Stephen Hawking is some kind of new age hippy who thinks the past doesn't exist till you measure it, and the entire universe popped into existence froStephen Hawking is some kind of new age hippy who thinks the past doesn't exist till you measure it, and the entire universe popped into existence from nothing. pfft...science. ...more
I knew almost absolutely nothing about the China Study for I read it. All I knew was that it was about nutrition, and that was the end of it. Turns ouI knew almost absolutely nothing about the China Study for I read it. All I knew was that it was about nutrition, and that was the end of it. Turns out it's a book that make an incredibly strong scientific case for eating a whole foods plant based diet.
It's not normally the type of book I read, and I probably would have never picked it up had my book club not chosen to read it. Nutrition is just something that I never think about. I was raised in a pretty healthy household. We never really had any junk food, we didn't go out to eat at McDonalds, I had a huge salad with every meal, and my mom's idea of dessert was fruits. I was always very active as well (and still am). And so healthy eating was never an issue for me and I never had any health problems. And though I know many people become vegetarians for health reason, a few years ago when I became a vegetarian, it was strictly for ethical and sustainable reasons. I even cut out much of the processed food I used to eat, again, for ethical reasons rather than healthy ones.
So it was certainly interesting to read a book arguing solely for the disease preventing and health sustaining benefits of a whole foods plants based diet. I appreciated the fact that T. Colin Campbell comes off as a very serious scientist with upmost respect for the scientific method. He criticizes everyone from the government, to large corporations, to quack diet book writers, and even his fellow scientists. He had much to say about poorly constructed experiments, and experiments that were used to support claims that the data wasn't showing. It was for these reasons that I came to trust his claims more than I thought I would have. Though I should say, I was listening to the audiobook, and wasn't able to follow up on the references and sources on my own, which is something I usually like to do while reading books like this.
Campbell's writing style isn't perfect, and he's pretty cocky, but I found the information contained within the book well worth it. I have no idea how this book was received within the broader community, but I hope it made an impact on people. Even if some of the science is wrong, or just stretching the truth, for purely selfish ethical reasons I hope more people follow his advice.
His fundamental point is difficult to disagree with though, and seems really obvious when you think about it. For proper functioning of the body we need healthy cells. Whether it's the cells in our heart or the nuerons in our brain. And so much of that proper functioning is dependent on certain relevant proteins being available for use. And the building of the proteins require certain specific amino acids. And where do we get these amino acids? The food we eat. It seems relatively straight forward that the food we eat, or don't eat, will have an effect on the resources at the body's disposal to continually create healthy functional cells, and provide those cells with the resources they need. Though I admit that my understanding of chemistry/biology is minimal, so I may be missing something, but from my layman's perspective, it fits. ...more
I’ve been a vegetarian for a few years now, and it was a long process that brought me here (literally too, I didn’t go cold turkey). I’m sometimes surI’ve been a vegetarian for a few years now, and it was a long process that brought me here (literally too, I didn’t go cold turkey). I’m sometimes surprised by how little I thought about certain things throughout my life. And coming from someone who grew up with a face in a book, and his head in the clouds, I find this interesting. I over-thought and over-analyzed everything (or at least everything I thought about). I spent my days thinking about fantasy worlds and the future, about girls and relationships (of which I was not very adept at having), about what ifs and what could bes. I thought. I was philosophizing about the universe, and society, and the self long before I knew I was even doing it. And yet even with everything I thought about, there was so much that I never questioned, that I just took for granted.
The state of consumerism in our society makes it very easy for us to not question certain things (though I certainly can’t blame my choices on "the system"). We are so far removed from the process that brings things to our doorsteps and our dinner tables, that it usually takes an effort to even begin contemplating it. How many of us question where our tvs and laptops came from, how that cup of coffee got in our hands, who made the sneakers we’re wearing and how did this food got on our plates? I certainly didn’t. And yet when we start asking ourselves these questions they become hard to ignore. That last of those questions becomes most salient when we start asking, “what” was this food before it got to our plates?
