As I write, two days have passed since I woke to learn that the new US President-elect was Donald Trump.
I’ve spent much of these two days reading articles on the web, trying to get a handle on what’s going on in the world, and in particular how to understand the results both in the US and, a few months ago, here in the UK on Brexit. I think it’s fair to say that my interest in politics has been reawakened. Or perhaps just awakened.
I’ve spent a fair bit of the last two or three months, while physically incapacitated due to a knee problem, revisiting my philosophical interests, and taking fairly tentative notes, with a view to maybe, eventually, starting in on another book. (Not that any of the previous efforts have been published, or gotten anywhere near it.)
I think it was just today that I first thought: I wonder if there might be a link between these? And now maybe I’ve found one. Empathy was very much central to the philosophy. And Charles Eisenstein says “as we enter a period of intensifying disorder, it is important to introduce a different kind of force to animate the structures that might appear after the old ones crumble” and suggests that empathy might be the best choice for that job.
So this is just a note to record that connection (and that reference). I currently have little or no idea where I’ll go from here, or whether I’ll go anywhere, but as with the politics of the UK, the US and the world, we shall see…
Back out of keto, again, and for exactly the same reason as before: that diet is too tough on the ulcer. But I have moved forward, now I’m clear that’s so even when I’m careful about what I’m eating (I mean more careful than what keto—or any new diet—requires anyway). But I’m trimmer and feeling better than I can remember, when the ulcer’s healed I don’t think there’s much doubt where I’ll be going diet-wise. I’d recommend it to anyone who’s looking for an easy and healthy way to lose weight—anyone without a stomach ulcer anyway. Though my main motivation was to get a more consistent energy supply—and it’s great for that too.
Back into keto (see previous posts on diet) for 2-3 days now. Yesterday had my first ketogenic big day out, exercise-wise, walking in the Ochils. Very enjoyable (sunny and warm), very interesting experience, won’t go into details here and now. But I’m definitely leaning towards keto fandom, mainly for energetic benefits. It currently seems compatible with ulcer-friendly feeding (previous contrary-seeming experience now seems due to carelessness). One other very recent related development, I’m beginning to suspect that I might be sensitized to mycotoxins, but more on that, very probably, in future posts.
Though it dates back to 2012, this article suggests that algae-derived omega-3 supplements are just as good as those from fish oil.
I just decided I have to drop the ketogenic diet for the sake of my stomach. Having a fair amount of pain today—if the ulcer’s not getting worse, it’s certainly not getting better. Carbohydrates, generally, are more digestible than fats, and the two foods I’ve so far found easiest on the gut, porridge and bananas, are loaded with carbs. My other main dietary (or at least partially dietary) issue, energy deficit, can be tackled in other ways, but the ulcer is a more acute problem anyway.
It’s now nearly a week since I embarked on a ketogenic diet. The previous post was written on the third day, when I was suffering from “keto flu”, as I transitioned into ketosis (burning mainly fat instead of carbohydrates for energy). I seem to have had it relatively easy. I was weak and wobbly in the morning, gradually began to feel better during the afternoon, and was fine come mid-evening.
The next morning my Ketostix arrived and seemed to confirm I had fully transitioned. As it turns out they’re unreliable for this purpose and I could have trusted how I felt, which just got better and better. And I was losing weight fast.
Now I’m not doing this to lose weight but own a set of scales, previously very rarely used, and decided to check daily out of interest. On day one, 68.2kg, day two 68, three 67.7, then 67.2. A full kilo in three days, half of that in one! Then I decided to use up some filled pasta that was in the fridge. Next reading (today), back to 68.2! Of course it’s just water, and this article explains very nicely what’s going on there. Last night I was out of ketosis according to the stix, which I think have probably been working well enough for my purposes.
More importantly, my energy levels while in ketosis have been great! Day five was quite busy. After breakfasting on a two egg spinach omelette and a mug of hot water (to which I’ve gotten used since the ulcer diagnosis; I’d also had a herbal tea earlier), I drove 12 miles (Alloa to Falkirk) to leave the car for its MOT, walked a mile to the railway station (coffee with cream on the way), got the train to Edinburgh, did some shopping (sketch pad and pens, t-shirts) and spent an hour in the National Gallery, particularly enjoying the Rocks & Rivers exhibition. Then I got the call: loads of work needed on the car, wouldn’t get it back that day.
Now as it happens, there was a rail strike (not good planning I know), whereby not only was the frequency reduced by half on the relevant route, but there were no trains at all to Alloa! So after lunch, an Atkins Advantage Chocolate Decadence Bar 60g (very expensive but low carbs, quite yummy, I intend to make my own keto snacks in future) and some tap water I’d taken with, in Princes Street Gardens, I got a train to Stirling, where the ticket inspector on the barrier was nice enough (or practical enough) to let me off having a return ticket merely to Falkirk, then I walked to the bus station. When was I last on a bus? No idea. Anyway, after a delay due to a minor collision in the bus station, it got me to Alloa, where I went to the studio and spent a couple of hours catching up on some computer work.
In the past (pre-keto) I’d often be floored after a simple visit to Edinburgh. Today I’d not only done a fair bit more traveling—and coped with the news of a car repair estimate of ÂŁ300-400!—but managed some work on top. And when I got home I still had the energy to make a simple meal from scratch. And do the washingup after!
