbits run their food through twice: they eat their own poop in order to get more food value out of the plant matter they eat.

But wait! There’s another punchline! Whenever we eat grains, beans, and vegetables, we’re not digesting and absorbing much of the plant matter…we’re actually absorbing bacterial waste products. Rephrased less diplomatically:

You’re not eating plants: you’re eating BACTERIA POOP.

Eating bacteria poop is not as bad as your intuitive reaction says. It might sound awful but it’s actually pretty OK. It’s interesting and relevant to various nutrition stuff.

And from Health Dangers of a Plant-Based Diet:

Plants produce these chemicals to defend themselves. And it’s not just one or two plants that have this super power. It’s all of them.

In fact, 99.99% of all pesticides in our diet are natural chemicals plants produce to deter predators.

They produce toxins to protect themselves from fungi, insects, and animal predators. There are tens of thousands of these natural pesticides. And every species of every plant contains its own set of toxins. Different parts of each plant contain different toxins in different amounts.

Some parts of the plant are more vital for the success of the species than others.

Seeds are critical. Because they are so important plants take extra care to protect them and lace them with potent toxins to deter predators.

Grains, nuts, and beans are all seeds. These are the plant’s babies. And messing with a mother’s offspring often has dire consequences. The parent plant wants to protect them and ensure their offspring’s survival. The plant isn’t concerned about the health, nutrition, or survival of humans. Quite the contrary.

What are seeds?

Of all plant parts, seeds tend to be the most tricky. Grasses, trees, and legumes are plants and have seeds that we call different things.

Grains are the seeds of grasses which include wheat, corn, oats, and rice. Walnuts, hazelnuts, and pecans are all nuts, which are the seeds of trees. And legumes like peas, lentils, soybeans, and chickpeas have seeds called beans.

Some weapons like tannins are bitter. Others like phytates interfere with nutrient absorption aiming to malnourish the predator. Similarly, enzyme inhibitors disrupt a predator’s food processing. From the plant’s perspective, if they are going to get eaten, they are at least going to cause negative consequences for the predator to discourage their consumption in the future.

The article goes into more detail on lectins, how they attack our digestion, and how they can cause leaky gut. Lectins, like gluten, are one of the major defenses of seeds. Then it talks about phytic acid from nuts (which reduces our ability to absorb nutrients like iron from the plants we eat). It also covers soy and more.

Animals like cows and sheep have bacteria in their guts that break down phytates. Their guts are designed for plant-based diets. Humans guts aren’t designed to handle phytic acid.

Soybeans are rich in antinutrients like phytic acid and tannins as well as trypsin inhibitors which deter predation.

The high antinutrient concentrations in soy are a health concern to humans and livestock.

In order to limit their damage, food processors do the best they can to reduce the damaging chemicals. Soybeans are soaked which can reduce tannin levels by about half, but it doesn’t do much to decrease phytic acid or trypsin inhibitors. [r]

Then they are often boiled and/or roasted to try and reduce antinutrients further. Fermenting with fungi and bacteria can help too.

But all this processing also comes at a cost. It can damage essential amino acids making it difficult or impossible to digest and assimilate. [r]

So food manufacturers are tasked with the impossible: cook soybean enough to reduce the antinutrients but not too much. An impossible balancing act.

An interesting perspective is that there is a really high incidence of soy allergy. Many peoples’ bodies go on an all-out attack when consumed.

Not only that, but raw soybeans are toxic to all monogastric animals – and we humans are monogastric.

Evidence suggest that we are not designed to eat soybeans – and enzyme inhibitors, endocrine disruption, and saponins are just a few reasons why.

The human genus transitioned from tree-dwelling herbivore to bipedal meat eater.

isotope studies of fossils [from ~50,000 years ago] reveal a human diet nearly indistinguishable from carnivores.

grains come from wild grasses. Naturally, in the wild, these grains are small with just a few seeds per plant. And they readily fall and disperse. Humans would have basically never eaten these.

our guts had transformed [by evolution] beyond recognition to that of our early herbivore primate ancestors. Our transformed gut was now optimized for the efficient absorption of meat that was dense in energy as was required to fuel our gigantic brains; it was no longer equipped for grazing 7 hours/day and using a microbiome to turn plant fiber into useable energy.

