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Bloggingheads
12-29-2007, 09:31 AM

Epicurus
12-29-2007, 10:47 AM
To John and George,

What are your favourite 5 science books of 2007. Lovin science Saturday.

Have a good new years party/celebration.

Epicurus
12-29-2007, 10:54 AM
If one parent has the mutated Huntingtin gene you have a 50% chance of getting the disease. It is also a direct correlation between CAG repeats at the end of the gene and the age you get the disease. The more CAG repeats the younger you get the disease.

Interesting stuff.

Tim_G
12-29-2007, 11:00 AM
I liked that article. From our perspective, it seems to me that "blame" for the uncomfortable facts of history is fairly useless and counterproductive. I'm sure that tribes on every corner of the globe were butchering their neighbors for all of history and before. We know Europeans were killing and enslaving each other all the time. The old testament gives a window into how people used to think. The fact is that people are animals and it's a dog-eat-dog world. Only very recently have we become somewhat "civilised" and secure enough that it begins to occur to us to respect the human rights of foreigners.

Abdicate
12-29-2007, 11:01 AM
URL of Atheists confab (http://www.chilicondarwin.com/chilicondarwin/News/Entries/2007/12/22_From_Logarithmic_To_Linear_2.html)

I'm only half-way through SS thus far...but George is being a bit prissy, no?

nojp
12-29-2007, 11:01 AM
The extraneous pathway for swearing can also be advantaged in learning a language ie it is always easier to learn the cuss words of a language as a starting point.

I have also added the quote Horgan thought was funny but did a poor job of relaying

Uncle Al says: From the dawn of art, “multimedia” has meant “nekkid broads” (e.g., Venus of Willendorf). Edwin Land knew a thing or two when he sold develop-at-home Polaroids. You won’t make a splash with Pinker unless you are both wearing butt floss thongs.
It ain’t a pretty thought, but it’s the empirical truth.

bjkeefe
12-29-2007, 11:54 AM
Abdicate:

Thanks for the URL. I searched it out, too, and I figured I might as well give some back ups, in case your link breaks for some reason:

o Hour 1 (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-869630813464694890)

o Hour 2 (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-225595257312538919)

dogheaven
12-29-2007, 01:28 PM
I am very disappointed that for some reason I could not hear the end of the Pinker discussion nor the last discussion on Jared Diamond. The link threw me back to the beginning of the whole diavlog.

I also could only listen at 1.4 when going chapter by chapter. If I selected "play entire diavlog" only the 1.0 speed worked.

Are there some problems with the revision to the site? I would like to hear the commentary on Pinker in its entirety.

fedorovingtonboop
12-29-2007, 04:47 PM
FANTASTIC LINKS, BOB.thanks so much for the five awesome redirects next to john and george's talk. great stuff!

Jared diamond is fantastic!

Wolfgangus
12-29-2007, 04:53 PM
Thanks for the link; I watched the whole two hours. Great conversation. I suspect this was Hitchen's house; since at one point he mentions a passage from a book and says, "Actually I do have it here, I could get it and read it", but since the conversation veers off he does not do so.

zookarama
12-29-2007, 05:08 PM
I've read that the most common phrase/word heard on cockpit voice recorders just prior to the (often) fatal crash of the airpcraft is 'aw, shit!' I think George would forgive them that indiscretion, no?

bjkeefe
12-29-2007, 05:16 PM
Wolf:

I think you're right about that being Hitchens's house -- I caught that book offer, too. Also, notice that he's smoking. Probably not too many other places where the four of them would have gathered where that would be permitted.

That was a great conversation, wasn't it? Felt like a support group for the first few minutes, but then it got good.

Wolfgangus
12-29-2007, 07:35 PM
That's odd, I've been told by an unreliable source (somebody that had a conversation at a party with an FAA inspector) that the most common last phrases of pilots were actually rather professional to the end; along the lines of "We're going in now," "We can't recover," "That's not going to work," etc.

zookarama
12-29-2007, 08:21 PM
wolfgangus:
Imagine my discomfort after doing a simple google for pilot's last words and finding this: http://www.planecrashinfo.com/lastwords.htm
Thanks for your moderated expression of disbelief. I pledge to count to ten before reaching for the keyboard next time I feel the urge to reinforce another urban myth.

