Saturday, October 30, 2010

Nutrition Rant: Simple vs Complex Carbs

  Ok, it's crunch time for me.  Semester's end is in sight which means 1 thing: term papers.  Honestly, I'm kind of freaking out.  Guess I just need to divide everything into manageable tasks.  Wait, that would make too much sense.  I should do what most pop psychology/self-help books say.  I should just visualize getting an 'A'.  Or just have a really positive attitude, or something like be open to the universe conspiring to help me--whatever the crap that means.  Or I could do my favourite: just pray.  Prayer will get me through these tough times. Right. What happened to organize your time, and work hard? Why attach all this other useless crap? 
     True story (sort of, I'm changing the details so preserve anonymity). I had a friend (a believer) who was in a car accident.  He worked very hard during physical therapy to get better.  Followed all his doctors' advice, the whole nine yards.  He healed sooner than expected.  When asked about his recovery he attributed it to all the people who prayed for his recovery.  What the crap?  So, modern medicine and physical therapy, and all the effort you made are just frills and gimmicks?  So, I suppose when people who are prayed for don't get better it means their friends and family didn't pray hard enough? Or maybe they prayed to the wrong god?  Have you ever heard of a religious person blame their slow recovery or eventual death on people not praying enough for them?  Probably not, but they'll attribute all the credit to sweet baby jesus (sbj) if things go the way the want.  Makes me want to tackle people.
     Anyway, the whole point of this entry is to let all my millions of readers (thanks for reading Mom!) know that my entries may not be that frequent while I am entering term paper season.  I'll do my best but can't promise much except for the occasional tirade against flawed logic.  (Colbert: But you acknowledge it is logic!)
     So, for tonight I leave you with this, a rant I wrote about a week ago on my friend's blog (which chronicles his weight loss experience) while I was supposed to be working on one of my term papers....enjoy!  Bye the bye, thanks to my sister for the biochemistry overview and fact checking.  She's a real scientist with her own lab coat, test tubes, bunsen burner, and beaker...so listen up!

Context: there had been a couple of comments from the peanut gallery (readers of my friend's blog) with suggestions that I knew had no scientific support, mainly in regards to carbs.   (I'd be lying if I didn't mention that I was a little jealous about how many comments he got from his peanut gallery....c'mon guys! you're way to quiet for a peanut gallery!)

