Hunter Gatherer

Brimming with ideas and a fascinating read. STEVEN PINKER, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University

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Seth Roberts

I was deeply saddened to learn that Seth Roberts suddenly passed away. Many people knew Seth better or longer than I did, but I’d like to share a few thoughts.

I met Seth a few years ago at a conference. We ended up walking and talking at that conference, walking and talking at other conferences, walking and talking in NYC. Many people who knew Seth have fond memories of walking and talking with him. Seth was hiking when he died.

Let’s celebrate Seth Roberts for what he was: an idiosyncratic and peculiar man.

  • He drank unflavored sugar water to lose weight
  • He looked at digital faces each morning to improve his mood the following day
  • He stood on one foot until exhaustion (then did it again on the other foot)
  • He timed himself on simple math problems to test his brain function

These are not things that “normal” people do.

Seth didn’t care. He was unconcerned about looking weird or low status.

Even though Seth didn’t care what people thought, he cared an awful lot about what you thought. He was an excellent listener. He gave people his full attention. And, as Ben Casnocha recalls, Seth was a master of appreciative thinking – searching for and finding the value in what a person is saying.

Seth will be remembered for his work in self-experimentation. More than just his quirky findings – faces on TV, honey at bed, flaxseed oil – Seth taught that anyone can be a scientist.

This wasn’t simply the saccharine sentiment that every child has the potential to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry (organic chem is hard enough).

This wasn’t based on the false notion that science is easy (quite the opposite: good science is so difficult that the professionals often get it wrong).

Seth showed that there are parts of the scientific method where everyone can participate, where everyone should participate. He demonstrated the value of amateurish self-experimentation to both scientific progress and personal improvement.

Self-experimentation doesn’t just bring science out of the laboratory; it turns your world into a laboratory.

Unfortunately, formal education often teaches the opposite: that science requires beakers and Bunsen burners; agar plates and AP Calc; expensive degrees and exceptional test scores. As every scientific field has grown increasingly technical and specialized, there is a sense that science is a pursuit best left to professionals. The notion of “Science” itself has morphed into something incomprehensible and irreproachable; mighty and magical — a distant deity that dictates true and false, right and wrong from an unassailable position of authority.

Seth brought science down to earth. Even as he publicly attacked professionals who published papers containing falsified data, Seth empowered amateurs. He showed that science is messy and practical and fun. Ever-curious, he was always tinkering and hacking, breaking and building.

Self-experimentation holds an eminent place in the history of science, and Seth Roberts unassumingly continued that great tradition. Long before fitness trackers and wearables, genomic sequencing and personalized medicine, biohacking and Quantified Self, Seth was quietly taking notes with pencil and paper.

Seth Roberts was an idiosyncratic and peculiar man.

That’s what made him one a kind.

He will be missed.


Review from Brian MacKenzie of CrossFit Endurance

“Art.”

I don’t know anyone who who’s told the story of time like Mr Durant. Breaking down biblical interpretation as nobody I’ve ever heard or read…Moving from the dawn of our existence to modern day in a way all of us can understand and interpret.

I have more or less lived by the principles this book has discussed for almost a decade, and have never been happier…

You can find Brian at CrossFit Endurance.


Interview with John Tierney and Reason TV

It’s not every day you get invited to a salon held in the basement of the Museum of Sex. Here’s a fun hour-long interview with John Tierney, science journalist with the New York Times, hosted by Reason Magazine.

We talk diet, libertarianism, why Jesus didn’t wash his hands, veganism, and more.


Interview at Boing Boing: Incredibly Interesting Authors

I enjoyed talking with Mark Frauenfelder, co-founder of Boing Boing.

We spoke about

  • a college break-up that eventually led to paleo
  • how The Paleo Manifesto is different than some other books
  • how paleo has changed over the years
  • religion as an adaptation to infectious disease
  • and more…

Check it out.


Interview with Kettlebell Kitchen

I just did a fun interview with Kettlebell Kitchen, including my top three predictions for health trends over the next three years:

Microbes. Microbes are hot a topic right now — gut health, fermented foods, probiotics, chronic infections — and that will only continue as we learn how many more health conditions (cancer, mental disorders) are influenced by bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and other tiny critters. It will one day become commonplace for doctors to prescribe a course of probiotics after a course of antibiotics.

Habitats. People will shift away from trying to change their bad habits through willpower and discipline — like New Year’s resolutions — and increasingly focus on changing their physical habitats (bedrooms, kitchens, offices, and gyms) in ways that make it easier to be healthy without requiring discipline. That’s how they do it in zoos.

