Posts Tagged lifestyle

Food wars (Part 1)

Now that I am no longer a student, I find I have some need not to eat like a student. I’d like to eat proper food, perhaps even food I myself prepared, with some thought for things like health and ethics. This is starting to feel like Herculean task. What on Earth is healthy and how do you know what is ethical? In this post I will write about eating healthily. I’ll look at ethics in a follow-up post.

On the health side, there seem to be a host of “healthy” diets being propagated. The adherents of these diets, which have names like “paleo”, “low carb”, “Banting” and “mediterranean” are more fervent proselytisers than most missionaries. They claim to rely on studies and books, but I have trouble distinguishing them from mere ideologies. 

I do not have the time or inclination to wade through the mess of opinions, half-substantiated claims and assumptions that underlie these fad diets. Nor can I wait entire lifetimes for these diets to truly prove their worth. Unlike with, for instance, smoking, I no longer think that just sitting down and reading the relevant information will make how to eat healthily much clearer. For many things there are no real answers. Some things are clear and you need to act on those, for the rest you will need to use heuristics.

I think the following simple approach should be effective. There are three principles:

1. Change the easy things first: This is simply because I am lazy and have better things to do. If I tried to give up all carbs, I’d starve as I would not know what to eat, so I focus on making the carbs I do eat of a better quality.

2.Then change the most clearly harmful things. It seems everyone agrees that sugar (refined carbohydrates) is the most destructive fiend. Thus, for instance, cutting out fizzy drinks and juices.

3. Everything in moderation. This is a simple risk management strategy. Eating a moderate amount of something that turns out not to be too healthy is unlikely to do a lot of harm. Eating nothing of something that you need could be very dangerous. Similarly for eating lots of something that turns out to be harmful. This is why I am sceptical of the Banting diet (proposed by Tim Noakes) – it has virtually no carbohydrates and lots and lots of saturated fat. If the diet is founded on facts, great. But there’s a large risk that we find that over the long term too few carbs are harmful.

If you have any ideas on how to eat healthily, feel free to leave a comment, particularly if you can substantiate your claims.

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What would you pay for immortality?

There are people who (or claim to) have accepted their mortality. They are perfectly comfortable with the idea of dying. They may be Christians certain of their salvation or atheists certain of nothingness (which as one of my atheist friends has pointed out is not something to be feared because you won’t be around to experience it). I am not one of these people. Death – no matter where it leads – is scary and I would like to avoid it. There are people who think that we may able to do just that pretty soon, for instance Aubrey de Grey in this Ted talk.

Throughout time people have been obsessed with the idea of immortality. And it always comes at a cost.

Would you make a pact with the devil? (In the Coldfire Trilogy by C.S. Friedman the Neocount of Merentha ritually sacrifices his family to dark forces to attain immortality). Even if this were possible, I do not think I would do this. I don’t want to be evil.

Would you become a vampire? I would consider this. What would I give up: food, sun, heat, fertility. I would need to find a way to drink blood without killing anyone, of course. But all in all, it’s a bargain I could make.

Would you give up your future wages? Probably not all of your wages. But if life-extension therapies were possible,  they would come at a cost. If they were privately funded, a payment of a part of one’s future wages seems likely (this could also be via a loan you take out). I would do so. My guess is, though, that should rejuvenation therapies be invented there would be a period in which only the rich can afford them – during this time the cost of the therapies would relate to willingness to pay – i.e. they would be extremely expensive because some millionaires would give up much of their wealth.  But eventually the therapies would be seen as a right, and government would step in, set up some kind of insurance, probably with taxation funding everything.

Would you give up movement? What if the only way to be immortal would be to become a brain in a jar, hooked up to some computer that accepts your input? If I could be ensured of enough stimulation, I would in fact consider this, if I were near the end of my life. But think, if the stimulus were turned off, what hell would you be living?

Would you give up an organic body? Robin Hanson, an economist, thinks that we may soon be able to copy human consciousness into machines. So technically, not you, but a robot copy of you could live forever (in fact many millions of robot copies of you could live forever). Would you care about this robot-you? Would it have a soul? It would think like you, feel like you, act like you. Would it be alive?

Would you accept living in harsh conditions? I mean would you be willing to take a drastic drop in your living standard. This may be because you have to give up much of your future wages. In the world envisioned by Hanson, living standards would fall because these robots could potentially be mass-produced, drastically increasing the supply of labour.  You may find yourself a miniaturised robot confined to work in a kind of farm with billions of other little robots. You may never see nature again. To live forever, I would be willing to accept rather drastic reductions in lifestyle, I think.