     Just thought I'd throw my two bits in regarding carbs.  First lets begin with weight loss basics. Far and away the most important thing is that calories out must be less than calories in, regardless of source.  If calories in exceeds calories out, you gain weight. If they are equal, you maintain.  This is not to say that there aren't optimal ratios of macro nutrients (simple carbs, complex carbs, proteins, fats) but the calories in/calories out formula is orders of magnitude more important if weight loss is the primary concern.  In regards to the complex vs simple carbs, ultimately it matters not which you eat (in the context of weight loss); what matters is the caloric content.  Since one gram of carbs, simple or complex, is equal to just over 4 calories of energy, ultimately eating one has the same effect as the other in regards to caloric intake.
     Next we come to complex vs simple carbs in the context of "which is better for you".  They are basically chemically the same thing except the complex carbs are chains of simple carbs (i.e. sugars or monosaccharides, in chemistry language).  The metabolic difference is that complex carbs take longer to enter the blood stream because the body has to break down the complex chains of molecules into individual simple sugar molecules before it can absorb them into the blood stream.  
     The rate at which carbs are broken down and absorbed into the blood stream is called the glycemic index.  When we eat foods high in simple sugars (simple carbs) the rate at which the sugars enter our blood stream is high because there is no need for our body to break the molecule down any more than it is.  When a large amount of sugar is "dumped" into the blood stream all at once, the body responds by increasing insulin production.  Insulin production is linked to energy storage.  The body stores energy in two ways: 1.  it converts the sugar into glycogen, where it is stored in the muscles, or 2. in the fat cells where it is stored as fat.  If your muscles are already saturated with glycogen, then your body will tend to store excess glycogen as fat.  
     So, as you can see, if you consume simple carbs in quantities below the bodies threshold for releasing insulin there is no negative effect. But not everything is so simple, many things depend on context.  For instance, for athletes it is important to eat simple carbs after a workout so glycogen stores are replenished quickly. Furthermore, insulin is a transporter of nutrients to cells, so after a workout, we want higher insulin levels so energy is more effectively transported back into our cells. 
     With all this hysteria about carbs it is important to keep a couple of things in mind.  First, they ultimately are broken down in to the same thing. Second, if we have an active life style, both simple and complex carbs are important parts of our diet to meet our energy requirements. The problem is usually that processed foods are calorie dense, not that that simple carbs themselves are bad.  Once again, the problem is calories in vs calories out.  Not macro-nutrient ratios.
     One more note concerning carb hysteria, and this concerns the naturalistic fallacy.  But first a quick return to elementary chemistry.  Both fructose and glucose are monosaccharides (simple sugars).  "Natural" sugar is called sucrose, and contains one fructose and one glucose molecule.  just because it is "natural" doesn't endow it with any magical properties. chemistry is chemistry is chemistry.  That said there is a lot of hysteria concerning high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)  HFCS is also composed of both fructose and sucrose.  the only difference is that because the fructose and sucrose molecules are not bound, the ratio of fructose to glucose can be controlled.  It comes in 55/45 blend or 42/58.  There is nothing inherently "bad" about it.  Any "natural" food is going to have both fructose and sucrose.  In the case of HFCS the fructose content is high or low depending on the level of sweetness required.  Many people (not chemists) claim there is a link between HFCS consumption and obesity.  While it is true that there is correlation, there is not causation.  What causes the obesity is over consumption of calories--not the chemical properties of the molecule. 
Anyway, i should stop ranting....

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Update and Introduction to Disjunctivism/McDowell

Well, you'd think by now I'd know better than to start writing a blog entry at 3:15am on a Monday...but I know that the 3 to 5 people that actually read my blog are wondering why it's been over a week since my last post...

     So, I did kind of an interesting party on Saturday.  It was for the 40th birthday of a woman who, along with all of her friends, was deaf.  While texting the organizer the day before, she asked me if I needed for them to provide a stereo.  I had to pause for a moment and think about it.  My first instinct was to say, meh, I'll be fine without one.  It's not like it's going to improve the show for them.  Then I realized, it might be kind of awkward for me to prance around for half an hour in my underwear without any music.  Stop.  After writing that sentence, it just occurred to me that what is awkward to me about that situation isn't what would be awkward to most people.  
     Anyway, my main concern was that when I spoke they wouldn't understand me.  You see, I usually come as a cop and do this little skit, saying the neighbours are complaining about the noise, and the bachelorette/birthdaygirl is in violation of penal code 6969.  Cheezy, I know.  But chicks dig it, and you gotta give 'em what they want.  The organizer informed me that some of them could read lips and would interpret for me.  Cool.  Problem solved.  "But you must remember to e...n...u...n...c...i...a...t...e" (Pa, that was for you).  
     All the worry was for naught, as everything went fairly well.  The only problem was when they started the music for me, the volume was very low, barely audible.  I'd already started the show and wasn't about to walk across the room and adjust the volume.  So, I did the show with the music down low (say that 5 times fast).  Actually, they liked the show so much that when I finished, the applause was deafening.... OH NO HE DI'INT JUST GO THERE! I'm sorry, I couldn't resist.  Go ahead, heap scorn upon me....

