Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Is Jordan Peterson's carnivore diet really healthy?
Beef, salt, and water is all the Canadian professor eats. Is that sustainable?
- Jordan Peterson began eating an all-beef diet after his daughter's health problems cleared up.
- The human microbiome requires a diversity of nutrients and bacteria, making such a diet questionable in the long-term.
- Neuroses caused by elimination diets could prove to be unhealthier than the ailments they purportedly cure.
Cats are uniquely positioned in the animal kingdom. While they can digest vegetables and other foods — ours love licking the caps of olive and coconut oils, and don't get me started on cheese — these killers were designed to exclusively consume meat. Obligate carnivores need plenty of it for optimal health.
Humans, relatively weak predators for most of history, are equipped with different digestive systems. For example, we need fiber. Yet we're adaptable: we can survive on a stark diversity of nutritive sustenance. From Arctic whale blubber feeders to the equatorial ital vegetarian diet, we turn most anything into food, for better or worse.
Vegans eschew any animal product whatsoever, up to and (sometimes) including honey. At the opposite end of the spectrum are carnivore dieters, or, as their preference has become known, carnivory. Forget low-carb; this clan eats no carbs.
The diet's most famous proponent is probably Jordan Peterson, the Canadian professor who already boasts of a long list of controversial topics in his resume. Inspired by his daughter, Mikhaila, who reportedly recovered from a series of autoimmune problems stemming from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. According to The Atlantic,
"Some unknown process had triggered her body's immune system to attack her joints. The joint problems culminated in hip and ankle replacements in her teens, coupled with 'extreme fatigue, depression and anxiety, brain fog, and sleep problems.'"
At 15, Mikhaila began an elimination diet, which is arguably the most reliable means for discovering food allergies. Starting with a popular target, gluten, she kept going until all that was left was "beef and salt and water." Noticing his daughter's progress, Peterson began the diet, which he claims helped him shed 50 pounds in seven months.
Joe Rogan - Jordan Peterson's Carnivore Diet Cured His Depression?
Not that he's completely happy about it. While he stopped snoring, overcame autoimmune conditions, shed himself of psoriasis and gingivitis, slept better, cured leg numbness, and threw out his antidepressants, the diet is allegedly "a little hard on your social life."
I concur. When I first met my wife, she tried, gently, as people courting do, to explain why vegans, which I was at that time, are difficult to eat with. Like Peterson, switching to a ketogenic diet cleared up a number of long-standing health conditions. The dietary move also allowed my wife to be less gentle and more honest, the best course of action when discussing emotional issues. Some vegans are difficult to eat with.
Yet so are carnivorists, apparently.
Humans evolved by ingesting and digesting whatever nourishment was at hand. Trial and error — watch enough clansmen die from eating that type of mushroom, don't eat it. An archaic scientific brain emerges: learning through self-reflection. The other perished; I must not follow.
Yet with so many decisions now available we've become paralyzed. With everything right here in this aisle, I'll choose nothing, or just one thing so I don't have think too much about it. Yet thinking always comes, it's what our brains do, with a caveat: it requires justification. This food becomes the focus, so let's make of it a religion.
How Your Gut Influences Your Mental Health: It’s Practically a Second Brain | Dr. Emeran Mayer
Carnivory certainly has its acolytes. Health benefits certainly follow a severe change of diet, if you're eliminating the source of your ailments. Modern humans are carbohydrate junkies. The macronutrient exploits our brain's reward system, especially in the form of sugar. What was once a rare source of pleasure has become the major staple of our diets. Cut that out and you'll be healthier.
What replaces carbs matters. The ketogenic diet holds up in the short-term, but evidence that it's healthy over time is sketchy and sparse. Removing the constant assault by sugar on your microbiome is essential. Relying on beef and salt as the only forms of sustenance, however, looks equally foolish. University of Chicago's Microbiome Center faculty director, Jack Gilbert, breaks it down.