I imagine many children one day suddenly realize they’re eating Babe for dinner and ask their parents why. Their parents probably tell them not to worry about it, and to finish their dinner, and most of them do, end of story…vegetarianism averted. I was recently shocked to learn that as a child I actually went vegetarian for a year or two (I vaguely recall this). Without any real explanation to my mom, I just refused to eat any meat. When I started again, it was sparingly (once a week), and never ventured out past a few staple meats. I never ate pork (jewish schooling gave me an aversion to it, even though my family didn't keep kosher), I refused to eat seafood (it was gross), and mainly stuck with chicken and turkey. Even when I started eating steak I had to eat it well done. Thinking about it now I like to tell myself that deep down I knew what I was doing was wrong. That I didn’t eat seafood because it still too closely resembled the animal it had been before, that I couldn’t eat rare meat because the blood reminded me of what I was eating, and that I felt too sorry for all the other animals to eat them. This probably isn’t that unlikely, but I wouldn’t steak my life on it (pun intended), my general pickiness as an eater is kind of damning for my “I was ethical but didn’t know it” theory.
As an adult, the more I thought about the life and suffering of the animals that were sacrificed for my meal, the harder it became to continue eating them. I never watched any of those horrible factory farming videos, I didn’t have to, though I had some idea of the content. Having seen these videos now, I only wish someone had shown them when I was 15 because I would have been a vegetarian for 15 years now, rather than three. I’m sometimes baffled by individuals that are aware of the practices involved in the meat industry, but continue to support it (with their dollars and their dinners). I imagine there are two types. One intellectually believes they shouldn’t be eating meat anymore, but is held back from making the choice. I understand this state of being. I lived it. I struggled most of my life with acting on, and making a reality, my inner beliefs. How often do we say we’re going to start working out, or stop wasting time on this or that, and we never do it. I fully empathize with this predicament.
Then there are those who understand the system, but who don’t care, or don’t agree it’s wrong in any way. This second case is more baffling, though it shouldn’t be. The human ability to engage in cognitive dissonance (is that something you engage in?) is truly amazing. I’m sure there were plenty of good and kind people who owned slaves, men who value loyalty above all else but cheat on their wives, and though I doubt anyone reading this would rob a bank, how many of us have cheated on our taxes or stolen something from work? I imagine this second case consists of people who understand what’s involved in the meat industry, but don’t think that animals feel pain like us, or that their suffering is like that of a machine or a bug. Or who maybe buy into the fallacy that we need to eat all that meat to fulfill our protein requirements (I should note I’m not a vegan yet). Whatever it is, they feel the positives of eating that food outweighs any negatives involved in bringing it to their plate.
As if this wasn’t enough, the more I thought about the chemicals we pump into these animals, and the damage done to our environment and the resources we consume in feeding, housing, raising, processing, and transporting our food, I just couldn’t justify taking part in it anymore. The only thing left is the “but it tastes good” philosophy, and I really do struggle sometimes to find sympathy for it. It’s worth noting I’m not the kind of vegetarian who is against the idea of eating meat in theory (it’s just dead flesh), but given the realities of our system I don’t find I have another choice for myself.
I’ve always been an animal lover and the happenstance of our willingness to eat Porky but not Skippy strikes me as odd. This has been another tough part of society for me to come to grips with. As someone who wants to work in cognitive science, and who owns and loves two ferrets, I have to wrestle with the fact that much neuroscientific research is done on ferrets. We live in a world of contradictions and hypocrisies and this is not on the verge of changing any time soon. And I guess we each have to ask ourselves, how far are we willing to go to break out of the system and act on our beliefs?
I didn’t intend for this book review to turn into a story about me, but I think it’s a fitting way to write about a Jonathon Safran Foer book. Foer can weave a sad, funny, and heartbreaking story in beautiful prose like it's spilling out of his mouth. His stories are fantasy, but they are also personal journeys. In a way this book was about his personal journey to becoming a vegetarian, and the case he makes for it. I can’t think of a better way to recommend this book than to tell you about the personal journey I took, and direct you to Eating Animals if you want to read a thorough case for it, written by someone with more talent than yours truly, and an amazing ability to be frank, and yet empathetic and non-judgmental at the same time.. I should warn readers though, I only vaguely mention the fact that there are many problems with the meat industry, Foer goes into much more specific detail about these practices. If you're a squeamish person, you may have serious problems getting through this book. One half of me wants to tell you to not read this book to protect you, and the other half wants you to go through that if it makes you take stock afterwards......more
I really enjoyed this book and I struggled with whether to give this a 3 or 4 star rating(half star ratings where are you?).
Pollan opens with his nowI really enjoyed this book and I struggled with whether to give this a 3 or 4 star rating(half star ratings where are you?).
Pollan opens with his now famous quote, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." This is his eater's manifesto and the book is an exploration and defense of those three short sentences. For the most part I really enjoyed the book and was pleased with myself for already living by many of Pollan's suggestions. Pollan spends much of the book making a case for why you should follow his manifesto, as well as defining what he actually means by "food" and why most of what we it is not in fact...food.
