(Simplicity vs. Complexity in Diet: Where Do We Find Truth?--continued, Part D)
|How the most idealistic view ends up
being more complex: examples
The framework of looking at "what is" by accepting the world in its messiness, whether in the realm of personal experiences or scientific investigation, is actually a demonstrably less complex one in terms of conceptual approach. Let's now explore a number of examples to illustrate. Ask yourself the following questions, and see if the answers you would give are as simple as you think.
These, then, are some of the core simplifying principles that underlie our approach here. In most cases, they are demonstrably simpler than the utopian approach, and in the minority of cases where they are slightly more complex, it's because there is very good reason: Dealing with the complexities consciously eliminates still other complexities and problems that arise if we try and ignore them. Which in the end is actually still simpler. Of course, that might not be as simple as we would prefer in an ideal world, but we're talking here about this world--the real one.
- Does the diet work well or not, and why? If one takes the utopian blinders off, it is relatively easy to observe the messy reality as we mentioned previously that 100% raw diets work long-term for few, and 75%+ strict fruitarian diets work for even fewer. (For the latter diet, perhaps even no one when all the facts come in, though we won't try to argue that here, because it's not important to the general point.) This is not too difficult to observe. Even though it's a "messy" reality, however, all in all it's still a pretty simple one to grasp. What becomes complex is to have to explain why, if these diets are supposedly ideal, so few succeed in the long-term.
- Should exceptions to the rule be made the goal? In explaining why long-term failure turns out to be the rule rather than the exception on these diets, it's simpler to conclude the diets just don't work well. Instead, though, in true "what-ought-to-be" fashion, that fact is turned upside down and the exceptions are made the goal for others, with the few fortunate ones becoming minor-celebrity role models.
However, since the preponderance of individuals who try these diets mostly ends up having to eventually abandon them, or seriously modifies the diets and ends up doing better on other ones long-term, it becomes complex to have to explain why failure is not because of the diet, but the fault of something else. To speculate it's solely the fault of detrimental factors in modern life that almost everyone on any diet is exposed to--such as impure air or water, or stress, or eroded topsoil and less-than-ideal produce, etc.--doesn't simplify things or help make them any more clear or explain them better. It only makes them less rational.
- Are people the same or different? It is simplest to observe that people are different in their responses to diet, sometimes considerably so (that's the messy reality), and thus the idea that there is one single ideal diet is questionable. To say everybody is more or less the same but they respond differently to diets anyway leaves one with some real explaining to do.
- Should you judge your own adequacy, or instead the diet's, by the results you get? It is a bit more difficult, but still relatively simple, to observe that people are often more emotionally invested in the philosophy behind a diet (their "what-ought-to-be," psychological identity) than in the results they actually achieve ("what is"). And very often they prefer to interpret results, bad or good, as supporting the philosophy while they automatically interpret discrepancies as calling into question the adequacy of their efforts, rather than the other way around: using discordance between results and philosophy to question the philosophy. Yet evaluating the philosophy by the results is at least as simple as judging oneself by them. And as time passes, it becomes increasingly more so, if concerted efforts are made and a trend toward success is not in evidence.
- Should an ideal diet be more difficult or easier than other diets? Here's another simple idea related to the previous one. Which is more straightforward: to say that success on a diet that is ideal should be counterintuitively difficult, or that an ideal diet should be easier to succeed on than other diets? This consideration applies equally whether the person tries hard but still can't stick to the disciplines (implying the disciplines are not very livable or the diet isn't satisfying), or does stick to them but isn't getting good results (implying the diet simply doesn't work).
- How about negative symptoms on a diet? What do they mean, and what's the simplest way to interpret them? Even granting that "detox" exists, if one is eating an ideal diet that presumably results in detoxification, then symptoms that are detox won't persist indefinitely and should diminish over time. If the symptoms don't diminish, then it's logical and simpler to view continued symptoms as bad. More complex is to have to explain why continuing bad symptoms mean good things.
- Are chimps humans? Should we copy their diets? Another straightforward observation that guides much of the thinking here: Chimps and bonobos and gorillas are not humans. (Really. :-) ) If one is going to prescribe human diet based on extrapolations, then it makes more sense and is more straightforward conceptually to do so based on prehistoric human diet now that such data is available. To assert that even Paleolithic-era humans were culturally duped into eating nonevolutionary foods--and so we should therefore look at the next-closest animal's diet for guidance--is a more complex presumption not based on any supporting human evolutionary evidence or bona fide logic.
- Is there really a "perfect" diet, or does any diet involve tradeoffs? Another fairly simple observation or assertion here--that there is no such thing as a perfect food or perfect diet--is one that most of us who have pursued the ultimate, ideal, natural diet may find emotionally difficult to conceive of at first. It may seem to be only something designed to puncture people's idealism and motivation to improve their diet. For those who believe evolution should produce absolutely perfectly adapted creatures, it just doesn't seem right. But the observation is tied to a more useful unifying principle: the idea of competing tradeoffs (which is in fact the coin that evolutionary adaptation deals in).
Nutritional costs and benefits. One problem in viewing foods as either (a) toxic, or (b) clean, with the ensuing pursuit of perfectionistic dietary purity this entails, is that it usually leads to narrowing the diet to the point of long-term unsustainability. The simple idea of tradeoffs avoids this trap by first taking into account that any food necessarily involves a metabolic cost (in digestive energy and transient "toxemia" or digestive waste) to get its nutritional digestive benefit.