"Your body would start to have severe dysregulation, within six months, of the majority of the processes that deal with metabolism; you would have no short-chain fatty acids in your cells; most of the by-products of gastrointestinal polysaccharide fermentation would shut down, so you wouldn't be able to regulate your hormone levels; you'd enter into cardiac issues due to alterations in cell receptors; your microbiota would just be devastated."
Let me clarify the part about vegans being difficult. Food is a shared experience. The ritual of eating is an important bonding mechanism. There's a reason samosas are Indian and pizzas are Brooklyn: cuisine lives at the intersection of environment and culture. Cultures spring up, in part, from the food they produce and share. It is arguably our most sacred ceremony, as it is what gives us life.
Chefs devote their lives to exploring an infinite palette of flavor profiles. The very few that make their way onto your plate consist of what they believe to be the height of their passion. Then the person you're dining with sends it back because it has soy, or butter, or whatever fad toxin is being eliminated that day.
Joe Rogan - Carnivore Diet Fixed Mikhaila Peterson's Arthritis
We should applaud the creative genius and strong will many chefs displays when branching out into plant-based restaurants. Diversity is the mark of a powerful imagination, one of our brain's unique qualities among the animals. Simultaneously we must recognize the neuroses too much choice has created. An animal that starves itself due to the psychological chains of orthorexia is a creature suffering from the ravages of affluence. Let's not pretend otherwise.
Which can be as unhealthy as a gluten allergy, if not more so. While Mikhaila's body went into remission for eating a few dashes of pepper on a steak for three weeks (or her father's month-long remission from a bit of apple cider vinegar), she can freely drink bourbon and vodka. As James Hamblin writes,
"The idea that alcohol, one of the most well-documented toxic substances, is among the few things that Peterson's body will tolerate may be illuminating. It implies that when it comes to dieting, the inherent properties of the substances ingested can be less important than the eater's conceptualizations of them — as either tolerable or intolerable, good or bad. What's actually therapeutic may be the act of elimination itself."
What is likely toxic to the body is the idea that a particular food is toxic to the body. A 2018 study showed that just thinking you didn't have a protective gene against obesity changed the physiological response of volunteers, causing them to be inclined to eat more. Just as sexual arousal begins in our brains, not our loins, our connection to food is in our heads more than our bellies.
In 12 Rules For Life, Peterson writes that "Order, by contrast, is explored territory." The contrast was chaos, unexplored territory, "the domain of ignorance itself." As Hamblin notes regarding this extreme dieting, restriction brings with it order. Yet what it lost — the pleasure of sharing meals and exploring the world's unique contributions to cuisine — does not seem worth the sacrifice.
- Most households aren't cooking chicken safely, says survey - Big Think ›
- Build a healthier microbiome: How to eat and fast - Big Think ›
Ever since we've had the technology, we've looked to the stars in search of alien life. It's assumed that we're looking because we want to find other life in the universe, but what if we're looking to make sure there isn't any?
Here's an equation, and a rather distressing one at that: N = R* × fP × ne × f1 × fi × fc × L. It's the Drake equation, and it describes the number of alien civilizations in our galaxy with whom we might be able to communicate. Its terms correspond to values such as the fraction of stars with planets, the fraction of planets on which life could emerge, the fraction of planets that can support intelligent life, and so on. Using conservative estimates, the minimum result of this equation is 20. There ought to be 20 intelligent alien civilizations in the Milky Way that we can contact and who can contact us. But there aren't any.
The Drake equation is an example of a broader issue in the scientific community—considering the sheer size of the universe and our knowledge that intelligence life has evolved at least once, there should be evidence for alien life. This is generally referred to as the Fermi paradox, after the physicist Enrico Fermi who first examined the contradiction between high probability of alien civilizations and their apparent absence. Fermi summed this up rather succinctly when he asked, “Where is everybody"?