Baltimoron
12-29-2007, 11:42 PM
I'm not sure I would endorse your Hobbesian characterization of the world - after all cooperation is a part of alliances - but I would agree to the extent that the "losing" is the only reason the "losers" have such a moralistic view of the western "winning". If the "losers", like in a game of Civ4, were transported to another continent, they would have done what they had to do, too.

I've been reading Charles Mann's 1491, and thanks to Wikipedia, there's a neat summary (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1491:_New_Revelations_of_the_Americas_Before_Colum bus):

The book argues that there is evidence accumulated over the last several decades suggesting that human populations in the Western Hemisphere - that is, the indigenous peoples of the Americas - were larger in number, had arrived earlier, were more sophisticated culturally, and controlled and shaped the natural landscape to a greater extent than had been previously thought.

Firstly, a small percentage of these peoples survived, and survived unnoticed for centuries. Secondly, one group (and, sorry details elude me right now), possibly the first or second civilization in the world, started in a region without consumable vegetation. The major food source was seafood, and the soil was used for cotton. So, many groups globally prospered in seemingly impossible environments, without using wheels and all sorts of different cultural adaptations.

Thirdly, I agree historical and social science -and these social scientists in Johnson's essay seem to be suffering from a form of guilt about their mentors - has eliminated agency from the "losing" side's history. But, Mann argues, too, that leadership had something to do with their fate. Mann argues that both nations in Mexico and Massachusetts, where Cortes and the Pilgrims, respectively, landed, saw the newcomers as a wild card in their political fight against a stronger indigenous nation, in these cases, the Aztecs and another confederation in the New England area. The Wamponoag in Massachusetts had been in contact with Europeans for centuries, and the Mexican nations were aware of other nations, too, so foreigners were not a shock, but an opportunity. Pizarro also used internal divisions in the Inkan empire to destroy it. We also forget how narrowly European groups survived in many spots, and usually with indigenous help. Indians did choose, and they lost. But Diamond underscores the fact, that almost immediately after contact, disease Indian tribes. I'm not well-versed in other areas, but the Americas did suffer from some serious deficits, without which they just might have prevailed.

Ironically, think of all the cultivated foods the "losers" developed and the gold and silver mined that transformed the world economy. It's almost revenge, because many non-western groups, as Diamond argues, did survive in harsh environments and can teach something. Others, like the Anasazi, failed.

I'm sure, too, none of those social scientists really like Darwin, either! Or else, they impute far too much importance to moral evolution within the broader scheme!

Wolfgangus
12-30-2007, 04:39 PM
Well, there are at least a few in the spirit you describe. And a few heart-breakers, too.

Tim_G
12-30-2007, 07:48 PM
I'm not sure I would endorse your Hobbesian characterization of the world - after all cooperation is a part of alliances - but I would agree to the extent that the "losing" is the only reason the "losers" have such a moralistic view of the western "winning". If the "losers", like in a game of Civ4, were transported to another continent, they would have done what they had to do, too.

Well, In my brevity I only mentioned the Hobbesian aspect of the natural world, but I didn't mean to imply that cooperation and compassion were nonexistant, just that Hobbes was always standing by ready to intervene, and often did. I think that the lower down people are on Maslow's heirachy of needs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs), the more apt they are to behave like animals.

The other thing I wonder if these social scientists aren't diong, is looking at historical situations through 21st century moral zeitgeist lenses. It could be that another century or two in the future, we will seem almost as barbaric to them as the slavers do to us (I'm not saying this will be the case, just that it might). For example, zoos and animals raised or hunted for meat may seem abhorrent. Instead, food such as meat would be synthesized rather than slaughtering living animals. Wars may be a thing of the past, with all people living in sustainable ways and poverty all but eliminated. (Of course this is a wildly optimistic scenario, I suppose.)

garbagecowboy
12-30-2007, 07:55 PM
That is truly disturbing.