In particular he rallies against nutritionism. The idea that the important part of eating and thus food, is the conglomerate of ingredients contained within it. The collection of vitamins and minerals. That by looking at what we eat as a means to ingest certain quantities of vitamins, or fats, or carbohydrates that we are not looking at food in the holistic way that we need to, to be healthy individuals. That we are missing the forest for the trees so to speak. Because of the amazingly complex interaction of the nutrients in our food and how they interact with our bodies science is (currently) not able to conclusively say exactly what is or is not important, and in how much quantity. We just don't know enough yet. Which is what leads to the ever changing landscape of what is healthy and what isn't. First fat is bad, and then it's good. Carbs are good, then they're bad...
He goes on to contrast the western diet with other culture's diets, and the relative healthiness of the different populations. The last section of the book is devoted to explaining exactly how we should eat. He gives lots of general principles that we should keep in mind(eat whole foods, try to buy local(not necessarily for the reasons you think), don't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't recognize as food, plant a garden, etc..).
The thing that kept me from giving this book a higher rating has to do with what comes across as some serious anti-scientific sentiments. I don't really think Pollan is anti-science. I think what Pollan is against is the science that surrounds much of nutrition. But because he never really makes this distinction explicit I fear it could lead many a reader to make blanket generalizations about the whole field of science. Science and the scientific method is not at fault for telling the american public what is or isn't healthy to eat. It is human beings, imperfect human beings, with their own biases and dispositions who don't step back and use the tools of the scientific method as fully as possible. Who jump to unsubstantiated conclusions too quickly for whatever reason(arrogance, foolishness, the food lobby, corporate pressures, etc...).
There are two aspects of this that worry me. One is that Pollan ignores the fact that maybe not soon, but some time in the future science WILL be able to understand everything that is important about what it is about foods that are healthy and foods that aren't. And for good or bad we will be able to manipulate and manufacture the appropriate concoction of these elements to remain healthy. This is the smaller worry(though definitely worthy of conversation). The larger one is that there is a certain segment of the population that might read his book and start distrusting ALL science. And while it's certainly important to remember that human fallibility can influence the results of scientific inquiry, it's not productive to imply that science as a field should be distrusted. The fruits of science are innumerable, and I'm sure Michael Pollan knows that. The question is, will his readers?...more
I was really expecting more from this book. I've heard mostly good things about Gladwell, and he had a pretty interesting TED talk, and I enjoy almostI was really expecting more from this book. I've heard mostly good things about Gladwell, and he had a pretty interesting TED talk, and I enjoy almost anything to do with the brain, so...why not?
The book certainly brought up a lot of interesting ideas and did a good job of discussing the different elements that go into the snap decisions that we make every day. And it's probably worth a read for many of the stories and experiments related. But for the most part this book really failed to impress. More than that though, it failed at being a coherent analysis of what goes on in the human brain when we make snap judgments.
Gladwell alternates between telling us to trust and accept this "mysterious phenomena" that allows us to make these unconscious snap judgments and warning us against the use of these snap judgments. One moment he advises against the idea that we need to slowly collect data and weigh options to make the most informed opinion and provides examples where too much thinking and information leads us astray, and in the next moment gives us examples of how snap judgments sometimes go horribly wrong. And he leaves us with no clear sense of how to use this new found information to make better decisions and judgments in our own lives. Do I trust my insights because my rational brain will fool me, or do I mistrust my instincts because of the inherent bias contained within them? If Gladwell knows he sure didn't tell me.
One example of somewhere where I think he didn't analyze the situation enough was when he talked about the Wisconsin Card Sorting task (pick cards from one of two decks, one deck tends towards bad and the other towards good outcomes). He focused solely on how the unconscious mind was aware of the pattern (which deck was bad and which was good) long before the conscious mind was aware of it when making decisions. And this was shown by the fact that sweating occurred when choosing from the "bad" deck before the subject knew why (or was even aware of it). What he fails to mention about all this is that the reason for this is because we are designed to be "risk averse". It is not because we are making brilliant snap judgments, or that our brains have "learned" the rules before we are aware of it. From an evolutionary perspective it pays off more to learn from our mistakes than learn from our victories. Mistakes are costly. This is why bad memories are more salient than happy ones. The sweating that occurs is a physiological indicator of and means of prompting the organism to stay away. It's not even that this explanation is in contradiction to Gladwell's; it is that it IS an explanation for the phenomena Gladwell describes, one easily at Gladwells' disposal.
