Sunday, December 27, 2009

Russell's dogs' table

I drew this image recently after reading a wonderful book called How Dogs Think by Stanley Coren. The outer eye represents the human color spectrum and the inner the dog, or that is what we think dogs see based on experiments.

It is a translation of my view of the world to hopefully some semblance of what my
Jack Russel, Kirby sees. Dogs see the world mostly in yellow and blue, with some degrees of black, brown, and grey. I understand now why he often used to lose the orange and yellow tennis balls in the grass if he couldn't smell them. Basically they both looked like the same color. Dogs eyes turn red into black, green into a brown-yellow, purple into blue.

Unlike my vision which has been selected to see multiple colors(probably based on the dietary fruit gathering) my dogs vision has been selected to see better at night and while moving. Both of these abilities would allow him to better catch prey at night. While that is not how he currently puts food in his dish, it is worth understanding for a couple of reasons.

The fact that a dog can not see in color means that he/she has no evolutionary relationship with fruits and vegetables(they do have the taste receptors for them but their % of a canine diet would have been low. They would also not have participated primarily in the selection/rejection process). Canis loopus have always been carnivores and many of the current dog and people foods are on a long time scale, quite recent additions. Like many in our population dogs may also have difficulty with cereal grains, sugar, and processed starches. Yet these can be some of the main ingredients in commercial dog foods. I try my best to steer clear of those. Kirby eats mostly raw beef, chicken, pork and bones or organ meat. I occasionally give him some yogurt(the no sugar or corn syrup variety). His treats are cuts of chicken or duck jerky that you can get at target/cub foods. I occasionally give him fruits and vegetables. He likes purple cabbage andI now know he can see it as the color blue. He has never needed to go to the vet yet and is in good health. My wife often complains that our apartment looks like a graveyard. Well...maybe.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Russell's Table

Note: These two tables are of the same dimension

In the The problems of philosophy written by Bertrand Russell he asks "is there any knowledge in the world that is so certain that no reasonable man could doubt it? To make our difficulties plain, let us concentrate our attention on the table...if several people are looking at the same moment, no two of them will see exactly the same two distribution of colours, because no two can see from exactly the same point of view."

Yes consider the table. Seriously? Russell's concern over differences in seeing tables strikes me as eerily similar to mathematicians who worry about normal distribution deviations when there are more pressing concerns staring them in the face.

I remember the problem of whether we could trust that the table was "really" there being presented to me first when I was studying European history at high school. I remember thinking at the the time that it was a ridiculous notion, and I still think the the problem as defined by Russell is ridiculous, however his notion and methodology of doubting his senses is not. I appreciate the work Bertrand and intend to expand on the problem and re-frame it.

If there is a sense I am not going to doubt it is one that is very old taking in data and representing something that is inanimate and unadaptive. Variations in viewing tables between members of the human population are going to be small, so small as to not matter(barring those who lost their sight or are color blind). However if you take the the notion of doubting sight and put it the right environment, suddenly Russell's concerns become quite useful.

Dylan(a twenty something northwesterner) walks into his local supermarket. He is on the hunt for his weekly supply of food. The American supermarket is the perfect example of an environment that has catered to the over selection of sight. As Dylan walks down the aisles all the food looks quite delicious and much of it also probably tastes good. However much of what he sees is indeed in need of being doubted. The entire middle of the grocery store showcases not the actual food he is going to eat were he to purchase something from this section, but pictures on boxes of the food. Want to know what's in it? Well then read the label. Yes language will tell us everything! Except for the fact that language until recently has never been used as a tool of food selection. The words we use like calorie, fat, carbohydrate, etc. all say something about a food, but we seem to think that we can capture everything about something in a word. No sooner has the word been villified as it later seems to come through a redemption. Fat is bad, carbs are bad, calories are bad. Later it's Good Calories Bad Calories, some fats are good for you, or natural sugars(like those found in fruit) are good.

The whole thing seems an elaborate opportunity for deception. Have we ever thought that we should stop thinking in language about our food choices? Alas we need to to uncover the damage that has already been done.

As a paleo dieter/EF'er Dylan buys virtually nothing from the center of the grocery store. He has wisened up and learned to buy from the outsides. Less deception there but there is still the opportunity for some.

Consider this nugget of information from the pages of Bernd Heinrich's book Winter World "Fruit's nutritional content depends on the season for which their dispersal is tailored. Thus although the highest-quality(highest energy content) fruits contain fat and sugar, that food(especially fat) causes rapid fruit spoilage due to microbes. Low fat and sugar contents, as well as high acidity and low water content all help to prolong branch life.....The tomatoes we get at the super market may be a close analogy. They are selected for long-distance travel from California and long shelf life, unlike the garden variety we grow for taste. As with wild fruit the nutrients that make them taste good also cause their rapid spoilage, and our commercial varieties of fruits are selected, like many winter fruits, for longevity."

High acidity taxes the kidney to produce a countering balancing "base" substance from reserves. Dylan has learned that eating is a dynamic process of expending energy to gain energy. Winter fruit bears a short term cost(whatever energy Dylan's body has to direct to the kidneys that doesn't get directed elsewhere.)