I was on a flight from Colorado to New Jersey once that had to make an emergency landing in Columbus, Ohio once and it was the most terrifying experience of my life-- much worse than when I spun my car out on an icy highway or when my sister flipped our truck into a snowbank on a mountain in Colorado, both of which began and ended in about 10 seconds; the feeling of hearing the announcement that something was wrong with the plane, and that we would be making an emergency landing, and then having to wait 15 minutes to be on the ground, safe, was much more excruciating emotionally.

I have a bunch of friends from school who got into flying (one alum who still lived in the area had become a recreational pilot and got a bunch of our mutual friends into civil aviation) and one of them is now flying fighter jets in the Navy. I cannot imagine the disposition it takes to become a pilot, and reading those transcripts just confirms it for me. I know that statistically it's safer than driving a car, but at least when I'm driving a car I know that even in the case of gross mechanical failure or operator error I will most likely survive. When I'm on a plane I don't even like to think about the fact that I'm in a vessel that if it has a mechanical problem or the pilot screws up, there is no way to just pull it off onto the shoulder.

DisturbingClown
12-30-2007, 09:47 PM
I was thinking the other day about what would happen if someone were to use the C-word on BH.tv and not 24 hours later, I got to find out.

bjkeefe
12-30-2007, 09:57 PM
DisturbingClown:

I was thinking the other day about what would happen if someone were to use the C-word on BH.tv and not 24 hours later, I got to find out.

Yet you neglected to dingalink. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, I'm not sure.

(First use of dingalink as a verb?)

Wolfgangus
12-30-2007, 11:57 PM
Funny, I've flown dozens of times and never had anything worse than bad turbulence. (And when you do a free fall for a few hundred feet, you gotta send some telepathic thanks to the fine engineers that kept the wings from snapping off when you finally hit air again).

A buddy of mine was in a 737 that landed on an icy runway and rotated about 135 degrees before coming to a stop; nobody hurt but lots of white knuckles.

I rolled over in a car too! Three good flips at about 70 miles an hour, and we finished up with one of those bullet shaped guardrail posts plunged through the back door. The driver broke his kneecaps, but still managed to clamber out. I was in the front passenger seat; no real harm, just a lot of minor slices from the shattered windshield. Weird thing about that, I remember seeing the road coming up and thinking when it hit us the windshield would shatter for sure, and I had to get my forearm up to cover my eyes. It seemed to take forever, and the next three days my shoulder was so stiff it was killing me. The very beginning of the roll (Tim swerves and hits the brakes simultaneously to avoid a car that swerves in front of him) and that later instant are all I remember until the accident is over, but that one thing may have saved my sight: The ER was picking glass out of my forearm and scalp for an hour. Nothing serious, no scars at all. No pain, either, until several hours after the accident; scrubbing out the wounds.

DisturbingClown
12-31-2007, 01:01 AM
Not for the word in question, but I love watching George's reaction:

http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/7735?in=00:40:14&out=00:40:23

Epicurus
12-31-2007, 04:00 AM
I read the book I am Legend and what it seems like they have done is turn a book about a man's isolation and deep feelings about being the last person on Earth and turned it into an action thriller. In the book which was written in the 50s or 60s I think the disease wasn't created by humans but was a Bacillus(bacterium) and it turned some people in vampires not zombies. The book was good. Not a Hollywood ending lol. Much better.

DisturbingClown
12-31-2007, 04:45 AM
I haven't seen the movie, but from the reviews I think it captures some of that.

bjkeefe
12-31-2007, 07:38 AM
DisturbingClown:

Yes, that was funny. Nice selection.

Unfortunately, due to the audio track, I think you've got little chance of winning the Dingalink of the Week. ;^)

Globalcop
01-01-2008, 04:47 PM
You have got to be kidding me; I went to listen to the Pinker video... HE DOESN'T HAVE A MIC!

DisturbingClown
01-01-2008, 05:04 PM
Ya, that was somewhat disappointing.

bjkeefe
01-01-2008, 06:12 PM
Yep. The volume knob got a workout on that one. I got used to it, I guess, since I didn't remember that about it until you reminded me.