Two other aspects of this book stuck out as major frustrations for me:
1) Gladwell spends a lot of time early on talking about the mysterious nature of our ability to thin slice (make accurate snap judgments based on very little information) and urges us to accept this. To his credit, he does attempt to demystify this somewhat later on, but not enough in my opinion. His first example is of a museum that purchased an expensive sculpture which all the data and scientists evaluated as legitimate, but which experts in the field immediately saw as a fake without being able to put into words why. It's purposefully misleading to label this as some sort of mysterious phenomena. For instance, it's important to remember that these people were experts. An amateur would not and could not make this same snap judgment because they don't have the training to. This ability didn't magically appear, it came from learning and training and synaptic change. These experts learned over time. They studied types of stone, and different styles, and everything else that goes into understanding their field. And this process created memories...synaptic change within their brains. And there exists a system (or systems) in the brain that can make decisions based on that neuronal structure without conscious awareness. Shortcuts so to speak. But these shortcuts are a product of that neuronal structure, which is a product of that synaptic change, which is a product of the learning the individual did over time. It's misleading to call this mysterious. What's important, and more interesting in my opinion, is figuring out the underlying processes that allow this to happen.
2) Towards the end of the book Gladwell discusses how our stress response leads us to make all sorts of bad decisions. He talks about autism and how autistic people can't mind read (don't have theories of other minds) and how this affects their interpretation of events around them and of the world in general. He compares what happens to people in stressful situations to this, that during these situations, because the fight or flight response has taken over, people have tunnel vision and can no longer "read minds" and thus make all sorts of mistakes and bad decisions because they are focusing on the wrong things. My issue is that he, incomprehensibly, makes a literal, as opposed to metaphorical, connection with autism. He argues that during these times we become "temporarily autistic". While it's true that one aspect of our behavior becomes similar to an aspect of an autistic individuals behavior during these times, it seems like a pretty ridiculous statement to make as a broad generalization. He spends quite a bit of time talking about this and I don't think it does anyone any good.
In the end I think I was most disappointed by the fact that all the elements to create a good book WERE present here, and the failure is due in large part to how he puts it all together and his ability to analyze all the disparate ideas properly (insert irony here). Evolution has built into us shortcuts to react quickly to stimuli in our environment. Our experience, whether broadly cultural or personal, prunes, enhances, changes those built in shortcuts as we go through life. Some develop as unfair biases towards people of different races. Some develop as we become experts in a subject. Thus some can be trusted and some can't. Our brains can't tell the difference between fact and fiction, only between experience and non experience, and so it's important to be aware of what kind of decision making goes on under the surface and what factors are involved in those decisions so we can be more aware of whether to trust them or not. Other factors can affect decision making, such as our emotional state due to the physiological changes that take place during those times, and this too is important to understand because it radically alters our perception during those times. The most important thing to remember is that experience translates into instinct through synaptic change, and through work and training we can increase the effectiveness of our gut reactions and snap decisions, but due to biases and our altered states during emotional situations those instincts should not always be trusted outright. There you go Malcolm Gladwell, please feel free to use this in the next printing. No citation necessary. ...more
This books wasn't exactly what I expected coming in, though I'm not sure exactly why. Having watched Darn Ariely's two TED talks I had assumed he wasThis books wasn't exactly what I expected coming in, though I'm not sure exactly why. Having watched Darn Ariely's two TED talks I had assumed he was working in the field of neuroscience studying human behavior. Ariely actually works in the field of behavioral economics...studying human behavior(though he certainly understands his psychology and neuroscience). Specifically he sets out to debunk standard folk psychology and economic theory that say that human beings tend to act in the most rational way based on a cost benefit analysis of a particular action or purchase. Ariely says it's just the opposite. We are all irrational, and not only irrational, but predictably irrational. That while WE don't understand the underlying causes and factors that lead to particular decisions, these decisions can be predicted, and in the right hands, manipulated.
The book takes the form of Ariely bringing up a certain idea and discussing how we should act or how people think they will act. He goes on to describe not one, but many experiments which drive the point home that human beings act in some surprisingly counter-intuitive ways. He ends each chapter with some philosophizing about what these experiments tell us, and how we can use the knowledge gained from them in our every day lives to make better decisions in everything from economic matters to moral issues. Instead of a self help book with some science, it's a science book with some self help.