The article says that thanks to the Agricultural Revolution we started eating far more plant toxins and this has had major downsides. And then things got a lot worse, in this regard, with the Industrial Revolution. It concludes that the biggest four dangers are grains, vegetable oils, sugar and soy, and it recommends eating more meat.

The article also talked about how much people eat plants without realizing what they’re eating and how plant-based their diet is. (Hint: If it’s not meat/seafood/dairy/egg, then you’re probably eating plants!) In general, I think people don’t recognize all the different forms of wheat they eat and see them as repetitively eating the same plant over and over. They don’t have a good intuitive or automatic understanding of the ingredients in their foods.


I also wrote a shorter previous article called Understanding Food. And after writing this article, but before publishing, I found the book The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in "Healthy" Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain. It warns about toxins and antinutrients in plants, particularly lectins. Chapter 1 is titled “The War Between Plants and Animals” and it covers some of the same themes as this article. (The quotes section above was also based on reading done after writing the prior text.)

My main goal here was to think about plants and mammals using conceptual explanations. I started with mass and energy, then proceeded to the evolutionary war between plants and mammals.

Most mammals are plant predators. Plants have defense mechanisms against mammals, including toxins and antinutrients. There are evolutionary reasons for seeds to be equipped with especially powerful defenses to discourage eating them. Seeds, which include grains, beans and nuts, are like the eggs or babies of plants. We have some scientific understanding of defenses like lectins and phytic acid.

Plants shouldn’t be thought of as an obviously safe, nutritious food. We don’t live in a paradise where the plants are designed for us to eat. Plants have evolved to be bad for us to eat, but our own digestion has evolved to let us eat plants anyway. It’s a battle where we’re doing pretty well overall, but it’s not surprising that many people do poorly when eating at least a few plants. Most people’s digestion is weak against at least a few plant defenses, and some people have problems with many plants. We also using other methods to overcome plant defenses, like cooking, soaking, fermenting and sprouting.

There are broad conceptual reasons to expect, on average, for non-seeds to be safer plant foods than seeds and for fruit to be the safest part of plants. This doesn’t mean to stop eating plants; it’s just bringing up a problem.

Other foods besides plants have potential problems too. The overall safest food, for the most people, may be meat from ruminant animals. Ruminants like cows, sheep and goats primarily eat grass and leaves, not seeds. And they have the most powerful digestion systems, including multiple stomachs, to deal with plant toxins and antinutrients.

If you remember one thing, remember that plants are evolved to be bad food sources. If you’re familiar with evolution, it makes sense when you stop to think about it, yet there’s a widespread misconception that plants naturally grow to be healthy food for us. But evolution favors plants that avoid becoming food.

Disclaimer: This is not diet advice. I’m not a diet, nutrition or medical expert. And I’m not saying to stop eating plants. My guess is that a meat-only diet is a bad idea for most people. My article does not reach specific, actionable diet conclusions. These are incomplete, exploratory thoughts based partly on limited, initial research. I’m posting this primarily to allow for criticism or feedback, plus as an example of how to begin looking into an issue. This could also point people to some resources they could read which they might not have found otherwise. People should read resources from multiple sides of the debate, multiple perspectives, etc., before changing their diet. You should not try to use these ideas without doing your own research and forming your own opinions. I advise against making health-related decisions based on this article.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Discussion and Boundary Based Relationships

Here’s a simplified model of relationships: they can be based on boundaries or discussion. There can be a mix of both, but often a whole relationship, or all interactions about a specific topic, predominantly uses either boundaries or discussion.

Boundaries mean there are rules. There are lines each person doesn’t cross. People get along by avoiding violating the other person’s boundaries. Basically, each person gets to ban some actions or ways of treating them. As long as no one does something prohibited, the relationship works OK. It’s not super optimized, but it’s acceptable.