Would you give up your faith? Living forever does not quite fit with the Bible. Being able to copy the human conscience into machines seriously undermines faith. I think this is a bit of a reverse Pascal’s wager: if living forever being possible means there is no God, then it’s better to try to live forever. If you fail, you could still go to heaven (That is, unless God decides to punish the doubters, but I don’t think God works like that). Otherwise, you’re still alive. If you’re an atheist, this is not a problem for you. But for theists, faith may be an integral part of their lives. An immortal life without meaning – is that a life at all? Nevertheless, I would rather wrestle with the existential implications of a very long-lived life than have no life at all. I would, after-all, have a very long time to figure things out.

Would you give up those closest to you? What if your spouse felt the path to immortality was wrong, immoral, or for some reason the therapies would not work on them? Would you carry on your life alone? I think I would. Life goes on, after all.

I do not know if humans will ever be able to achieve an indefinite lifespan. I am also not particularly keen on being the first guinea pig for these therapies. However, if they become viable, and if I can afford them, I will be standing in line. I am of course just presenting just one point of view (a mostly rational one, I think). I find the religious questions raised by the possibility of immortal or artificial life interesting, but I am not about to give up Faith any time soon.

If the devil offered me forever
	I would consider
If I could pay for a drink from the water of life
	I would sell all I had
If I had to give up bread and drink your blood instead
	I could do that
If I had to live in a body of metal and circuits, without limbs
	I would, if it delayed oblivion
If I had to leave you behind, if I had to leave everyone behind
	my heart would break, but I would do it
I would take
	eternal life
	jump into the singularity
even if it cost me
	Faith and Heaven
		yes, even the reality of my soul

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Why I don’t drink

It somehow happened that I effectively became a teetotaller. Except for an occasional sip of wine (usually proffered by someone else), I consume no alcohol. I have no religious reason for such abstinence – Jesus famously turned water into wine, after all. My choice is a (possibly exaggerated) reaction to the countless people who consider getting wasted a sensible way to pass the time.

Reasons I don’t drink

  1. my liver loves me for it (yes, yes, I know a small amount of alcohol is good for you, but see the next point).
  2. I am staging a protest – the one who doesn’t drink gets noticed, possibly ridiculed, or complimented, or perhaps just curiously probed as to his motives. All this is good and makes it known that I support a more sensible way of life.
  3. Drunk people are not funny or interesting. They’re pathetic and disgusting.
  4. Being drunk makes you a danger to yourself and others. (Surely I do not need to elaborate)
  5. Drunk people do stupid things like dance on tables and hooking up with strangers.
  6. I have a bad enough memory as it is; I don’t need to wake up with a hangover wondering what I did the night before.
  7. I can feel honourable, misunderstood and superior, and relish every moment of it.
  8. Drinking in excess is vulgar, uncultured, and childish.
  9. Alcohol is expensive. Copious amounts of alcohol are more expensive.

These reasons are all well and good, but the number one reason that I do not drink is this:

10.   I am absolutely terrified of not being in complete control of my every action.

I do not understand why people seek the release of drugs and alcohol. I do not see why they want to give control of their life, even if temporarily, to the intoxicating influence of these substances. From an economic perspective I cannot judge them, of course – let them do what brings them the most satisfaction.

I have been under the influence of valium (or something similar) once or twice in my life when I had to undergo operations. I hated every second of it. I was aware of my mind numbing, of my will to control myself subsiding, burying itself somewhere, going to sleep and refusing to wake up. It was an artificial calm that came upon me – a calm caused by the inability of my fearful, jittery self to communicate with the rest of me. It was horrible.

I admit that there is nothing inherently immoral about being drunk or stoned (Go lock yourself in a padded room where you can’t do anyone any harm when you want a smoke). But to me it seems that seeking this release from your life, from your responsibilities, is just setting aside, temporarily, things you need to deal with in any case. Go watch a movie – that seems a far more sensible means of temporary distraction.

To always be present, to always be responsible for everything you do, this seems to me a far nobler way to live. I cannot hope to convince anyone else of this – but neither can anyone else convince me otherwise.

Arguments I have heard:

  1.  Aren’t you curious? Yes, I am very curious. I’m also curious as to how dying feels. Not going to try that any time soon.
  2. I only drink until I’m tipsy, just to be more sociable. If you need alcohol to loosen your tongue – perhaps you should go see a psychologist rather than say stupid things to other drunk people.
  3. It’s fun, for everyone. Good for you. Go have “fun”.

For more or less the same reasons as mentioned above, I will not do drugs and I will not allow myself to be hypnotised. I seriously do not understand why hypnotists get any volunteers. What on Earth are they thinking? (The only experience they get out of it is people telling them after the fact how stupid they looked. Who wants that?) As for all those people who sensibly use alcohol, that is to say, in moderation, I have no quarrel with you.

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