Ariely is an engaging writer, weaving in personal anecdotes, jokes, and scientific analysis in one fast paced cohesive whole. My only criticism of it is that I personally would've enjoyed a bit more science. I think it would have been really interesting if after explaining the experiments and the behavior that was observed, if Ariely then went on to describe the neurological processes that underlie the behavior(he does get into a bit of the psychology, at least in a broad way).
Having read much in the field of cognitive science, I can extrapolate and come up with theories on my own, but I think it would've done the book a great service to include that. To explain WHY the emotional system interferes with our rational decision making. To explain the idea that the brain isn't wired for objective truth but for comparing relative value. To explain what it means and what is actually happening when we learn something false and are then unable to give it up. Though it would necessarily change the book's possible audience, so I can understand the decision not to include that aspect of things. And I do think by talking about how the results of these experiments could be applied to every day life he is helping individuals in a really practical way to improve their lives, and I think that's great. In the end the important thing for most people is to be aware of the hidden factors in our decision making process and to be able to stop and think about them. Whether they understand the nitty gritty details of the neuronal systems or the psychological theories is I guess to a certain degree superfluous. ...more
Atheist fluff reading. Some people read spy novels or mysteries or romance novels. I read this stuff I guess. I certainly enjoyed this book, HitchensAtheist fluff reading. Some people read spy novels or mysteries or romance novels. I read this stuff I guess. I certainly enjoyed this book, Hitchens comes off a lot less snarky and antagonist then usual(and this is coming from someone who has seen him speak). While the book certainly argues against the idea of god and the legitimacy of religion, he spends more time I think focusing on specific harms that religion has caused.
I doubt this book was very effective at convincing anyone who wasn't already convinced of what was contained inside of it, but he definitely brought up some good points. Probably most useful for atheists who tend to have a lot of religions conversations and are looking for better talking points.
Brilliant. Life changing. Should be required reading by each and every American citizen, backed up by the threat of violence if necessary.
In fact, juBrilliant. Life changing. Should be required reading by each and every American citizen, backed up by the threat of violence if necessary.
In fact, just by reading this review you have in affect agreed to read this book within one months time. If you fail to achieve in this modest task that is your charge there will be dire consequences...dire!...more
Amazing book. I actually listened to this one, but it was read by Obama which turned it into a 5 hour long talk from the man, which was like crack toAmazing book. I actually listened to this one, but it was read by Obama which turned it into a 5 hour long talk from the man, which was like crack to me. There was nothing particularly new in this book given that I've watched almost every major speech he has given(plus many lesser known ones) so I am thoroughly familiar with his ideas. That said it was still a really engaging experience and he does expand upon many ideas I've heard him talk about, but where he maybe didn't have the leeway to go on in more detail.
The book mostly espouses his views on everything from family, values, religion, race, science and technology, politics, and more. All tied together with how they relate to our country's past, present, and future. My favorite aspect of Obama is his tendency to wax philosophical and this book has it in spades.
If you're not intimately familiar with the man and his ideas this is a great way to get to know the man who will be our new president. ...more
The book focuses mostly on the idea that reason is no longer employed to make educated and responsible decisions in life, particularly in regards to oThe book focuses mostly on the idea that reason is no longer employed to make educated and responsible decisions in life, particularly in regards to our political discourse and policy. Gore spends the first part of the book talking about technology and how we get our information. He talks about radio and television and how their one way nature in communicating information affected us not only from a psychological standpoint but from a neuroscience standpoint as well(how information from these sources is processed in the brain), and what this has done to political discourse both as a side effect of the technology, as well as knowingly by those with the means and opportunity to take advantage of it. He also talks a bit about fear, what it is, what causes it, and the underlying physiological things going on in the fear response and relates this to political dialogue as well.
He continues from there with what is mostly a scathing indictment of the Bush administration. Not as much specific policies as the manner in which the administration went about making policy decisions and enacting them. Though he does put blame on all politicians and society at large for not doing more about this, while also explaining somewhat WHY we let this happen.
He ends by talking about the internet and its prospect for opening up true open and honest dialog. He sees it in a sense as something that can save democracy given the ease with which it allows people to communicate as well a means for those without money or power to share their ideas and have their voices heard.
It was a really fascinating book. Maybe it was just the liberal elite intellectual in me, but I can't express how gratifying and heart warming it was to hear a politician quoting scientists, philosophers, historians, and world leaders(both past and present) throughout what was a reasoned well thought out analysis of our current situation and how we got here. It expressed all these disparate thoughts I've had over the last few years, as well as some new ideas I hadn't ever put together, and wrapped them in a tight package. ...more