Discussion means people talk about things and decide what to do. Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it’s off limits. If someone has a good reason they can communicate that, and you’ll listen and consider. You’ll give reasons for not wanting things instead of just declaring what your boundaries are, and those reasons can be responded to with criticisms or solutions.

I like discussion-based relationships because they enable rational argument to change outcomes. They allow more problem solving and optimization. However, they’re more effort. And they require people to have decent communication skills and compatible communication styles.

I don’t attempt discussion-based relationships with waiters, cashiers, or strangers in public. I just try not to violate their boundaries and I expect them not to violate my boundaries. I don’t ask what their boundaries are either. I just assume some cultural defaults (e.g. many people don’t want to be touched or insulted). And I err on the side of caution: if something is a boundary for 10% of people, then I shouldn’t violate it with a stranger, since there’s a decent chance they won’t like that. A conservative policy helps avoid people getting hurt.

Online Forums

For rationality-oriented online discussion forums, I want discussion-based interactions. Boundaries are frustrating when rational discussion is one of the main purposes of the forum. This can lead to conflicts with moderators (or admins or whoever is in charge) who want to enforce arbitrary boundaries that they won’t clearly document or explain (which makes the rules hard to follow). And it can prevent improvement of the forum rules since they’re not allowed to be rationally discussed. Rational problem solving involves criticizing downsides of the rules, and suggesting alternatives, but many moderators don’t like that.

Due to the difficulty of finding any forum with rational moderators who are willing to discuss how a forum is run, I run my own forum. I value transparency for moderator actions. I allow questioning, criticizing and discussing forum policies.

I have pretty lenient, minimal forum rules. Mostly I use a subset of the standard rules that people would expect if there weren’t any written rules. However, I do have an additional rule that people aren’t used to everywhere. It is no misquoting allowed. This applies both to the content (e.g. you can’t post quotes with words changed) and the formatting (e.g. you can’t post quotes that have no block quote or inline quote marker, so they read as non-quotes; nor can you post quotes which are formatted incorrectly so that some quoted text is attributed to the wrong author). Inaccurate paraphrases can be unacceptable too. E.g. if you wrote “Earlier in this discussion, Elliot was arguing that abortion is immoral.”, that would be unacceptable (given that, actually, I took a pro-abortion stance). That statement not only gets my position wrong but also treats the inaccuracy like a fact. If you instead said, “Here is my attempt to summarize your position” and then you made some mistakes in the summary, that would be acceptable (unless the mistakes were egregious bad faith).

I’ve had difficulties with some users who persistently do quoting wrong. This was a larger problem in the past on the email groups where some competence was required to send correctly formatted emails. On the Discourse forum now, people quote less, and they do most of their quoting using built-in tools which get it right. It’s still a problem sometimes though.

Some people fix their mistakes after it’s pointed out. That isn’t so bad. It’s still repetitive how many new users make the same mistakes as previous new users. In my experience, no amount of explaining stuff in forum guidelines or FAQs has ever been very effective. New people just come along and either don’t read those canonical documents, read without trying to actually learn how to do it right, or forget. However, canonical documents are still useful because it’s easier to link someone to an existing document than write an explanation of the issue.

Some people give up after their mistakes are pointed out. Learning how to post only accurate quotes seems hard so they go do something else. That’s unfortunate but I’d rather they leave than post misquotes. If they are unwilling or unable to learn how to quote accurately, I doubt they’d write very intelligent posts anyway.

And some people persistently post misquotes. I can point it out many times and they keep doing it. I can explain the problem and they keep doing it. I can link them to documents about the issue and they keep doing it. These people are a pretty small minority but they exist and they’re difficult to deal with.

What’s going on? I think they’re used to boundary-based relationships. But I’m trying to deal with them in a discussion-based way. I try to explain the rules and reason with them. And that doesn’t get through to them. They see discussion of an issue as meaning it’s not a boundary/rule, or at least not a very important one. If it was really important, they assume I would take some action like banning them. If I’m trying to discuss instead of banning them, that proves to them that it’s not a big deal, so they don’t listen. (As an additional factor, I think this only happens with people who have difficulty understanding quoting. If getting it right was easy for them, they’d fix it. But they find the whole thing confusing and would have to put in significant effort to understand it.)

