Monday, May 10, 2010

More We and less I = A longer life

Dr. Dean Ornish, the author of "Eat More - Weigh Less" knows the secret of a long and happy life.

He is an expert in preventive medicine who found that 99% of patients could reverse the progress of their heart disease. And just because you have heart disease, it does not follow it will always get worse.

Our bodies have an amazing capacity to heal themselves. Faster than you might think. So if you stop doing whatever is causing the problem the chances are you will start to get better. And it works just as well for old as well as young people.

When Dr. Ornish started an institute to train hospitals and their staff, on preventive approaches, the health insurance companies got very excited. They discovered savings of $30,000 per patient, because when we make these changes, most of us can avoid expensive surgery to keep us alive.

We all know what's bad for us. Smoking, drinking and eating too much, working too hard and not enough exercise. Thirty per cent of Americans smoke. In some countries it's 80 per cent. And we watch too much television.

But the real epidemics are loneliness and depression. We eat when we get depressed, alcohol numbs the pain and some people think of a packet of cigarettes as 20 friends.

Two thirds of American adults are now overweight! An obesity epidemic. To lose weight you should either eat fewer calories or burn them off with exercise.

It's also better to eat lower calorie foods. Fat has 9 calories per gram, carbohydrates four. A big fatty meal makes you sleepy. It slows down the blood flow. And we rest instead of exercising.

We eat too many simple carbohydrates which have all the fiber removed such as sugar, white flour, white rice and alcohol. When you eat simple carbs, your blood sugar zooms up and your pancreas has to work overtime to make insulin to bring it down. And so diabetes has become an epidemic.

Unrefined carbs like fruit, vegetables and whole wheat flour are rich in fibre fill you up and you don't get the rapid rise in sugar levels. If you eat less of the energy intensive foods, you feel hungry less often.

However, not all fats are to be avoided. There are some good fats, like the omega-3 fatty acids. Three grams of fish oil every day, can reduce the risk of heart attack and sudden death by 50 to 80%.

So, if you change the behaviors which cause you to be tired, depressed, lethargic and impotent, your brain will get more blood, you will have more energy and your sexual function will improve, and you will have more fun.

Another secret to a happy, healthy life is to have more we (we-llness), and less I (I-llness). Numerous studies show that lonely or depressed people are five to ten times more likely to get sick and die prematurely. So phone a friend. Be of service to others. Give. Be compassionate.

Here's a workshop to explore Dr. Ornish's ideas:

1. Brainstorm a list of what you will do a) to connect more with others (friends, family), b) be more compassionate, c) give more and d) be of service to others to improve happiness and reduce depression.
2. Knowing that fats have 4 calories and carbohydrates have 9 calories per gram and fibre (fruit, vegetables and wholemeal flour) fills you up, design a breakfast, lunch or dinner which will help you reduce your calorie intake.
3. Make a list of all the foods that are high in fats, and which will make you sleepy and not want to exercise, that you plan to eliminate from your diet. e.g. sausages, bacon and eggs for breakfast.
4. Make a commitment to live an extra 10 years by making a list of all the extra fun things you will be able to do. e.g. 520 extra romps in the hay. 3,650 walks in the bush or along the beach.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Humans, the second replicator

First there were genes. And now there are memes.

According to paranormal sceptic and scientist, Susan Blackmore, humans have let this second replicator out of the box....Pandora's Box...and it's here to stay. Like it or not.

Blackmore, who began her scientific career in the hope she would be able to demonstrate evidence for paranormal activities, has found none, and is now a confirmed skeptic.

She says that memes came about because humans imitate each other, like how to light fires, wear clothes, or perch sunglasses on our foreheads. Or how we fold the ends of the toilet paper over in hotel bathrooms.

The word "meme" was coined by Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene. Blackmore took the idea and turned it into a full fledged theory.

Memes are parasites of our brains, a symbiant. In the same way that genes survive in the members of our species that have competed and survived, so too do memes. It's all copying with variation and selection. The best memes live on and are transmitted from one generation to the next.

In a sense, when a new gene or meme survives, or is selected, you get design out of nowhere with no conscious designer in sight.

According to Blackmore, memes have forced us to have big brains, to use fatty tissue called myelin to insulate the neurons. Brains that love music, religion and art.

And because we all now have big heads, it it dangerous to give birth to new members of the species, which places our memes and our species at long term risk.

So be warned. There's another replicator lose in the world and its called a Teme, or technological meme. Temes are the tools we use, such as the motor car, washing machine or computer. And they are becoming smarter every day, and could soon live on without us.

So here's a series of questions to explore these issues:

1. Give examples of "genes", "memes" and "temes", that explains the differences between them.
2. In what ways might the transmission of "memes" have an influence over the genes that are transmitted? Think about the consequences of memes such as medicine, social welfare etc.
3. Explain how the idea of a "meme" is itelf a meme.
4. If memes are "design out of nowhere", how did the concept of "meme" get started and develop? Was it Richard Dawkins, Susan Blackmore, the universe, the "system", ancestor memes or what?
5. What influence might genes have on the development of "memes" and "temes"?
6. At what stage of human development might "temes" take on a life of their own, and how might this happen?
7. What factors might contribute to a meme or teme dying out?