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Is this the diet we all need right now?
In his new book, "The Wedge," Scott Carney tests the boundaries of human resilience.
- NY Times bestselling author, Scott Carney, returns with his new book on resilience, "The Wedge."
- Carney's previous book on Wim Hof helped pushed ice baths into the mainstream.
- In "The Wedge" Carney tests his boundaries with the Potato Hack diet, kettlebell passing, and ayahuasca.
As Scott Carney pushes his shopping cart through multi-colored aisles in his local Denver grocery, he notices the many promises each item makes. A bag of chips promises fun. Coconut oil will boost his IQ. Even broccoli gets in on the game. By purchasing a few stems, Carney helps save the world. That's a tall order for a cabbage.
On this day, Carney is only there for one purpose: potatoes. Utilitarian shopping, sure, but that's the point. The investigative journalist wants to deny his taste buds to see the emotional response it evokes. What if we ate only for nutrition? Sustenance was the driver for eons, before the magic of refrigeration changed our relationship to food (even what is considered food). The Potato Hack is no hip new paleo diet. Carney wants to know how food marketing became so absurd that every package has to purport untold benefits—and why we buy in.
More importantly, this is Carney putting in the work to find out. Five days, nothing but spuds. As he writes in his new book, "The Wedge: Evolution, Consciousness, Stress, and the Key to Human Resilience," the Potato Hack isn't his idea. Penn Jillette famously used it to shed 100 pounds. Others have advocated it as a guaranteed weight-loss protocol. But Carney isn't overweight. He wants to discover how eating potatoes effects his affective state, especially in the evening when he starts craving "chocolate and maybe a glass of whisky on the rocks."
"The Potato Hack was really about trying to understand how taste frames my world," Carney told me from his Denver home in early March. Our Paleolithic ancestors, he says, were always up against a calorie deficit. We are not, and that greatly affects our health, usually to our detriment.
"Every time we eat in the modern world, we have the opposite of a calorie deficit. We have an overabundance of calories, but we still have that paleolithic response to food. Every food marketing company in the world knows this. You walk down the aisles of any grocery store and there's yogurt that's going to put a party on in your mouth."
Identifying the Wedge and Wim Hof Method at Aspen Brain Lab
For Carney, eating nothing but potatoes—no oil or fancy preparation, just a sprinkle of salt and pepper—seems to be the least of his concerns. He traveled around with people who sell organs on the black market. He investigated one particularly troublesome cult (which, amazingly, persists to this day). Most famously, he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with Wim Hof in 28 hours, mostly shirtless. Potatoes seem like a luxury.
Only they aren't. Food is at the emotional core of our being. Alongside sex and shelter, it's a basic animal need. On a nutritional level, potatoes (which should only be done for three to five days) offer enough calories to subsist while making you feel full. What's missing are those habits you develop, your relationship to fatty and sugary foods that are always available. Deprivation is the key to understanding yourself.
Which in many ways describes "The Wedge." Carney considers it a sort of follow-up to "What Doesn't Kill Us," his NY Times bestseller on the "Ice Man," Wim Hof. For that book, Carney sat in ice baths and devoted himself to Hof's breathing protocols, both of which are claimed to help boost your immune system as well as help you push beyond mental and emotional hurdles. For "The Wedge," he wanted to know how else he could test his boundaries.
"When you're in ice water, you're trying to relax in this very stressful environment. At that time, I thought, 'you're using your mind as a wedge between stimulus and response.' You're trying to open up space between that very difficult environment and what your body does in that environment. I wanted to use that basic concept separating stimulus and response and apply it to everything."
Scott Carney in Peru.
Photo: Jake Holschuh
Carney says that our nervous systems are not designed for comfort. Our ancestors lived in radically different environments. Humans were somewhere in the middle of the food chain for most of history. How could he recreate challenges that wouldn't kill him but that would prod this ancestral response system into action? And could he use that response for good?
Sensory deprivation tanks do not involve climbing mountains in shorts, yet they can provoke anxiety (as I've written about previously). By shutting out external stimulation you're effectively left, as Blaise Pascal famously said, sitting (in this case, floating) in a room alone with nothing but your thoughts. Carney returned to ice baths, yet he tried the other extreme, reporting on the benefits of saunas. He threw iron balls back and forth and didn't lose any toes. Potatoes aren't the only root he dug up, as he visited a Peruvian rainforest to partake in ayahuasca ceremonies (following an encounter with MDMA). That last experience certainly left an imprint.