There was one user who was particularly bad and the only thing that ever got him to take the issue seriously, and learn how to quote correctly in a lasting way, was preventing him from posting for a significant period of time. Before that, he would stop doing some mistakes in the short term after they were pointed out, but then he’d forget and start doing them again later. Or he’d change the specific thing he was told to change, but have no conceptual understanding of the issue, so then he’d make the same type of mistake later in a different discussion.

It’s hard for me to determine who should be dealt with in a boundaries-based way. It’s hard to know when to flip the switch and stop trying to rationally discuss with people. I like rational discussion. I don’t like banning people. I also don’t like having their posts go into a moderation queue where I can read and approve (or reject) the posts, because that’s ongoing work for me. It’s important to me that my forum requires a low amount of work to run.

Relationships with Kids and Other People

A lot of parents use a lot of boundaries with their kids. Kids often learn to ignore discussion. They ignore being reasoned with or pleaded with. Either the parent prohibits something (and is willing to punish over it, e.g. by yelling or worse) or else the kid can do it. The kid is non-responsive to discussion and just responds to punishments. Or at least it can kinda look that way; often the kid actually is responsive to some discussion, suggestions, advice, requests, etc., but people focus attention on other cases where the kid “won’t listen” and won’t stop unless there is an actual boundary.

This can be awkward for babysitters who have to deal with a kid who assumes if you won’t punish him then you don’t really mind what he’s doing. But the babysitter doesn’t like punishing kids, but also doesn’t want the kid to do something problematic.

It’s important to have a primarily discussion-based relationship with your spouse and your kids. It’s also good to have with your closest friends. You should be able to do some rational problem solving with some people in your life instead of just working within the limits of the other person’s rules.

Your spouse is someone you choose. You should choose someone you can talk with and share some criticisms and arguments with. Being able to share thoughts like that enables improvements, optimizations and solutions that aren’t available in boundary-based relationships.

Your closest/best friend(s) are also people you choose. In some ways, your spouse should be like your very best friend. Again, you should choose people that you can actually discuss issues with.

Your kids don’t have a choice but to deal with you. And you chose to have kids. So you should be willing to listen to them and talk with them.

With other people, discussion-based relationships can be nice. But they often aren’t really available or won’t work. And that can be OK. You don’t have to have rational discussions with your in-laws, your extended family, or even with your parents once you’re an adult with your own home and income. Although it’s important that there can be some rational discussion at work, you can mostly respect people’s boundaries and limit the rational discussion to impersonal decision making that matters to the business (e.g. how to design a product). A lot of lower level employees at larger companies don’t get to have any input or discuss things – they’re treated in a boundaries-based way and the people above them don’t want to discuss stuff – but that kinda sucks. It’s better if you find a job where your thoughts are valued more instead of ignored.

On online forums, a lot of people expect to use boundaries for how people treat each other, and only discuss some impersonal topics like philosophy or politics. I don’t like that. I want unbounded discussion so that all problems can be solved, instead of putting some limits on how progress can be made. I think that kind of forum should exist and it’s broadly not available elsewhere. If you want more limited discussion, you can go use some other forum besides mine (there are plenty) or you can make a request about what you want in a specific topic. I did also make an Unbounded forum category and I follow more assumed boundaries in the other categories (e.g. I bring up meta issues less, and might ask for consent first if I do want to bring one up), and that’s been working OK.

Note: I don't generally actually want to discuss people personally. That's not the boundary I typically care about. What I often do want to discuss is discussion methodology and/or learning methodology. I often want to criticize how people organize (or don't try to organize) discussions, or ask about their plans for making progress. Stuff like that, which I think is highly relevant, important and productive – and it also involves philosophical issues (it's some of the same issues I'd write essays about or discuss purely abstractly). I also sometimes want to discuss people being biased or dishonest, or doing social climbing behaviors, when I think those things are relevant and harming a discussion; boundaries which disallow those topics can prevent success at discussion goals.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)