Happy Hominid
01-02-2008, 10:40 PM
I like John. I'm a huge fan of this particular regular diavlog. I seldom comment, but I always watch. I just wanted to preface my comment with that info.

I have no problem with where John stands on taboo words. I read Pinker's book and found it very enlightening. It seems like a good idea to be somewhat restricted in the use of taboo words, just out of kindness to the fragile sensibilities of others (just watch poor George squirming at the mere discussion of them)!

It is interesting though to continually hear John's condescending views on Dawkins, Harris and Dennett and his use of the word "bully" in his description of them. I always thought a bully was someone who pushed another around. To me, these men simply aren't cowed by societies expectation that they keep their mouths shut about religion - out of respect for the fragile sensibilities of others! I don't see them bullying anyone. They just say what they think about religion and, as far as I'm concerned, they are right in just about everything they say!

Baltimoron
01-04-2008, 11:03 PM
The other thing I wonder if these social scientists aren't doing, is looking at historical situations through 21st century moral zeitgeist lenses. It could be that another century or two in the future, we will seem almost as barbaric to them as the slavers do to us.

I think past ages, particularly ones for which there's not even complete evidence and information, are incomprehensible. People have enough difficulties understanding real living cultures right here on the planet now.

vasi
01-07-2008, 12:55 AM
When I entered Cornell a good seven years ago, the entire freshman class was expected to read "Guns, Germs & Steel." I would have loved it if the ensuing discussions and panels had considered whether Diamond's analysis was borne out by the evidence, or what further avenues of investigation might be interesting to pursue. To my dismay, the time was instead consumed with the sorts of criticism mentioned in George's article, which I divided into two distinct but related types:


The first is the question of human versus naturalistic explanations of human history. Many Diamond detractors felt that either individuals or cultures were the essential determinants of history, and unsurprisingly these critics tended to be historians or anthropologists.

It seems obvious to me that very early humans were extraordinarily subject to their environment and geography, but that as society grew in complexity the effects of leadership and culture increased until they eventually dominated. On the other hand, I don't think it is at all clear at quite what point in history human factors began to be significant, and when they became truly overwhelming. A debate on which periods of history are best subjected to which sort of analysis would have been much more interesting than the turf war that materialized at Cornell.


The second critique of Diamond was that he was an imperialist: that by attempting to explain Eurasian dominance, he was either claiming that dominance and "progress" are desirable, or justifying conquest, or both. Some anthropologists were behind this viewpoint, but I got the feeling it was dominated by students of philosophy and literature. I guess that's what happens when you assign reading to such a mixed group: the scientists and engineers wonder whether the book's argument is true, while the Literary Theory types wonder what the book reveals about the author's biases.

In any case, the idea that Diamond is some sort of awful imperialist is not only somewhat of a silly thing to argue about, but also very much wrong. This is, after all, the author who has written about how agriculture was humanity's "worst mistake" (PDF) (http://www.environnement.ens.fr/perso/claessen/agriculture/mistake_jared_diamond.pdf) because it enabled class divisions and encouraged conquest. If we must psychoanalyze Diamond, I think GG&S serves as a rebuttal to those who claim that Western dominance implies some sort of racial superiority, rather than some sort of ludicrous apologia for the violence of conquerors.


Anyhow, just thought I'd share that these angry anthropologists arguing against Jared Diamond are nothing new in the world.

bjkeefe
01-07-2008, 01:56 AM
vasi:

Interesting comments. Thanks for sharing. You remind me that I have yet to read GG&S.

Agriculture as humanity's worse mistake, eh? Hard to take that kind of argument seriously, but maybe I'll have a look at the paper the next time I feel a need to sharpen my claws.

vasi
01-07-2008, 02:27 AM
Agriculture as humanity's worse mistake, eh? Hard to take that kind of argument seriously, but maybe I'll have a look at the paper the next time I feel a need to sharpen my claws.