"The shaman is singing, he's playing these songs, so it's already a psychedelic experience. You add a psychedelic and it creates this internal chaos that you're essentially trying to manage. They'll tell you that the messages you're getting are from the plant—the spirit of the plant is speaking to you. I don't know if that's true; that may just be a very good analogy for someone who grew up in the Amazon. But I will say it's showing me things about my psyche and my past, where I get to look at those things from a perspective outside of myself and gain lessons that are really useful and very personal. Some of it is really hard to deal with."
The essence of resilience: the ability to deal with your emotions. Whether you're digging up root vegetables or brewing vines that dig up the root of who you are, you test yourself every time you're faced with dangers great or small. To do that, you have to push past your comfort zone, even a little.
Carney could not have foreseen the timeliness of his exceptional new book. The world has run right up into its own wedge. There's a ton of stimulation right now, mostly in the forms of uncertainty and sadness, and all of it will require a response. How we reply determines who we are on the other side.
If ever we needed a key to resilience, here we are. If there's one takeaway from "The Wedge" it's that you never really know your limits until you test them. Carney has done the legwork. Now it's our turn.
So much for rest in peace.
- Australian scientists found that bodies kept moving for 17 months after being pronounced dead.
- Researchers used photography capture technology in 30-minute intervals every day to capture the movement.
- This study could help better identify time of death.
We're learning more new things about death everyday. Much has been said and theorized about the great divide between life and the Great Beyond. While everyone and every culture has their own philosophies and unique ideas on the subject, we're beginning to learn a lot of new scientific facts about the deceased corporeal form.
An Australian scientist has found that human bodies move for more than a year after being pronounced dead. These findings could have implications for fields as diverse as pathology to criminology.
Dead bodies keep moving
Researcher Alyson Wilson studied and photographed the movements of corpses over a 17 month timeframe. She recently told Agence France Presse about the shocking details of her discovery.
Reportedly, she and her team focused a camera for 17 months at the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER), taking images of a corpse every 30 minutes during the day. For the entire 17 month duration, the corpse continually moved.
"What we found was that the arms were significantly moving, so that arms that started off down beside the body ended up out to the side of the body," Wilson said.
The researchers mostly expected some kind of movement during the very early stages of decomposition, but Wilson further explained that their continual movement completely surprised the team:
"We think the movements relate to the process of decomposition, as the body mummifies and the ligaments dry out."
During one of the studies, arms that had been next to the body eventually ended up akimbo on their side.
The team's subject was one of the bodies stored at the "body farm," which sits on the outskirts of Sydney. (Wilson took a flight every month to check in on the cadaver.)Her findings were recently published in the journal, Forensic Science International: Synergy.
Implications of the study
The researchers believe that understanding these after death movements and decomposition rate could help better estimate the time of death. Police for example could benefit from this as they'd be able to give a timeframe to missing persons and link that up with an unidentified corpse. According to the team:
"Understanding decomposition rates for a human donor in the Australian environment is important for police, forensic anthropologists, and pathologists for the estimation of PMI to assist with the identification of unknown victims, as well as the investigation of criminal activity."
While scientists haven't found any evidence of necromancy. . . the discovery remains a curious new understanding about what happens with the body after we die.
Metal-like materials have been discovered in a very strange place.
- Bristle worms are odd-looking, spiky, segmented worms with super-strong jaws.
- Researchers have discovered that the jaws contain metal.
- It appears that biological processes could one day be used to manufacture metals.
The bristle worm, also known as polychaetes, has been around for an estimated 500 million years. Scientists believe that the super-resilient species has survived five mass extinctions, and there are some 10,000 species of them.
Be glad if you haven't encountered a bristle worm. Getting stung by one is an extremely itchy affair, as people who own saltwater aquariums can tell you after they've accidentally touched a bristle worm that hitchhiked into a tank aboard a live rock.
Bristle worms are typically one to six inches long when found in a tank, but capable of growing up to 24 inches long. All polychaetes have a segmented body, with each segment possessing a pair of legs, or parapodia, with tiny bristles. ("Polychaeate" is Greek for "much hair.") The parapodia and its bristles can shoot outward to snag prey, which is then transferred to a bristle worm's eversible mouth.
The jaws of one bristle worm — Platynereis dumerilii — are super-tough, virtually unbreakable. It turns out, according to a new study from researchers at the Technical University of Vienna, this strength is due to metal atoms.
