Monthly Archives: August 2015

The Culinary Argument Against Human Evolution

Neanderthals eating
I have no dog in the evolution debate because I’m not a biologist nor a theologian, but I do have loosely-held ideas—intuitions, really—not based on scientific study by nature but still relevant and true (to a degree) to me, internally.

This article on the romanticization of “natural” food, from the leftoid Jacobin site, provides an interesting clue. A apropos section:

Natural was usually indigestible. Grains, which supplied from fifty to ninety percent of the calories in most societies have to be threshed, ground, and cooked to make them edible. Other plants, including the roots and fibers that were the life support of the societies that did not eat grains, are often downright poisonous. Without careful processing green potatoes, stinging taro, and cassava bitter with prussic acid are not just indigestible, but toxic.

Nor did our ancestors’ physiological theories dispose them to the natural. Until about two hundred years ago, from China to Europe, and in Mesoamerica, too, everyone believed that the fires in the belly cooked foodstuffs and turned them into nutrients. That was what digestion was. Cooking foods in effect pre-digested them and made them easier to assimilate. Given a choice, no one would burden the stomach with raw, unprocessed foods.

So to make food tasty, safe, digestible and healthy, our forebears bred, ground, soaked, leached, curdled, fermented, and cooked naturally occurring plants and animals until they were literally beaten into submission.

To lower toxin levels, they cooked plants, treated them with clay (the Kaopectate effect), leached them with water, acid fruits and vinegars, and alkaline lye. They intensively bred maize to the point that it could not reproduce without human help. They created sweet oranges and juicy apples and non-bitter legumes, happily abandoning their more natural but less tasty ancestors.

It goes on as such. Assuming that Laudan’s facts are correct, and I have no reason to doubt that they are, a question arises: if humans had successfully evolved in much the same way other organism have, why do humans have to put so much effort into making things edible? If the organisms from which humans evolved didn’t have to apply an inordinate-seeming level of logical process to “food” as we do now, how did it occur that humans are biologically tasked with doing so? Wouldn’t a (truly) natural consuming of the raw materials, the kind of vegetations and animals that other organisms are observed to eat now, be the de facto state of things, and wouldn’t it have remained as such, evolving alongside the pre-homo sapien as they made their way into into modern humans? The idea that we have had to utilize a primitive form of modern science to process natural resources for something so basic as eating, on the surface, contradicts microevolutionary theory for humans specifically. It’s as though humans, if I want to phrase it dramatically, were thrown onto the planet ex nihilo to figure out how to fend for themselves.

To be more specific here, I believe creation probably began and progressed via one of the current pseudo-scientific* theories we all learned in school, but that humans were directly created by supernatural mean. I had originally thought this was called the very vague and unhelpful theistic evolution, but in reading its definition, it doesn’t address this idea specifically. But, as I’ve stated before, I hold this belief very loosely and not opposed to something different.

* “Pesudo-scientific” here isn’t the derogatory term, but an actual description of it. Origins of the universe and evolutionary theory are a mix of science and non-scientific conjecture or predicate logic. True, the scientific process always embodied predicate logic to sort of “fill in” gaps in knowledge until more raw information came in, but it’s my view that evolutionary theories contain too much of this type of inferential knowledge to be considered purely scientific.

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Photos: Allegheny Valley Bike Ride

Inspired both by Ed’s posts about riding out in Oklahoma County and by the fact that I finally took Functional out on a non-commuting ride this season, here’s a very photo-heavy post of the route I did with some friends/in-laws.

For the Pittsburgh area, it was a very flat ride with some nice views along the Allegheny River. It wasn’t quite an official cycling route with proper lanes, etc., but it wasn’t hostile. The tightest spot was probably going over the bridge, and even that wasn’t too bad. Even the car-heavy parts on Freeport Road had plenty of room to make it comfortable. I was able to really enjoy the ride instead of dreading the next hill, when I wasn’t trying to hold on to . I felt like a modern Sagittarius, but with a bicycle instead of hooves and a cell phone instead of a bow and arrow (but there’s an app for that).

The area, being a remnant of the Rust Belt, had plenty of places along the way to stop and check out if you’re an industrial history buff. Or like to break windows in abandoned buildings…not that we did that (really, we didn’t).


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Evidence is Not Enough

Carl Sagan, as usual when it came to epistemology, was wrong. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” is applicable when speaking of empirical, falsifiable claims. Fine when you’re dealing with the hard sciences, or if for some reason you’re a positivist (impossible to be one, so we won’t go there today), but achieving a functional navigation in the physical world requires an actor to be much more epistemically open. It’s not something we have to think about, since it’s achieved on autopilot. You wouldn’t be able to step out your front door without it.

Just Thomism approaches it differently:

The humdrum thing you point at (soot jiggling in a jar) might have no proportion to the magnitude of the thing it is evidence for (the composition of all bodies in the universe). So what are we to make of the claim that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence? This obviously isn’t true if evidence is just “what one points to to prove the case”: jiggling soot is hardly an extraordinary thing to point to, though a claim about the composition of the entire universe clearly is. So it must mean that an extraordinary claim requires an extraordinary story or argument in defense of it.

In other words: evidence is not and cannot be incontrovertible, undeniable, or “hard.” It requires an explanation, and bringing language into the argument’s existence drags it outright into the realm of the subjective.

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Photo: Jay

I’m not too keen on photos of myself, but Hot Metal Studio did a great job of making me appeal to…myself. The session was for the new book’s author photo, but this isn’t the one I’m going to use.


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Doubleplusungood Thoughts on Slavery

Growing up with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as a favorite movie, I got the impression that slavery was all about capturing young able-bodied children for mine work. Roots sat on the head-end of my timeline but if I saw that I’d have additional prejudices about slavery. Most of us who have grown up inside the public school system and with mass media in the home may have similar preconceptions. That’s not a value judgment but a matter of fact.