It's only a five page essay, so if you had time to read my comment you probably have time to read the PDF. Here's the simplified version:

- Hunter-gatherers had a lot of leisure time and healthy diets
- Peasant farming societies trade this quality of life for greater quantities of starchy food and thus faster population growth
- Faster growth causes problems such as war, gender and class inequality, environmental damage
- Even though hunter-gatherers might be happier or better off, they tend to be taken over by the more populous farming societies
- So agriculture may have made us worse off, but once it was "invented" we were stuck with it

Calling it the "worst mistake" may be a bit over the top, but definitely among the more intriguing arguments I've read.

bjkeefe
01-07-2008, 03:04 AM
vasi:

All right, I've read the paper. I realize that you're not arguing for Diamond's position, so I apologize if my reaction to his paper sounds that way. Anyway, here it is.

I can see why some might find intriguing the idea of the invention of agriculture being the worst thing ever to happen to humanity, but I would call it only superficially so. It sounds like the same thinking that Michael Crichton had Ian Malcolm espousing at the end of Jurassic Park: there's this dewey-eyed vision of life in small clans of hunter-gatherers that ignores the realities of such an existence. I don't really think it was all easy meat, fresh fruit, and lots of afternoon naps. I think it was much more a tenuous existence, oscillating between periods of feast and famine, and it was just that: an existence. A few cave paintings and songs aside, such a way of life could never create anything we'd call civilization.

Also, I think Diamond does a lot of hand-waving in that paper. He's basically comparing the hunter-gatherers seen in the best possible light to agricultural society in the worst. The archaeological evidence he offers comes from what were almost certainly the most successful of the clans. The ones whose bones aren't going to be found were the ones who were part of the food chain, and I'm pretty sure that was the vast majority.

I grant that agriculture brought its own set of problems. Nothing comes for free. One of these is certainly over-population, which causes its own secondary problems. Considered as a pure biological question, it does seem that our species was in some ways in better balance with its environment before we learned how to farm. But I don't see pre-agricultural life as being much different from any other group of animals. For all of our modern problems, we're a more successful species now. If that weren't true, the agricultural way of life wouldn't have won out.

We might end up killing ourselves with our own successes, I grant. But we've only had 10,000 years to get things sorted out. The hunter-gathering way of life had ten to one hundred times as long, and there's not a lot to show for it, apart from a few scattered instances of continued existence.

Tim_G
01-07-2008, 10:21 AM
Vasi: Interesting essay there.
I wonder if Diamond is right about hunter-gatherers having less babies (because they had sex less frequently? It's doubtful they had effective birth control) or more equality of the sexes? Somehow I doubt it. Maybe in some cases, but not as a general rule. I wonder if it wasn't a good existence for some more than others. I wonder if there wasn't a lot of violence fighting over food. I tend to think that the population remained low not because of family planning but because of attrition and murder.

Wolfgangus
01-07-2008, 11:33 AM
Agriculture extended lives by making them less dangerous; I have seen several times the numerous fractures on pre-agricultural skeletons compared to the fractures experienced by modern rodeo riders; a hunting existence is dangerous, and working around strong animals breaks bones.

There is another way in which agriculture has been a mistake. As recently verified by several Atkins-diet studies, Atkins was absolutely right about one thing: The biggest cause of diabetes and obesity in the world is eating too many grains. I won't make claims for whatever a "natural" diet is, but the overabundance of carbs in the modern diet keeps us pumping out insulin 24/7, and this not only causes the body to store all the excess fat in the digestive system but eventually burns out the cells that produce the insulin and thus produces diabetes. There is also evidence that constant sugar consumption is the primary cause of heart disease and arteriosclerosis; in all they Keys studies that first implicated fat and cholesterol, if sugar consumption is taken into account during the factor analysis, virtually all the correlation falls on it instead of fat and cholesterol consumption. Certainly this emphasis on the easy calories of carbs and sugar is entirely due to the invention of agriculture; before agriculture our primary sources of carbs were root vegetables, fruits and berries. (Most non-root vegetables are not high in carbs). So while I doubt agriculture is that responsible for the class divide (all pack animals have pecking orders in the wild; in wolf packs only the alpha-male even mates), and I certainly do not want to return to a pre-agricultural society, agriculture is responsible for the current leading causes of death world-wide.

bjkeefe
01-07-2008, 02:42 PM
Wolf:

You'll take away my pasta when you rip the fork from my cold, dead hands.