But maybe this was the wrong question. A better question, albeit a more troubling one, might be “What happened to everybody?" Unlike asking where life exists in the universe, there's a clearer potential answer to this question: the Great Filter.
Why the universe is empty
Alien life is likely, but there is none that we can see. Therefore, it could be the case that somewhere along the trajectory of life's development, there is a massive and common challenge that ends alien life before it becomes intelligent enough and widespread enough for us to see—a great filter.
This filter could take many forms. It could be that having a planet in the Goldilocks' zone—the narrow band around a star where it is neither too hot nor too cold for life to exist—and having that planet contain organic molecules capable of accumulating into life is extremely unlikely. We've observed plenty of planets in the Goldilock's zone of different stars (there's estimated to be 40 billion in the Milky Way), but maybe the conditions still aren't right there for life to exist.
The Great Filter could occur at the very earliest stages of life. When you were in high school bio, you might have the refrain drilled into your head “mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell." I certainly did. However, mitochondria were at one point a separate bacteria living its own existence. At some point on Earth, a single-celled organism tried to eat one of these bacteria, except instead of being digested, the bacterium teamed up with the cell, producing extra energy that enabled the cell to develop in ways leading to higher forms of life. An event like this might be so unlikely that it's only happened once in the Milky Way.
Or, the filter could be the development of large brains, as we have. After all, we live on a planet full of many creatures, and the kind of intelligence humans have has only occurred once. It may be overwhelmingly likely that living creatures on other planets simply don't need to evolve the energy-demanding neural structures necessary for intelligence.
What if the filter is ahead of us?
These possibilities assume that the Great Filter is behind us—that humanity is a lucky species that overcame a hurdle almost all other life fails to pass. This might not be the case, however; life might evolve to our level all the time but get wiped out by some unknowable catastrophe. Discovering nuclear power is a likely event for any advanced society, but it also has the potential to destroy such a society. Utilizing a planet's resources to build an advanced civilization also destroys the planet: the current process of climate change serves as an example. Or, it could be something entirely unknown, a major threat that we can't see and won't see until it's too late.
The bleak, counterintuitive suggestion of the Great Filter is that it would be a bad sign for humanity to find alien life, especially alien life with a degree of technological advancement similar to our own. If our galaxy is truly empty and dead, it becomes more likely that we've already passed through the Great Filter. The galaxy could be empty because all other life failed some challenge that humanity passed.
If we find another alien civilization, but not a cosmos teeming with a variety of alien civilizations, the implication is that the Great Filter lies ahead of us. The galaxy should be full of life, but it is not; one other instance of life would suggest that the many other civilizations that should be there were wiped out by some catastrophe that we and our alien counterparts have yet to face.
Fortunately, we haven't found any life. Although it might be lonely, it means humanity's chances at long-term survival are a bit higher than otherwise.
A new device cured the hiccups 92 percent of the in a recent study involving more than 200 participants.
- Hiccups are an occasional annoyance to most people, but some get them frequently. Others suffer from episodes that last days, months, or even years.
- A new "suction and swallow" tool stops hiccups 92% of the time by activating the same muscles and nerves that are involved during the hiccup reflex arc.
- Although the new tool may be convenient, you can probably mimic its function with a glass of water and a straw.
In 1922, an Iowa man named Charles Osborne was preparing to butcher a hog. As he was lifting the 350-pound carcass, he fell. He didn't report any pain to his doctor. But he did walk away with a strange medical condition that earned him a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records: the longest bout of hiccups.
Osborne hiccuped for 68 consecutive years. In total, he hiccuped an estimated 430 million times, at a rate of up to 40 hiccups per minute. He tried numerous home remedies. None worked. Then, one year before his death in 1991, his hiccups mysteriously stopped.
That's an extreme example of a hiccup attack. But even for much shorter episodes, called transient hiccups when they resolve within 48 hours, it can be hard to find a home remedy that works reliably, if you find one at all.