Habits. Biohacking will shift away from simply tracking our behaviors to actually motivating us to create new habits.

Read the full interview, which also discusses:

  • my two biggest challenges eating paleo in NYC
  • The Great Chicken Stock Disaster of 2010-11
  • critics of paleo
  • and more…

Interview with SmartPlanet

Here’s an interesting part on differences between women and men:

You can’t separate popular writing about health and diet from the enormous industry that already exists and is mostly geared toward women -– and that this industry is connected to the proliferation of images of tall, white, slender women. With your background, how do you contextualize yourself within the health and diet industry?

I, thankfully — probably in large part because I am a man — was not exposed to the diet world growing up. I ate a conventional midwestern diet. I didn’t have body or weight issues. And so when I first stuck my toe into the diet world I thought, “Holy cow, what is going on here? Everyone is saying contradictory things.” Many of the approaches seem wacky. “Only eat foods that begin with the letter A today.” Who thought this was a good idea?

I think women have been damaged more than men by the bad dietary advice that has been pushed over the past 20 or 30 years. Two things in particular: low fat and counting calories. Those have been very damaging. If you take a low-fat approach where you’re counting calories, you’re hungry all the time but still trying to use discipline to restrict how much you eat. In my mind that seems like a recipe for an eating disorder. You’re trying to exert control on what you’re eating, but you’re finding that your body isn’t allowing you to exert control easily.

I have female friends and relatives who have had various eating disorders and there are a ton of women who have come to Paleo because it’s like, “Okay, I’m not counting calories or weighing the food I eat. I’m not vilifying fat. I can be satiated.”

One of the nice things about Crossfit — and sometimes yoga — compared to how a lot of people work out today, is there are no mirrors. People aren’t focused on whether you have a perfect six-pack or a bit of fat on your sides. When you focus on functional movement or having fun, a goal besides better body image, you get good results and it’s a lot healthier.

There’s a stigma around the word “diet” for both men and women. For women the word is often associated with failure and lack of discipline. For men it’s like, “Men don’t go on diets!” It’s a macho thing. Neither group is really happy with the diet world.

You can read the full interview here.


7 Great Books About Being Healthy

The Paleo Manifesto gets a mention:

Ok, I will not lie, this title does sound a bit gimmicky. Thankfully, the book is not. This book is a love letter for all of those closet anthropologists and sociologists out there. Author John Durant discusses food habits of those way back in the Paleolithic era while bringing all that info back to life and health today. This is a great read for everyone, not just those who enjoy a Paleo diet.

See the full list here.

 


Interview on New York public radio

Having done a lot of interviews over the years, I really appreciate it when a thoughtful interviewer quickly moves beyond the same old caveman jokes. Here’s my recording on New York public radio with Leonard Lopate. We cover paleo, CrossFit, Atkins, veganism, saturated fat, fermented foods, and more.

Here’s a link to the segment at WNYC.


Interview with Well + Good NYC

Here’s an excerpt:

Arguments about diet typically rely on scientific studies; yours are more based on theories culled from evolutionary psychology and historical evidence. But don’t we need to see large studies that prove the Paleo approach works?

The reality is that people don’t really understand how the human body works. Even the top scientists. And when you don’t understand, you need to use nature as a model, to get an approximation or some good hypotheses for what works. Evolutionary theory is wonderful for generating really smart hypotheses.

And on meaning:

One of the things you suggest people do to thrive is to “make food meaningful.” How is this part of the Paleo approach?

That theme is partly Michael Pollan’s influence, and he’s been very critical of what’s called nutritionism, basically reducing foods into their parts, like vitamin C and calories and fats. Deconstructing food like that takes away its meaning. Diets that depend on counting calories and macro-nutrients, they’re not the type that motivate people to stick to them in the long-term. I didn’t want this book to be a list of foods that you’re not allowed to eat and a list of beneficial micro- and macro-nutrients—that doesn’t motivate me in my daily life. What motivates me is actually making chicken stock for a friend who’s ill instead of heating up a can of soup on the stove. Traditional family recipes are more meaningful than ones that come out of a cookbook. The key to turning a diet into a lifestyle is making it meaningful, integrating it into your life, so that it doesn’t require discipline, it’s just what you do.

You can read the full interview here.


Talks at Google: “Paleo as Biohacking”

I gave a talk at Google NYC on “Paleo as Biohacking.” I talk about ways to use human evolution to quickly generate heuristics for human health.