Metals, not minerals
Fireworm, a type of bristle wormCredit: prilfish / Flickr
This is pretty unusual. The study's senior author Christian Hellmich explains: "The materials that vertebrates are made of are well researched. Bones, for example, are very hierarchically structured: There are organic and mineral parts, tiny structures are combined to form larger structures, which in turn form even larger structures."
The bristle worm jaw, by contrast, replaces the minerals from which other creatures' bones are built with atoms of magnesium and zinc arranged in a super-strong structure. It's this structure that is key. "On its own," he says, "the fact that there are metal atoms in the bristle worm jaw does not explain its excellent material properties."
Just deformable enough
Credit: by-studio / Adobe Stock
What makes conventional metal so strong is not just its atoms but the interactions between the atoms and the ways in which they slide against each other. The sliding allows for a small amount of elastoplastic deformation when pressure is applied, endowing metals with just enough malleability not to break, crack, or shatter.
Co-author Florian Raible of Max Perutz Labs surmises, "The construction principle that has made bristle worm jaws so successful apparently originated about 500 million years ago."
Raible explains, "The metal ions are incorporated directly into the protein chains and then ensure that different protein chains are held together." This leads to the creation of three-dimensional shapes the bristle worm can pack together into a structure that's just malleable enough to withstand a significant amount of force.
"It is precisely this combination," says the study's lead author Luis Zelaya-Lainez, "of high strength and deformability that is normally characteristic of metals.
So the bristle worm jaw is both metal-like and yet not. As Zelaya-Lainez puts it, "Here we are dealing with a completely different material, but interestingly, the metal atoms still provide strength and deformability there, just like in a piece of metal."
Observing the creation of a metal-like material from biological processes is a bit of a surprise and may suggest new approaches to materials development. "Biology could serve as inspiration here," says Hellmich, "for completely new kinds of materials. Perhaps it is even possible to produce high-performance materials in a biological way — much more efficiently and environmentally friendly than we manage today."
Dealing with rudeness can nudge you toward cognitive errors.
- Anchoring is a common bias that makes people fixate on one piece of data.
- A study showed that those who experienced rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to bad data.
- In some simulations with medical students, this effect led to higher mortality rates.
Cognitive biases are funny little things. Everyone has them, nobody likes to admit it, and they can range from minor to severe depending on the situation. Biases can be influenced by factors as subtle as our mood or various personality traits.
A new study soon to be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that experiencing rudeness can be added to the list. More disturbingly, the study's findings suggest that it is a strong enough effect to impact how medical professionals diagnose patients.
Life hack: don't be rude to your doctor
The team of researchers behind the project tested to see if participants could be influenced by the common anchoring bias, defined by the researchers as "the tendency to rely too heavily or fixate on one piece of information when making judgments and decisions." Most people have experienced it. One of its more common forms involves being given a particular value, say in negotiations on price, which then becomes the center of reasoning even when reason would suggest that number should be ignored.
It can also pop up in medicine. As co-author Dr. Trevor Foulk explains, "If you go into the doctor and say 'I think I'm having a heart attack,' that can become an anchor and the doctor may get fixated on that diagnosis, even if you're just having indigestion. If doctors don't move off anchors enough, they'll start treating the wrong thing."
Lots of things can make somebody more or less likely to anchor themselves to an idea. The authors of the study, who have several papers on the effects of rudeness, decided to see if that could also cause people to stumble into cognitive errors. Past research suggested that exposure to rudeness can limit people's perspective — perhaps anchoring them.
In the first version of the study, medical students were given a hypothetical patient to treat and access to information on their condition alongside an (incorrect) suggestion on what the condition was. This served as the anchor. In some versions of the tests, the students overheard two doctors arguing rudely before diagnosing the patient. Later variations switched the diagnosis test for business negotiations or workplace tasks while maintaining the exposure to rudeness.
Across all iterations of the test, those exposed to rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to the initial, incorrect suggestion despite the availability of evidence against it. This was less significant for study participants who scored higher on a test of how wide of a perspective they tended to have. The disposition of these participants, who answered in the affirmative to questions like, "Before criticizing somebody, I try to imagine how I would feel if I were in his/her place," was able to effectively negate the narrowing effects of rudeness.
What this means for you and your healthcare
The effects of anchoring when a medical diagnosis is on the line can be substantial. Dr. Foulk explains that, in some simulations, exposure to rudeness can raise the mortality rate as doctors fixate on the wrong problems.
The authors of the study suggest that managers take a keener interest in ensuring civility in workplaces and giving employees the tools they need to avoid judgment errors after dealing with rudeness. These steps could help prevent anchoring.
Also, you might consider being nicer to people.