Entries Tagged 'health' ↓

Face the facts!

Billboard at bus stop: “Smoking causes 5000 deaths a year in New Zealand. Face the facts!”

What about aging – which is currently inescapably and is what really kills most people? Smoking just accelerates the accumulation of cell damage. Why limit ourselves to aging that’s caused by one particular vice? Breathing causes oxidative damage, and caloric restriction increases longevity. Should we also make billboards that say “Hyperventilation and eating more calories than necessary cause X deaths a year. Face the facts!”.

According to Wikipedia, New Zealand has a 7 in 1000 death rate. That’s 0.7 % or just over 30,000 (going by the current population figures as shown on Wikipedia). I find the attribution of 5000 of these being “caused” purely by smoking a slight exaggeration, but without them citing their sources, they could really make up any number they like.

Alternatively, I think it’d be more amusing to have a billboard that said either:

  • “Entropy marches relentlessly on! Face the facts!”
  • “You’re going to die! Face the facts!”

But y’know, SmokeFree New Zealand would probably change their marketing director if that happened. 😉

A pile of pills

So in the interests of sharing, and keeping a record for future reference, here is my current supplement stack:

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Modafinil in Silicon Valley

Looks like I’m not the only one:

“Is someone you work with taking Provigil to give them an extra competitive edge? I’ve spoken with one executive who says he uses it regularly to work twenty hour days, and the buzz lately is that it’s the “entrepreneur’s drug of choice” around Silicon Valley. Over the last week two separate entrepreneurs have mentioned it casually in conversation, and one said he tried it once and loved it.”

An interesting conversation was had at a friend’s bday dinner about drug prohibition, and I meant to mention this kind of thing while dining. Another reason I think the whole recreational drug thing needs to change or be approached without a maxim of “drugs are bad” is because performance enhancement is going to become more common.

What’s so funny is that entrepreneurs apparently aren’t interested in typical drugs – instead they find the one that gives them a mental and stamina advantage.

“What’s so funny” about this statement is that I’m sure this is a completely false claim. It’s merely more socially accepted to take drugs to be a more productive member of society. Thus it’s easier to admit this to colleagues. Possibly it conveys “I’m a hard worker”, not that it really does (since you can still be unproductive even if you’re awake), but the dissonance between the reason behind taking drugs and the public’s perception of it is annoying.

I’ve personally talked to several entrepreneurs who’ve had the seeds of their business inspiration arrive while under the influence.

Note however I’m not saying innovation and new ideas can’t be arrived at without drugs, since that’s patently untrue.

The power of affirmations

What ever Tyler Durden from Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club may say, I am a beautiful and unique snowflake.

You see, your reality is your delusion. Whatever your outlook on life, yourself, or others, it’ll always be subjective. You may align your outlook with thousands or millions of other human beings, but their observation of the universe will also be subjective. In essence, you can believe what you want to believe. Obviously, if you stray to far from the collective reality then bad things will start happening, like bankruptcy if you believe you are materially wealthy beyond your means, or being committed to an institution if you start proclaiming yourself as Jesus. However, small deviations from what your mind (and especially your insecurities) might initially tell are actually incredibly powerful.

I’m a firm believer in the mind being part of the body. You can believe things about soul, or spirit, but your existence is intricately tied to how your body, and in particular your brain works. The brain is a neural network, neural networks work through updating the connections between neurons based on feedback of whether they were useful to activate at a certain time (in an extremely abstract and slightly incorrect summary). Another feature of the brain’s neural network, is that connections are established and only reinforce themselves if they are actually used. Thus if you repeat an affirmation, you are literally making yourself believe it. It doesn’t matter if you initially don’t believe it, the fact that the sentence… for example “I eat healthy foods”, might not apply immediately, doesn’t matter. Purely by parsing and processing THAT idea, it’s becoming part of your consciousness. If you repeat this 100 times a day “I eat healthy foods” becomes a stronger connection (indeed, VERY strong, since most ideas we have are not repeated so frequently unless we are studying or whatever) and more ingrained in your psyche. Later, even if you don’t consciously perceive that thought, it’s still being activated and used at an unconscious level.