Secondly, this idea also says that you cannot assume a robust enough nutritional intake to achieve dietary sufficiency will automatically coincide with the most toxin-free diet of which you could conceive. It doesn't necessarily follow. The trap of eating only the so-called "cleanest" foods ignores they often lack essential nutrients that can only be gotten in other foods that may entail more of a digestive cost in either metabolic waste or energy. (Indeed, it is elementary that if there were any "perfect food" without such tradeoffs, then we would need to eat only that perfect food and no others.)
No free lunch: the messy reality. In simple terms, this is similar to the saying, "You don't get something for nothing," or "There is no free lunch." Instead, the ideas presented here suggest that you go for the best overall balance of nutritional cost/benefit. Which will help you eat the best diet possible for you, but it isn't going to meet idealistic standards of "the perfect diet." That's the messy reality.
- Do shades of gray or does black-and-white thinking more accurately describe reality? A unifying principle related to the previous one that conceptually cuts across much of the analysis and approach taken here is that it's more useful, accurate, and informative to look at varying "shades of gray" instead of viewing things through black-and-white schemes. While on one level looking at shades of gray may seem to add a degree of complexity that black-and-white schemes don't have, the benefit is it doesn't falsely classify things as "all one way" when they are really some of both (or some of three or four things), thus better reflecting reality.
The huge downside of black-and-white schemes is they often generate fallacies and lead to unacknowledged or hidden complexities and absurdities. For example, if you classify foods as either "live" or "dead," it's now your job to explain how it is that most of the civilized world lives to the age of 75 primarily on dead food, while most raw-foodists can't live on a pure, all-live-food raw diet for more than just a few years before bailing out and having to add a few dead foods to their diet too.
A little complexity up front is better than a lot more in the end. Here, we would rather have a little bit of extra complexity if it takes the real world into account better, because in the end it avoids the thorny fallacies of binary black-and-white logic that can't see anything in between. So the straightforward principle here is that if simplicity distorts or obscures the reality rather than helping to elucidate it, then it's better to take the complexities into account. And it's simpler to do that up front rather than be forced to deal with them later when they sneak in through the back door.
- How often can we actually be certain? Finally, it is also apparent in the approach taken here that at times, sometimes much more often than we would like, we may not be very certain about any particular detail. It is this uncertainty that generates the most complexities of the type that are addressed in depth on this site and have to involve the necessary scientific research to try to answer them.
|Is simplistic certainty in the face
of uncertain knowledge smart?
A concluding observation that follows directly from the last principle mentioned just above is to ask: Is it not a considerably better strategy in life to remain uncertain if we can't be sure about something, and to be fully alert as a consequence, rather than to be erroneously certain? And to be aware of the details that make us cognizant of just where the uncertainties lie, rather than to live in a dubious or false certainty that makes us oblivious to certain crucial things which would otherwise be obvious?
The fruit of false certainty. One critical example of this, as we have said, is that most people don't succeed long-term on utopian, totally raw or 75%+ fruit diets. And they run considerable risk of damaging their health if they pigheadedly persist past the point where things start going downhill for them. If one wants to talk about things that are unnecessarily complex or detailed, then the kind of rationalizing that obscures an observation like this is one of them. Because this is something relatively simple to see which could save some people literally years of futile experimentation and/or potential long-term health consequences.
Complexity's role. What is complex to understand and explain (as is attempted on this site) are the specific underlying reasons why or whether a so-called ideal diet does or doesn't exist, and what that might be, along with all the scientific or research-based evidence to truly answer the question. (Unless you are willing to just say "people are different"--or its opposite, that "people are not THAT different"--and leave it at that, of course.)
And that's another conflict here: dietary idealism would like to keep things simple, but if you also want bona fide evidence that is scientifically verifiable, you have to embrace scientific methods which involve detailed research. That's of course not so simple because such evidence has to be concerned with the actual biology, anthropology, evolution and genetics, and verifiable clinical results of things. None of which are or can be satisfied with being the kind of simple philosophies (simplistic or oversimplistic would be more accurate) that dietary utopias are.
The real issue is this: How hard do we really want to look at things, and how much "truth" do we want to risk? Perhaps even to the point of realizing we have to live with some uncertainties as part and parcel of life? This implicit price in being free from oversimplistic dogmas that don't serve us well, however--and being able to then respond, even if imperfectly, to a more clearly perceived if somewhat uncertain reality--is well worth it.
Uncertainty leaves you alert and primed for new vistas of discovery. Far from being a bane, it is the uncertainties in life that actually make it an interesting challenge, worthwhile, and even exciting. It's the very tentativeness of uncertainty that leaves you open, primed, and flexible, whereas being too certain dulls awareness and makes you closed and rigid. Uncertainty is a spice that makes you eager for new information that might even change the way you think, and can repeatedly open up new vistas of discovery for exploration. And that's what's exciting about it.
Once you get a real taste of the process--how it stretches you to use all aspects of yourself in equal measure including logic, intuition, and the feedback of results, plus every useful tool available including detailed evidence--you simply can't go back.
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