There’s a page of preliminary thinking about diet here. Now that I’ve embarked on a dietary project, this is the first of a series of posts to record my progress. It will probably range a bit wider than that though.
Not feeling great today. This is the third day of an attempt to get my body into ketosis, which means relying on fats rather than carbohydrates as the main energy source. To be made to make the switch, it has to run out of carbs, and that’s not a particularly pleasant experience. I was warned about it though by this great article on the subject. (I’m not following the menu plan but the other advice seems great, at least in my current state of relative ignorance.)
That’s about it for now, I’m feeling really low on energy, and also lunchtime approaches! (A fry-up of onion, french beans, courgette, mushrooms and smoked mackerel, following a small organic natural live yogurt.) Meanwhile, though I’m not yet committed to counting either grams or calories, I’ll just copy in this info, my recommended long term macronutrient intake to remain in ketosis. (Calculated using Keto Calculator.)
1623 kcal Daily Calorie Intake
25 g Carbs (6%, 100 kcal)
80 g Protein (20%, 320 kcal)
134 g Fat (74%, 1203 kcal)
It’s far from perfect, but also the best shot of a solar eclipse I’ve ever managed, by far. Taken looking across the Firth of Forth from Leven, Fife, at 9.32 (according to the camera, which might not be accurate) this morning.
As I see it, the “philosophical zombie”, a hypothetical creature that can pass as a normal human being in every way but is actually just a “brilliant robot”, entirely automatic, is simply a person with whom you do not empathise. But of course there’s more that can be said about it than that.
Daniel Dennett, the high-profile atheist and professor at Tufts University outside Boston, argues that consciousness, as we think of it, is an illusion: there just isnâ€™t anything in addition to the spongy stuff of the brain, and that spongy stuff doesnâ€™t actually give rise to something called consciousness.. Common sense may tell us thereâ€™s a subjective world of inner experience â€“ but then common sense told us that the sun orbits the Earth, and that the world was flat.
This is wrong—at least as I read it, because this point is quite subtle. Dennett does not deny “there’s a subjective world of inner experience”, he says something like “of course we genuinely do have these experiences” (I can’t look it up just now but I think it’s in the introduction to The Mind’s I). The mistake that some make is to objectify that experience. And in this I’m with Dennett, though his theories do lack certain vital elements (see my dissertation).
What Dennett would not say, but I do, is that subjectivity, and especially intersubjectivity, have for many decades been sadly undervalued in English language academic philosophy. Some philosophers, like Dennett, just “go with the flow”, others react against it by insisting that consciousness is so important it must be objectively real, but both are wrong. Consciousness is extremely important, absolutely central to us as humans, and at the same time not at all objective. Its “reality status” is inter/subjective (subjective and intersubjective).
Many people, reading Dennett, think he’s somehow denying consciousness. Both David Chalmers (see the article and the previous post) and Jaron Lanier (@Wikipedia) have suggested, only half-jokingly, that maybe Dennett is a zombie. But though they don’t realise it, what that really means is that they find themselves tending not to empathise with him, and suspect him of failing properly to empathise with others.
If we properly valued subjectivity and intersubjectivity we’d feel no need to insist that there must be an objective difference between ourselves and the philosophical zombie. If we recognised the fundamental importance of empathy we’d see that’s all it takes to make the difference.
And the answer is: the zombie is simply any person with whom you do not empathise.
The UK newspaper The Guardian recently published what I guess is quite a good account of the state of the art in consciousness studies, which asks Why canâ€™t the worldâ€™s greatest minds solve the mystery of consciousness? Philosopher David Chalmers gave a conference speech in 1994.
The brain, Chalmers began by pointing out, poses all sorts of problems to keep scientists busy. How do we learn, store memories, or perceive things? How do you know to jerk your hand away from scalding water, or hear your name spoken across the room at a noisy party? But these were all â€śeasy problemsâ€ť, in the scheme of things: given enough time and money, experts would figure them out. There was only one truly hard problem of consciousness, Chalmers said. It was a puzzle so bewildering that, in the months after his talk, people started dignifying it with capital letters â€“ the Hard Problem of Consciousness â€“ and itâ€™s this: why on earth should all those complicated brain processes feel like anything from the inside? Why arenâ€™t we just brilliant robots, capable of retaining information, of responding to noises and smells and hot saucepans, but dark inside, lacking an inner life? And how does the brain manage it? How could the 1.4kg lump of moist, pinkish-beige tissue inside your skull give rise to something as mysterious as the experience of being that pinkish-beige lump, and the body to which it is attached?
These hypothetical brilliant robots, or zombies, are sufficiently “aware”, or whatever you want to call it, that they can do everything that you or I can do, but they lack an “inner life”, it’s all “dark inside”. What does that mean? It means very simply, quite precisely, that Chalmers chooses not to empathise with them. That’s all. People in the future are going to be very puzzled by the fact that so many of “the world’s greatest minds”, as this article calls them, fail to see that.
As to the question in the last sentence, how the brain generates a sense of self, the answer is very far from simple, but it’s not an ineffable mystery. Like many mysteries, it just requires some hard work to get your head around. You might like to start with my dissertation (it got some quite nice (and some not so nice) comments).