A new remedy recently had its hiccup-quashing abilities put to the test. The "forced inspiratory suction and swallow tool," marketed as the HiccAway, is basically a drinking device with a specialized straw that requires forceful suction to draw liquid.
The idea is to stimulate the same body parts that execute the involuntary hiccup response, so much so that they stop triggering hiccups. (The official medical term is singultus, from the Latin word "singult," which means gasping while sobbing.)
What happens during hiccups?
When you hiccup, your diaphragm — a large, dome-shaped muscle beneath the lungs — involuntarily contracts. This spasm causes the sudden closure of your epiglottis, a flap of cartilage at the root of the tongue that closes when you swallow so that food and liquids don't enter the lungs. The shutting of your epiglottis is what makes the "hic" sound during hiccups.
Two major nerves are involved in the hiccup process. The phrenic nerve helps contract the diaphragm, while the vagus nerve shuts the epiglottis. By forcefully sucking on the tool's straw and then swallowing water, you contract the diaphragm and close the epiglottis. These two actions stimulate the phrenic and vagus nerves, which interrupts the hiccup reflex arc.
The tool has a mouthpiece on the top, a body in the middle, and an adjustable cap with a pressure valve on the lower end.Alvarez et al.
"HiccAway can instantly stop hiccups by generating enough pressure while sipping from the device to lower the diaphragm while simultaneously activating the leaf-shaped flap in the throat, known as the epiglottis," the company writes on its website. "Doing this stimulates two key nerves, the phrenic and the vagus nerves, which are responsible for the hiccups. This allows the brain to reset and stop hiccups."
Testing the device
To test the efficacy of the tool, researchers with the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio sent the HiccAway to more than 600 people who reported having hiccups at least once a month. The results showed that the tool stopped hiccups 92 percent of the time for the 249 participants whose responses were validated in the study. More than 90 percent of participants said it was more effective than home remedies.
"Many home remedies consist of physical maneuvers designed to stimulate contraction of the diaphragm and/or closure of the epiglottis," stated a study published in JAMA Network Open. "These maneuvers lack clear, standardized instructions and can be cumbersome to perform, and there are few, if any, scientific studies of their effectiveness."
Still, it's worth noting that the results were based on self-reported data, and the study didn't feature a control group. Future research could compare the efficacy of HiccAway with a device that looks similar but doesn't function.
It's also worth pointing out that you don't need a $14 device to stimulate the vagus and phrenic nerves. You may just need a glass of water and a straw. A 2006 article published in the British Medical Journal noted that "plugging both ears tightly, pushing both right and left tragus, and drinking the entire glass of water through the straw without pause, without releasing the pressure over the ears" is a "nearly infallible" method to stop hiccups.
What if nothing stops your hiccups? Consider consulting a doctor: Persistent hiccups can signal underlying medical conditions, including pancreatitis, pregnancy, and liver cancer, among others.
Cross-disciplinary cooperation is needed to save civilization.
- There is a great disconnect between the sciences and the humanities.
- Solutions to most of our real-world problems need both ways of knowing.
- Moving beyond the two-culture divide is an essential step to ensure our project of civilization.
For the past five years, I ran the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Engagement at Dartmouth, an initiative sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation. Our mission has been to find ways to bring scientists and humanists together, often in public venues or — after Covid-19 — online, to discuss questions that transcend the narrow confines of a single discipline.
It turns out that these questions are at the very center of the much needed and urgent conversation about our collective future. While the complexity of the problems we face asks for a multi-cultural integration of different ways of knowing, the tools at hand are scarce and mostly ineffective. We need to rethink and learn how to collaborate productively across disciplinary cultures.