Which may be a year or five earlier than it might have been had I stuck to a prehistoric diet. So what. I'd rather enjoy a shorter life than have a slightly longer one filled with self-denial.

Pass the bread.

Wolfgangus
01-07-2008, 03:30 PM
You'll take away my pasta when you rip the fork from my cold, dead hands.

Which will be sooner, rather than later. :-)

Well to some extent, I think carbs (in particular sugar) are the dessert of life; I certainly cannot stay on a low-carb diet for any extended length of time. I also need the pizza, the ice-cream, the pasta and the chocolate fudge cake, damn the arteries (or dam them). But the point is, none of that was ever a concern for the pre-agricultural human. We are still evolving to handle the post-agricultural diet (really, I have read of several mutations that make people put on much less fat, for example; which would be seriously detrimental in a starvation environment but are a net positive in an environment of plenty. I wish I had a few of them!)

bjkeefe
01-07-2008, 04:51 PM
Wolf:

... damn the arteries (or dam them).

Nice.

But the point is, none of that [worry about excessive intake of carbs] was ever a concern for the pre-agricultural human.

Agreed. Most of them were dead by 25 or 30, not to mention toothless well before that.

I actually don't think carbs are the killer that today's dietary woo would have them be. Excessive carbs -- sure. But if you go to Italy, you are surrounded by people who appear in way better condition than those you see in most places in the US. Also, life expectancy for any group, even without controlling for diet, is way up since people started eating lots of grains. Granted, very early after the start of the agricultural revolution, this wasn't true, or so Diamond claims (I got my doubts, but let's leave that aside for now). Also granted: there are lots of other factors that have contributed to longevity.

I think the health problems blamed on carbs are really better explained by an over-concentration on data derived from Americans, who eat too many of them, often in too processed a form, in excess no matter what the form, and who have lots of other bad habits as well.

Wolfgangus
01-07-2008, 05:53 PM
Well BJ, you keep thinkin' whatever you want in contradiction to the statistical evidence. I will go with the science. In fact, the science makes eminent sense: Once the pancreatic islet cells (islets of Langerhans) start producing insulin; they don't slow down for many hours; and every intake of carbs resets the clock. Any sensible picture of pre-agricultural humans tells you they were not eating a cookie or a bag of chips every two hours (or any carb-equivalent of that). We can see much of their diet in their bones, and we can study the few dozen modern hunter-gatherer tribes.

I say the science makes eminent sense because we can watch islet cells burn out in the lab from over-stimulation, and that is what the modern diet in an industrialized nation does.
If islet cells are given rest and recovery periods of several days, they last considerably longer. The increased life expectancy of agriculture comes from the less dangerous life-style and more steady food supply, not from the new diet. Other increases come from greater hygiene and better health care. But that increased life span allows the poison of carbs to gradually erode the pancreatic islet cells until THAT kills us.

I'm not saying agriculture is bad, it is just not the ideal solution. There is clear benefit, but it comes at a cost most do not realize. The ideal solution, of course, is to feed the grain to animals which
a) have systems better designed to digest grains and
b) won't suffer the effects in old age because we will slaughter them in young adulthood,
and then eat the animals. But at the current stage of technology, this does not sustain as many people as eating the carbs directly.

garbagecowboy
01-07-2008, 06:52 PM
The ideal solution, of course, is to feed the grain to animals which
a) have systems better designed to digest grains and
b) won't suffer the effects in old age because we will slaughter them in young adulthood,
and then eat the animals.


I agree. Animals are delicious, nutritious, and I have read that a theory about why Homo sapiens sapiens is master of the planet and not some other hominid species is that our hunter/gather/scavenger caveman diet provided us with the protein to boost brain size which (even in modern humans) correlates highly with intelligence, which in turn correlates highly with survival. You might get some argument with these sentiments from PETA and other "animal rights" yahoos that eating meat is better than eating protein from grain sources, but these people are a mixture of fools, zealots and perverse moral relativists. I would pay their criticisms no mind.