Now, I’m not going to claim this will suddenly change you, but like anything worth doing, it takes time. In particular, intermittent learning is a lot more powerful than swatting for an exam and forgetting everything afterwards, and the same applies to affirmations. Doing affirmations for a couple of days won’t make much of a difference (although it’ll plant a seed).

Since most of this post has been me spouting knowledge which I’m too lazy (oops, this is a negative identification… I’m not actually lazy, I’ve just got more pressing matters to attend to then searching the net to support one of my mind dumps) to find references for, here is something related. The idea of affirmations could be made even more powerful by watching your brain in real-time as you make the statement, and compare it to the reaction of other statements you either believe to be stronger true or false as recently seen on TED.

Your mind can never change
Unless you ask it to
Lovingly re-arrange
The thoughts that make you blue
The things that bring you down
Only do harm to you
And so make your choice joy
The joy belongs to you

Massive Attack – What your soul sings

You/Food/Exercise are the perfect drug

This is the first of a number of essays I’ve drafted out, but have left stagnating in my “to write” pile. They are distinctly without references, because I didn’t have the time to trawl for them, but I welcome critique and/or addendum from my readers.

Government’s seem to have a fascination with criminalising substances that change mental awareness, however there are so many things that do this, it’s strange that they intervene in some cases but not in others. Consistency and reliability are key components of trust, how does one trust a government with an erratic value system for experiencing our consciousness?

It’s been exclaimed in poetry and songs, love is a drug, a quintessential part of human experience. The euphoric highs when you meet someone special, planning how you might met with them again for a coffee in order to get another dose of those powerful attractants. Let alone all the other emotions which they themselves are based on a concoction of organic compounds. Being human, love is a strong attractor for the complex system of the human mind. If you get torn asunder from this attractor, it can feel like physical pain: severe withdrawal symptoms that can lead to anger, regret, and depression. In extreme cases murder (if other people are involved), and/or suicide. And yet the government allows it. This seemingly random experience that we cannot control – unlike substances that change our awareness, which we are free to control through our own will and determination in the universe (if you believe in free will of course, I chose to, even if I don’t really, because it’s leads to a much more effective life).

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An excellent article on diet and nutrition

Unhappy Meals by MICHAEL POLLAN

It starts with the simple advice and conclusion of the piece:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy. I hate to give away the game right here at the beginning of a long essay, and I confess that I’m tempted to complicate matters in the interest of keeping things going for a few thousand more words.

And more evidence of how capitalism fucks with policy:

Naïvely putting two and two together, the committee drafted a straightforward set of dietary guidelines calling on Americans to cut down on red meat and dairy products. Within weeks a firestorm, emanating from the red-meat and dairy industries, engulfed the committee, and Senator McGovern (who had a great many cattle ranchers among his South Dakota constituents) was forced to beat a retreat. The committee’s recommendations were hastily rewritten. Plain talk about food — the committee had advised Americans to actually “reduce consumption of meat” — was replaced by artful compromise: “Choose meats, poultry and fish that will reduce saturated-fat intake.”

A subtle change in emphasis, you might say, but a world of difference just the same. First, the stark message to “eat less” of a particular food has been deep-sixed; don’t look for it ever again in any official U.S. dietary pronouncement. Second, notice how distinctions between entities as different as fish and beef and chicken have collapsed; those three venerable foods, each representing an entirely different taxonomic class, are now lumped together as delivery systems for a single nutrient. Notice too how the new language exonerates the foods themselves; now the culprit is an obscure, invisible, tasteless — and politically unconnected — substance that may or may not lurk in them called “saturated fat.”

Lucky for me I’m mostly vegetarian.

Besides which, it makes sense. The spoils of a meat kill were somewhat of a luxury for our ancestors, and our bodies are evolved to be sustained mostly from foraging fruits, nuts, and veges.