The danger of hyper-specialization
The explosive expansion of knowledge that started in the mid 1800s led to hyper-specialization inside and outside academia. Even within a single discipline, say philosophy or physics, professionals often don't understand one another. As I wrote here before, "This fragmentation of knowledge inside and outside of academia is the hallmark of our times, an amplification of the clash of the Two Cultures that physicist and novelist C.P. Snow admonished his Cambridge colleagues in 1959." The loss is palpable, intellectually and socially. Knowledge is not adept to reductionism. Sure, a specialist will make progress in her chosen field, but the tunnel vision of hyper-specialization creates a loss of context: you do the work not knowing how it fits into the bigger picture or, more alarmingly, how it may impact society.
Many of the existential risks we face today — AI and its impact on the workforce, the dangerous loss of privacy due to data mining and sharing, the threat of cyberwarfare, the threat of biowarfare, the threat of global warming, the threat of nuclear terrorism, the threat to our humanity by the development of genetic engineering — are consequences of the growing ease of access to cutting-edge technologies and the irreversible dependence we all have on our gadgets. Technological innovation is seductive: we want to have the latest "smart" phone, 5k TV, and VR goggles because they are objects of desire and social placement.
Are we ready for the genetic revolution?
When the time comes, and experts believe it is coming sooner than we expect or are prepared for, genetic meddling with the human genome may drive social inequality to an unprecedented level with not just differences in wealth distribution but in what kind of being you become and who retains power. This is the kind of nightmare that Nobel Prize-winning geneticist Jennifer Doudna talked about in a recent Big Think video.
CRISPR 101: Curing Sickle Cell, Growing Organs, Mosquito Makeovers | Jennifer Doudna | Big Think www.youtube.com
At the heart of these advances is the dual-use nature of science, its light and shadow selves. Most technological developments are perceived and sold as spectacular advances that will either alleviate human suffering or bring increasing levels of comfort and accessibility to a growing number of people. Curing diseases is what motivated Doudna and other scientists involved with CRISPR research. But with that also came the potential for altering the genetic makeup of humanity in ways that, again, can be used for good or evil purposes.
This is not a sci-fi movie plot. The main difference between biohacking and nuclear hacking is one of scale. Nuclear technologies require industrial-level infrastructure, which is very costly and demanding. This is why nuclear research and its technological implementation have been mostly relegated to governments. Biohacking can be done in someone's backyard garage with equipment that is not very costly. The Netflix documentary series Unnatural Selection brings this point home in terrifying ways. The essential problem is this: once the genie is out of the bottle, it is virtually impossible to enforce any kind of control. The genie will not be pushed back in.
Cross-disciplinary cooperation is needed to save civilization
What, then, can be done? Such technological challenges go beyond the reach of a single discipline. CRISPR, for example, may be an invention within genetics, but its impact is vast, asking for oversight and ethical safeguards that are far from our current reality. The same with global warming, rampant environmental destruction, and growing levels of air pollution/greenhouse gas emissions that are fast emerging as we crawl into a post-pandemic era. Instead of learning the lessons from our 18 months of seclusion — that we are fragile to nature's powers, that we are co-dependent and globally linked in irreversible ways, that our individual choices affect many more than ourselves — we seem to be bent on decompressing our accumulated urges with impunity.
The experience from our experiment with the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Engagement has taught us a few lessons that we hope can be extrapolated to the rest of society: (1) that there is huge public interest in this kind of cross-disciplinary conversation between the sciences and the humanities; (2) that there is growing consensus in academia that this conversation is needed and urgent, as similar institutes emerge in other schools; (3) that in order for an open cross-disciplinary exchange to be successful, a common language needs to be established with people talking to each other and not past each other; (4) that university and high school curricula should strive to create more courses where this sort of cross-disciplinary exchange is the norm and not the exception; (5) that this conversation needs to be taken to all sectors of society and not kept within isolated silos of intellectualism.
Moving beyond the two-culture divide is not simply an interesting intellectual exercise; it is, as humanity wrestles with its own indecisions and uncertainties, an essential step to ensure our project of civilization.