On the other hand, of course, you'll have a hard time perhaps selling the billions of people in India and China for whom meat protein makes up a tiny portion of their diet that this is a superior system. Not only has agricultural become an entrenched way to wring more calories out of each hectare of land, it has become an entrenched keystone of these cultures. Now, I don't know why the hell somebody (let alone several billion people) would prefer as a matter of taste (and not as some crazy matter of "morality" having to do with qualms about killing Bambi) a meticulously balanced diet of lentils, beans and rice (to make sure you get all the friggin' amino acids you need, for kee-rist's sake) to a delicious lamb chop or steak or pot-roast or meatloaf or meatballs or even SPAM for that matter, but what's done is done, and that's how they roll. Furthermore, even if it were a good idea for people's health to turn them to a "caveman diet" that consisted of say protein and fat deriving mostly from meat and then a smaller amount of complex carbs deriving from fruits and vegetables as opposed to grains, this would not be sustainable with current technology. Every vaguely arable hectare of land in China is meticulously cultivated as rice paddies not only because they prefer rice, but because using the land as pastures or even as fields for fodder grains could never sustain the population densities of Asia, and I bet a similar situation prevails in most of the Old World, in rich (European) and poor (Asian) countries alike. The American situation where a rich population is spread out over a huge landmass with places like Wyoming where there are more cows than people which makes a largely-meat-but-agriculture-based diet possible is relatively unique in world historical terms. Either you didn't have large population densities at all (no cities) and you could have meat (as in hunter-gatherer societies) or you could have intensive cereal cultivation. The two were more or less mutually exclusive, although this this book I'm reading (http://www.amazon.com/Civilization-Capitalism-15th-18th-Century-Vol/dp/0520081145) makes the interesting point that in Europe at least, meat become more scarce in the period from 1400-1800 as population densities rose, after being relatively common even among the peasantry in the "Dark Ages" due to much lower population densities.


But at the current stage of technology, this does not sustain as many people as eating the carbs directly.

One more point, I'm not sure that this is just technology; I think it might be the second law of thermodynamics. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_law_of_thermodynamics) Perhaps it's possible that with improvements to modern agricultural technology you could get as many calories per hectare out of meat-farming as you currently get out of grain farming, but to do that you certainly would have to increase the productivity of grain farming (in order to increase the amount of fodder grown per hectare) so in the end eating the carbs directly would still be the most efficient use of the calories (although whether this is a "good thing" or not depends somewhat on whether your utility function sees maximizing human population as a good thing; I certainly don't). However, this point is I guess trivial, but the cows are never going to give you back as many calories as you put in; they are entropy factories. For instance: cow shit.

bjkeefe
01-07-2008, 08:56 PM
Wolf:

Well BJ, you keep thinkin' whatever you want in contradiction to the statistical evidence.

I won't stick to my belief if I see some convincing statistical evidence. So far as I've seen, the evidence isn't any more convincing than the case a few years ago where it was "proved" that fat was the killer and carbs were king.

However, I'll probably stick to my own eating preferences in any case. I'm not giving up pasta, bread, or cookies for a few more years of life, and I'm willing to bet that five years from now, dietary "experts" will all be singing a different tune.

Wolfgangus
01-07-2008, 11:33 PM
I was thinking of lab grown meat. I have read that chicken breast muscle has been induced in the lab to grow in large sheets; I don't know what the mechanism is, but I guess the idea is to figure out how to grow the muscle without the animal; which might make meat-farming superior even to grain farming, since the nutrients required to grow the muscle might be derived from more of the plant than just the grain seed.

I think that a combination of machine and biology could digest more of a variety of plants than meat-animals alone can. Perhaps with found bacteria or engineered bacteria, and not only can we apply heat and electricity they cannot generate, but we can "chew" the feed more energy efficiently and provide more stages of digestion than any animal. Including humans, which is what makes me think we might someday be able to extract more calories from the feed than a human can, and convert more of it to muscle than an animal can.