Drugs compared to mountaineering

The article linked below calls for the general public and policy makers to talk about drugs openly, and stop negative rhetoric about them, and actually discuss the issues instead of fear-mongering (via Tatjna).

In particular, the comparison to mountaineering is quite nice:

The truth is that recreational drug taking is like mountaineering. When all goes well, as it does most of the time, the experience can be fun and even profound. Not only can the experience be great, it can also give the adventurer insights into his or her own character and the workings of the brain, insights that can be applied to the rest of life. But drug taking, like mountaineering, can be dangerous.

Let’s all grow up, stop pushing lies and have an honest debate about drugs

Drugs as stochasticity in the mind

I’d like to present a motivation behind why some people might take drugs. Often, when prompted for a reason why, people might say something like “To expand my consciousness” or “To discover something about myself”. Of course, this does somewhat depend on the drug and who you ask, a lot of people just like them for the thrill or the immediate sensations. I’d like to explore the former reasons however.

Optimisation techniques

Since I’m a programmer, and enthusiast about artificial intelligence, I’m going to approach it from this angle. Particularly genetic-algorithms, simulated-annealing, neural-networks, and other optimisation techniques that have a solution space that one can visualise as being a rugged fitness landscape of peaks and troughs.

The height of a point on this landscape indicates the fitness of being at that particular point. Imagine you are standing at said point. If you move slightly in one direction it may increase your fitness, decrease it, or it may stay the same. All the above machine learning methods, in some way, are moving along a multi-dimensional landscape of fitness, all are trying to reach the peak fitness value. The problem however, is that, generally these methods only move in the direction of increasing fitness (although the specifics may be different). If you find yourself at the top of a peak, you’ve reached the locally optimal solution, but you’ve no way of knowing if you’ve reached the globally optimal solution.

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The loss of limbo

I promise I won’t do this often, but this poem from this book sums up the first half of this year for me.

My life has fallen down
around me before
–lots of times,
for lots of reasons–
usually other people.

And most of the time
I was fortunate enough
to have a large lump of
that life hit me on the
head and render me numb
to the pain & desolation
that followed.
And I survived.
And I live to love again.

But this,
this slow erosion from below
–or within–
it’s me falling down around my life
because you’re still in that life
–but not really.
And you’re out of that life
–but not quite.

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The potential of a clean slate

There is something exciting about clean slate. The potential it holds.

As a kid I used to ridiculously excited about buying stationary for school each year. All that blank paper, waiting for thoughts and ideas to placed upon them. Even now when I go to book stores, my favourite area is not the fiction shelves, the technical book shelves, or the magazine stand, it’s the stationary area. Particularly the notebooks, so many styles and all begging me to express my thoughts, ideas or projects upon them. It’s the same with buying a new computer, it’s a new piece of equipment with a spanking fresh OS install, I can plan how to organise my folder structure, trim down the installed applications to just what I’m currently using and my mind exudes a clarity that immediately fills with potential projects and Cool Things to do.

And so it is with my life right now. Despite the best of intentions, the whole “lets just be friends” isn’t feasible for my ex and me, at least not with some significant amount of time apart. So here I am almost at a place I can in some ways call a clean slate. Not quite yet though, I still have to finish this PhD I foolishly committed to some 3 years ago. Purely by being in the same environment for so long has kept me from moving on due to so many memories over that time. I do immensely look forward being ALL DONE, then the world is my oyster, or at least my olive*.

There is one thing I might have trouble with though. The sheer limitless number of possibilities available when I buy a new book or computer often has me procrastinate for a long time while I try and weigh up my choices, trying to come up with the best plan. It’s difficult to overcome this block since before I start perfection is still a potential state for anything. I want things to be just right, and sometimes it prevents me from doing anything. I know it’s psychological, and that I should really follow Nike’s slogan: Just do it.

*since I’m potentially allergic to shell fish.