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Intuition and Survival: Why Jon Snow Actually Does Know Something
Should Jon Snow go to Dragonstone? Should Samwell "operate" on Ser Jorah? The line between intuition and foolishness can only be drawn in hindsight.
When cholera first landed in Europe in 1817 many people were convinced the disease was spread through particles in the air. Others, harking back to millennia-old ideas about disease and dualism, affixed destiny to its victims: sickness as a spiritual state. You fell ill because, well, you were going to no matter what. It took decades to discover cholera’s water-borne nature.
The man who finally demonstrated cholera being spread through the septic system was, I kid you not, John Snow, an epidemiologist from London who had witnessed a number of outbreaks during his short lifetime. Born in 1813, he speculated that cholera was spread through feces-contaminated water after an 1848 epidemic, finally putting the matter to rest while studying the Broad Street Pump, now a famous medical study, during an 1854 outbreak.
Snow’s intuition was born out through research, a recurring theme in episode two of season seven of Game of Thrones. Of course Samwell is going to cure Jorah. In episode one we watched him usurp perceived knowledge when stumbling upon the location of a store of dragon glass, so when the Archmaester proclaims this silly cure for greyscale is dangerously useless we know he's going to experiment.
While the rise of the eunuchs is a not-so-subtle theme in this episode, intuition plays an equally important role. Tyrion suggests inviting the other Jon Snow to Dragonstone because he likes him, a feeling he got when in his presence. Likewise, when Snow receives Daenerys’s invitation he chooses to travel to Dragonstone despite all gathered leaders begging him not to.
Intuition has long been perceived a mystical feature of human consciousness, a warning sign from “out there” that great doom or great pleasure approaches. We slam our hand on top of a table when we get it right—“I just knew it!”—or shake our heads when we don’t, saying we should have trusted our gut. (Given all we’re learning about gut microbiota and the enteric nervous system, our stomach might prove to be our most important ally.) Far from a mystery, however, intuition relies on something far more non-metaphysical: experience.
As I wrote about last year, psychiatrist Peter C Whybrow links intuition with a preconscious neural network built over time by previously learned patterns. Consider tying your shoelaces. When you were very young this task was daunting, consuming all of your attention. After a few attempts you got the hang of it. Soon you’re focused on any number of things that have nothing to do with tying your shoelace while doing so, so automatic has the task become.
If you had to think about tying your laces every time you’d never get anything done. This applies to everything. Athletes talk about the feel of a three-pointer or a long putt, which is really just repetition over the course of a career. But when an NBA player steps onto a green for the first time there will be nothing natural about it. Time to learn a new skill set.
Intuition is effective only from afar; in the moment it’s generally useless. Hikers will spot the telltale signs of a bear while roaming through the woods. Experience will guide their intuition about turning around or taking another path. But if a bear suddenly pops up in front of them, no amount of intuition will help. The combination of experience and space is necessary. As Whybrow writes:
Intuitive insight can be trusted … only when operating under experiential circumstances that are regular, predictable, and stable at the time that the reflexive insight occurs. In the absence of such stable contingencies … intuition is unreliable.
Samwell has the experience of having already discovered something important despite what his master says, combined with having read about a potential cure. He also knew that Jorah’s father helped him at a time when no one else would. Those three factors combined gave him the confidence to grab a knife and start cutting, an intuition we know is going to work out.
Tyrion’s vast history dealing with crooks and kings makes him an excellent judge of character. He needn’t have spent six seasons with Jon Snow to recognize a trustworthy leader. And Snow, well, once you’ve seen the white walkers up close, dead and returned, a girl and her dragons are not going to be of much concern, especially when the fate of humankind is at stake.
And when a pair of Sand Snakes died we, the viewer, also knew it, because death has been the hallmark of Game of Thrones since its inception. Of course there are many things we don’t know, even if some of us feel we know it. Some of our intuition will be right, others not so much. It’s the price we pay for our internal navigating system, this unique quality where biology, environment, and practice meet.
Derek's latest book, Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health, is out now. He is based in Los Angeles. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.
A new study finds that dogs fed fresh human-grade food don't need to eat—or do their business—as much.
- Most dogs eat a diet that's primarily kibble.
- When fed a fresh-food diet, however, they don't need to consume as much.
- Dogs on fresh-food diets have healthier gut biomes.