Picture this: your village was attached, scorched-earth style, by a roving horde of Fu-Manchued Barbarians, and most of the men who bothered to fight back were killed or injured. There’s zero usable infrastructure within a twenty mile radius, and the nearest (friendly) village is 100 hundred miles away. By the way, you have no car, no horse, and no wagon—remember, those were destroyed. Why do you have a car, anyways? There’s no proper pavement system conceived yet.

In this scenario, your only hope is to walk 100 miles while (possibly) injured, with no money or food, hope that you don’t get jumped by roadside bandits, mauled by bears, or collapse from starvation. So you’re pretty desperate, and Head Fu-Manchued Barbarian knows this: he may be violent but he’s not an idiot, since people who are able to successfully plan and execute a thousand-man, thousand-mile hack-and-slash fest on horseback are by definition no idiot. What do you think he’d do? Killing you is an option but why waste energy and resources for little to no return? He could use a good cook, scullery maid, or blacksmith back home in Barbaria. Better yet, he knows Fellow Fu-Manchued Barbarian a few huts down who is more desperate for your expertise and is willing to part with some big denarii for your skill set. You, however, have no options besides death. Head Fu-Manchued Barbarian (as mentioned, he’s not an idiot) knows this, and despite the quivering, unsheathed sabre in his hand, he cools off for a few seconds to let his frontal lobe recharge. He makes you an offer. Enter slavery.

This is a very specific example, but it may have been the origin story for a lot of slavery throughout history. One has to arrive to a very unsavory but very strong inference that slavery was more for the benefit of the slave than the slaveholder. In this situation that you’re in, it’s kind of unavoidable, and again in this situation, launching all the “slavery is bad” arguments miss the point. It’s not slavery that’s the worse thing, it’s war, and slavery is an unfortunate result of it.

You can probably look up statistics for yourselves, but the fact that waning of slavery’s popularity or “usefulness” coincided suspiciously with the creeping flood of industrialization and legislative action. In other words, industrialization began to make slavery the less attractive option for cost/benefit purposes, and the political aspect piggybacked on the wave of cultural shift. A politician outlawing slavery when neither slaves nor slaveholders would want it outlawed would get laughed at and soundly thrashed, but if popular opinion shifts the opposite direction, a career bureaucrat stands to gain by making a show of creating laws and reaping the social currency of a movement that was already underway without their meddling. As incentives change, so goes the politician, but also the nature of the slaveowner. As slavery slowly became financially impractical, it may have been the case that the more cruelty-oriented of them held onto the institution and rent-seeked for government services—southern American slaveowners relied on state authorities to capture runaway slaves. Without the benefit of the state, the real profit-seekers would be relying on the sectors with time-saving technology, leaving the those that prefer cruelty over profits as the bulk of slaveholders. This makes it easier to create a case for slavery’s abolition and thus, in popular memory, we are left with the slaveholder as the cruel actor.

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The Epistemology of Road Signs

There are about four stop signs near my house on the way to the bus stop that I generally ignore. Two of them literally have no consequence if one is obedient to them or not. I guess I should explain that I’m riding my bike when I fly through these, but some people have a really strange allegiance to silly rules and have a huge crush on following all traffic laws and signs, despite their ineffectiveness.

I’m not a bicycle evangelist by most means, but here’s what’s great about riding one: compared to cars, I have no visual impairments when riding my bike. In fact, I have an even greater field of vision since bicycles sit slightly higher than car height, but that doesn’t apply when comparing to vans. This 100%+ capability doesn’t go down because I don’t have mirrors, since I have a side mirror attached to the handlebar that provides what I need.

I even have 100% hearing capabilities, whereas in a car you have 0% up to maybe 50% if you roll your side’s window down. Utilizing hearing might not sound (heh) like much of an advantage, but there is one when you’re on a quiet mode of transport and need to be fully aware of transports that make lots of noise. I suppose, too, there’s an evolutionary argument that can be made where vision and hearing combined adds up to a certain awareness of surroundings, an awareness of a greater degree than if you just added them together.

Basically, unless there is an invisible, completely silent, faster-than-light car actively on the American auto market, I’m in no danger if I blow through a stop sign. I’m pretty good at meta-analyzing my sense’s current states, and if they were mitigated in some way I’d compensate with the correct amount of caution. In optimal conditions, I’m confident my powers of observation provide me with better decision-making information than a painted piece of metal.

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Castle in the Sky – Sheeta and the Pirates

Castle in the Sky - robot flower
Bear with me if you’ve never seen Castle in the Sky, or you’ve forgotten it. Some time ago, on Facebook or on some message board had mentioned the odd interest the pirates took in Sheeta’s presence on their ship. If I had a clip of the relevant scenes, I would link them here, but it’s a film distributed by Disney so its been outlawed from being viewed anywhere online.

I call the interest “odd” because Sheeta, as well as Pazu, are portrayed as early teenagers or younger (depending on which version you’re watching), and having grown men a few steps short of accosting a fairly captive young girl is inappropriate for any movie geared somewhat towards children. But there’s no overt indication that the pirate’s interest in Sheeta is prurient. They live on a ship with their mother, Dola, as the only feminine presence in their life, and she’s far from matronly. How could she not be? She has to keep her sons and ship in line—like Mama Fratelli from The Goonies, she has no avenue to really fill the mom role. Sheeta played that part well, however temporarily, while on their ship.

Yes, there’s the lolita culture in Japan, but Miyazaki’s films have been largely immune from it. I think the suggestion of Sheeta vs Dola’s gang as being prurient is more a western or American perception. Some of us just can’t help but read sexuality into ambiguities.

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