I received a wonderful email from a reader and it began thus:
“In response to “A Complex Encryption”
I’m no scientist, having done horribly in chemistry and biology in high school (which is the limit of my schooling), but I’ve always been interested in science. Your question of what is going on with drugs started me thinking, although nothing came to mind immediately except that it must have something to do with the almighty dollar. But throwing that aside, as you did, where does that leave us.”
This turns out to be a deceptive beginning; the woman who wrote had to know that her remarks were wise; wise beyond being the simple fruit of any formal education she had or lacked.
She made some cogent remarks about interconnectedness and how that reality might be part of the problem I posed in “A Complex Encryption.” She was right, of course.
I want to expand on that and then point to some very practical examples you can use to track and improve your own health.
The history of science is sometimes sold to us as an unbroken string of progress from the complex, impenetrable mess of perceptions seen and known without order or understanding to the simple truths of science. For example: animals and plants were a welter of names and ‘things’ and Linnaeus gave them order: called Kingdom, Phyla, Class and so on. Progress. The Greeks and Chinese saw a welter of stars and a changing star-scape and made up myths and a foolish attempt at astronomy or astrology. Then came the telescope, around 1600, and the sky became intelligible. Or better yet: Galileo, then Newton then Einstein. Simpler; better.
The only problem with this version of history is this: things did not get simpler. They got more complex. More powerful no doubt; but not more simple.
If you doubt this take a look at an equation from Newtonian mechanics and then a stress-energy tensor calculation from General Relativistic gravitational ‘mechanics.’ Or string theory equations. Peeling away perceptual layers doesn’t get you any closer to ‘simplicity.’ Elegance, predictive power, beauty even but not simplicity as ordinarily understood.
Oh, many want to say, oh, but evolutionary theory is an exception. Evolution means a simple mechanism yeilds complexity; things ‘evolve.’ Well, I don’t want to get too far afield but, see above, the physical underpinnings- the laws of nature- are not simple yeilding complexity; they are complex beyond our current capacity to understand and they yield biological systems that ‘devolve’ or derive from the matrix, the fields, the setting in which we find them.
OK, sure Nichols, whatever, but what has this to do with why drugs and supplements are probably a bad idea and why I need to get healthy by taking charge of my own health and measuring things you haven’t even yet taught me the name of? Yeah! Why? Or What? Or whatever?
Well the illusion of the progress of biomedical science, and there has been tremendous progress, the illusion that animates those scientists, I know them, I was one of them, the illusion is that someone will find the lynch-pin, ‘the answer’ to all mysteries. Now the progress is real but the illusion that animates the enterprise is not; or if it is real we are so far from understanding it that it may as well be an illusion. In any event the illusion is what leads sane people to say things like ‘take vitamin D and your bones will get better’ or ‘eat algae and you will lengthen your telomeres.’ Or, or, or a thousand other ‘ors.’
As we stand enmeshed, enfleshed in this matrix, this field, we are far more complex than our/my little pea-brains can understand so we need to use something almost like cunning, more like folk wisdom than science, we need to rediscover our native, essential self and revel in it; live in it for that is as near to real understanding as we have available. That is the path to health.
Now I am not going to become the next ‘wolf boy’ and return to nature and feed on roots, berries and roadkill. I also don’t recommend you do that either.
So where does science fit into this ‘folk wisdom?’
Well here is where we use the real fruit of science and not the wishful thinking part. We know how the liver, under the set conditions of genetics, interacting with diet, exercise, sleep and alcohol produces triglycerides and the role they play in creating small dense and thus dangerous LDL particles and that lower triglycerides help the liver create large low density harmless LDL particles. We know this; this is the hardware of the human and is well understood. We also know that high doses of niacin (vitamin B3) lower triglycerides but we don’t know, this is the wishful thinking part, that equals the same benefit as ‘naturally’ lowering your triglycerides. And why would you do that, trusting in the wishful thinking part, when we know how to lower them in a straightforward manner and know further that it is important for our health to do so? Why? …well wishful thinking; the magical thinking all scientists engage in as they do their mystical, shamanic, priestly work.
We know that the liver produces HDL, even ‘pre-HDL’ particles, but that the important part is not the production but the utilization of the HDL by the body. We know how to make the body utilize the HDL the liver produces, proper type and amount of exercise, and we know this is part of the feedback mechanism that induces the liver to make more HDL which is a good thing and protects against cancer, stroke and heart attack. Is your exercise the right amount and type? I don’t know, but I know you can measure it, experiment and define/find what changes it. Too much can lower this as easily as too little. The wrong kind can keep it from going up just as the right kind can drive this fraction up like a rocket.
If you wanted to run a 4 minute mile I bet you would make sure you had and knew how to use a stopwatch. The same concept is true of your insulin level, your fasting glucose, your A1c, VO2 max, testosterone, growth hormone, mature HDL…
Now where is that stopwatch?
Have Fun, Smile, God Speed,