Four diets were tested<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTU5ODI1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjY0NjIxMn0._w0k-qFOC86AqmtPHJBK_i-9F5oVyVYsYtUrdvfUxWQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="1b1e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="87937436a81c700a8ab3b1d763354843" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="960" />
Credit: AntonioDiaz/Adobe Stock<p>The researchers tested refrigerated and fresh human-grade foods against kibble, the food most dogs live on. The <a href="https://frontierpets.com.au/blogs/news/how-kibble-or-dry-dog-food-is-made" target="_blank">ingredients</a> of kibble are mashed into a dough and then extruded, forced through a die of some kind into the desired shape — think a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_extrusion" target="_blank">pasta maker</a>. The resulting pellets are sprayed with additional flavor and color.</p><p>For four weeks, researchers fed 12 beagles one of four diets:</p><ol><li>a extruded diet — Blue Buffalo Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe</li><li>a fresh refrigerated diet — Freshpet Roasted Meals Tender Chicken Recipe</li><li>a fresh diet — JustFoodforDogs Beef & Russet Potato Recipe</li><li>another fresh diet — JustFoodforDogs Chicken & White Rice Recipe.</li></ol><p>The two fresh diets contained minimally processed beef, chicken, broccoli, rice, carrots, and various food chunks in a canine casserole of sorts. </p><p>(One can't help but think how hard it would be to get finicky cats to test new diets. As if.)</p><p>Senior author <a href="https://ansc.illinois.edu/directory/ksswanso" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Kelly S. Swanson</a> of U of I's Department of Animal Sciences and the Division of Nutritional Sciences, was a bit surprised at how much better dogs did on people food than even refrigerated dog chow. "Based on past research we've conducted I'm not surprised with the results when feeding human-grade compared to an extruded dry diet," he <a href="https://aces.illinois.edu/news/feed-fido-fresh-human-grade-dog-food-scoop-less-poop" target="_blank">says</a>, adding, "However, I did not expect to see how well the human-grade fresh food performed, even compared to a fresh commercial processed brand."</p>
Tracking the effect of each diet<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTU5ODI1OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3NjY1NTgyOX0.AdyMb8OEcjCD6iWYnXjToDmcnjfTSn-0-dfG96SIpUA/img.jpg?width=980" id="da892" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="880d952420679aeccd1eaf32b5339810" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="960" />
Credit: Patryk Kosmider/Adobe Stock<p>The researchers tracked the dogs' weights and analyzed the microbiota in their fecal matter.</p><p>It turned out that the dogs on kibble had to eat more to maintain their body weight. This resulted in their producing 1.5 to 2.9 times the amount of poop produced by dogs on the fresh diets.</p><p>Says Swanson, "This is consistent with a 2019 National Institute of Health study in humans that found people eating a fresh whole food diet consumed on average 500 less calories per day, and reported being more satisfied, than people eating a more processed diet."</p><p>Maybe even more interesting was the effect of fresh food on the gut biome. Though there remains much we don't yet know about microbiota, it was nonetheless the case that the microbial communities found in fresh-food poo was different.</p><p>"Because a healthy gut means a healthy mutt," says Swanson, "fecal microbial and metabolite profiles are important readouts of diet assessment. As we have shown in <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jas/article/92/9/3781/4702209#110855647" target="_blank">previous studies</a>, the fecal microbial communities of healthy dogs fed fresh diets were different than those fed kibble. These unique microbial profiles were likely due to differences in diet processing, ingredient source, and the concentration and type of dietary fibers, proteins, and fats that are known to influence what is digested by the dog and what reaches the colon for fermentation."</p>
How did kibble take over canine diets?<p>Historically, dogs ate scraps left over by humans. It has only been <a href="https://www.thefarmersdog.com/digest/the-history-of-commercial-pet-food-a-great-american-marketing-story/" target="_blank">since 1870</a>, with the arrival of the luxe Spratt's Meat Fibrine Dog Cakes—made from "the dried unsalted gelatinous parts of Prairie Beef", mmm—that commercial dog food began to take hold. Dog bone-shaped biscuits first appeared in 1907. Ken-L Ration dates from 1922. Kibble was first extruded in 1956. Pet food had become a great way to turn <a href="https://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/choosing-dog-food/animal-by-products/" target="_blank">human-food waste</a> into profit.</p><p>Commercial dog food became the norm for most household canines only after a massive marketing campaign led by a group of dog-food industry lobbyists called the Pet Food Institute in 1964. Over time, for most households, dog food was what dogs ate — what else? Human food? These days more than half of U.S. dogs are <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/03/magazine/who-made-that-dog-biscuit.html" target="_blank">overweight or obese</a>, and certainly their diet is a factor.<span></span></p><p>We're not so special among animals after all. If something's healthy for us to eat—we're <em>not</em> looking at you, chocolate—maybe we should remember to share with our canine compatriots. Not from the table, though.</p>
What makes some people more likely to shiver than others?
Some people just aren't bothered by the cold, no matter how low the temperature dips. And the reason for this may be in a person's genes.
Eating veggies is good for you. Now we can stop debating how much we should eat.
- A massive new study confirms that five servings of fruit and veggies a day can lower the risk of death.
- The maximum benefit is found at two servings of fruit and three of veggies—anything more offers no extra benefit according to the researchers.
- Not all fruits and veggies are equal. Leafy greens are better for you than starchy corn and potatoes.