So Dylan can not even use his rule "shop around the outside of the store" exclusively an be entirely confident in his senses. Some might add the rule "buy local", but even if a fruit is local you may not live in an area that can produce high fat fruit. So your local fruit will be selected for the ability to survive winter giving it the same sort of characteristics as those shipped from far away. What is the solution?

Dylan must learn to understand the dynamics of evolution, signaling systems and the ways in which people are consciously and unconsciously fooled by reality.

When selecting food Dylan needs to see bright colors and use his sense of taste to sense an acceptable fat/sugar ratio. Some parts of his mind may get the feeling that something is "too sweet" or "too tart". He also needs language to document, experiment, and remember the good and bad choices he has made.

He needs the knowledge that in evolution what works in some instances may not work as well in others. Perhaps shipping is fast enough in some instances so that the fruit he finds is of the good high fat variety. Perhaps some canned tomatoes, may be better at certain points of the year than those he could buy that are fresh. Perhaps during some periods he will have to intermittently fast.

As humans we have created an environment with the supermarket, where the dimension of selection is primarily sight and language. When you understand what some things have to go through in order to look good in that environment(versus similar fruit found in more natural settings), Bertrand Russell's Table suddenly becomes an interesting problem that you confront quite often. I have simply added some fruit on top of it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The black swan hunter

The earliest drawings of humans that survive are of animals. Some suspect that they drew them as part of a ritual that they believed aided their success in hunting. Like our early day ancestors I have done the same. The picture above is a drawing I did in London in 2007. However I am not hunting actual black swans, rather figurative ones, like those described in the works of Nassim Taleb. I attempt to make choices that positively expose myself to events of large consequence.

Call me Luke. I come from Minnesota, where the daily and seasonal changes in weather variation are anything but normal. I studied actuarial science at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and graduated in 2005. I have an avid interest in ideas about risk management. I hunt for black swans in analyzing data and in trying to see why our current methods of analyzing risk miss the mark so badly.

Since my college days I have been a professional poker player. It was more by accident than conscious choice. I have learned more in experiencing variations and going back to the theories about them than I ever did learning the theories and trying to apply them to problems.

I lived in the UK for two years, one year studying and one year playing poker to support myself while my now wife Emma finished university. My time in England was the most unexpected and the biggest black swan of my life.

I am an avid EF'er(evolutionary fitness)/Paleo Dieter. It's a way of eating and training based on what we know about the foods and activites of our ancestors. I attended the March 2008 conference held in Las Vegas by Art DeVany( I had read about Art in The Black Swan. I've been healthier ever since. I now use what I know about evolution and where we came from to make choices about strategies for better workouts in less time as well as maps for figuring out foods to eat and avoid. Many of our current medical problems are the result of our decisions(be they conscious or partially unconscious) and in order to maintain health requires a humility and recognition that many of our ancestors and even some in more primitive in environments are physically better off than we are. With the knowledge of the environments we came from I can eat and live in the world of today and try and minimize the risks of large negative consequences like diabetes. I'll write about foods I eat, exercises I do, foods I avoid.

Also in march I had the pleasure of meeting Connie Barlow and Michael Dowd(, who call themselves evolutionary Christians. For the longest time I never knew what to call myself. The debate about whether evolution was "true" or not had been in most of my life having an atheist father and christian mother. I see now that whatever words we use to represent something, that They are just the menu not the meal. They have reconnected me with my religious senses given me a map for translating ideas. We need the language of the day and night to understand our experiences. I think some of our senses like our moral sense gain better access to knowledge if its represented in the language of the night. I hope to post more thoughts that I have about this and would like start an evolutionary christian group in my area.

I was married to Emma in October of 08. I think some part of what I feel when love hits me is the sense that Emma complements my greatest weaknesses. I am forever grateful that she left the UK to come and live with me here in Minnesota.

It was a long hard process that I wouldn't wish on anyone. Watching her have to deal with USCIS and pure incompetence for months on end and not being able to do anything about was one of the most stressful experiences of my life.

We live in Bloomington, Minnesota with our Jack Russel Terrier Kirby. His health and development have become a big part of my life. I consider him my trainer in a way as he helps me to stay on the path of life similar to that of our more active ancestors. More than two hours at the computer and his look of "are we going outside now" prevents me from being American. His sense of playfulness and energy keeps activity fun. He is a paleo dieter as well, although of the canis loopus variety.

Emma and I are expecting our first child in March of 2010. We know its a girl and have named her Charlotte Jane. I am excited and grateful. I feel I have learned enough to ensure that she indeed will have a good chance at health and happiness. In many ways in America we are losing our ability to take care of other living things. In some ways it is happening almost unconsciously. There will be a lot of choices along her path that can carry some serious consequences, and if I don't know what to look for and how to respond to feedback it can be a tough road. Evolution, history, mathematics, love, strategy, a sense of where we came from as humans(from the stars!)and a philosophy of epistemology will be my guide. I hope to guide her and teach her about the world. Thanks for reading.