Introduction to Disjunctivism

     Disjunctivism is a theory of perception of which there are many flavours, but here is a summary of the central claims.  Remember from other posts about perception that the main problem in philosophy of perception is to give an account of how we can know that the phenomena we experience of the external world as a product of our senses is indeed what the actual external world is like.  And second (and related problem) is to give an account of how we can distinguish between an true accurate visual perception of the world (i.e. veridical perception in philosophy-speak) and a hallucination or illusion of the same thing.  
     Well, disjunctivism proposes to solve these problems by addressing the second question first.  The strategy is that, if we can show that there is a fundamental distinction between veridical perception and hallucination/illusion, then we can say we can know about the world through veridical perception without having to worry if we are hallucinating.  So, lets look at the general argument to distinguish veridical perceptions from "bad" perceptions.
     To be honest, in its general form it's not so much of an argument as it is a proclamation.  Disjunctivists argue that there is something intrinsically different between veridical perception and hallucination/illusion.  Hallucinations/illusions are the products of misfirings in our perceptual systems or artifacts of the evolutionary context in which they developed.  They are "constituted" only of things that we have created in our brain/mind.  Veridical perceptions, on the other hand, in addition to having representational content, are constituted of "facts about the world". Veridical perceptions are causally connected to the outside world, whereas "bad" perceptions are not.  With veridical perception, we are in direct contact and have direct awareness of objects in the external world.  They are a fundamentally different psychological/mental kind/entity.
     Some argue that this does not solve anything because the phenomenology of the experience (how the subject experiences the content of the representation) is still indistinguishable to the subject.  In other words, just because the two cases might be constitutively different doesn't help us, because the perceiver still has no way of knowing which is which.  
     The disjunctivist will reply that while it is true that in practice, we cannot distinguish the two, he has demonstrated that in theory we can.  This is important because this allows us to address the first problem, and answer the skeptic about having empirical knowledge.  The skeptic says that, because we cannot distinguish between good and bad cases of perception, we cannot know anything about the world through empirical observation.  The disjunctivist claim about theoretically being able to distinguish the two cases means that we could theoretically determine when we are experiencing a veridical perception and therefore we could (i.e. it would be possible to) be justified in claiming knowledge about the world.  I know what you're thinking... in the everyday world this sounds trivial, but in philosophy, defeating the skeptical argument is quite significant.
     I suppose it might be helpful to explain how disjunctivism got its name.  It gets its name from how it interprets the sentence "I seem to see an X".  Remember, when we perceive something there is no dependable way for us to distinguish if we are actually seeing an X, or if we are having an illusion/hallucination as of an X.  To the perceiver, the experience will be the same.  Returning to the point at hand, the disjunctivist claims that "I seem to see an X" is really just a condensed form of the disjunct (either/or statement) "Either I see an X or I have an illusion of X".  For the disjunct to be true one of 2 conditions must obtain:  1.  there is an X in my visual field, or 2. there isn't an X in my visual field, even if in both cases it seems to me I see an X.  
     This approach is significant, because now instead of judging the truth value of perception in relation to the phenomena we experience in our heads, the truth value of perception is attached to "facts-of-the-matter" about the external world.  That is to say, truth about a perception is no longer a function of whether I can determine if I'm hallucinating, it is about conditions in the world outside my head (even if I can't actually get outside of my own head).  And, not to belabour the point but, because truth assessment is now about the external world, we can defeat the skeptics and say that knowledge of the external world is theoretically possible.

Ok, read that a couple of time and let it turn your brain to mush.  If you really understand this the first time you read it, you are orders of magnitude more intelligent than I, or I am the greatest explanatory philosophy writer of our time...my money's on the former.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Update and Tyler Burge/Vision Science Primer.

       A little update before we get into the philosophy....
     Actually, I lied.  There's no update here cuz, every week pretty much follows the same pattern:  going to class, fantasizing about what I'm going to eat on my "cheat" day, studying, more fantasizing about cheat day, more studying, going to the gym, entertaining the occasional bachelorette/birthday party, hiking on Sunday and eating whatever I want that night! Repeat. 
     I guess what breaks the monotony more than anything is doing those parties.  Inevitably there's always something funny that happens.  At one of the parties on Saturday the mother of the birthday girl kept telling me (in jest) that she has lots of money and if I want to stay at her place and study, it's no problem she'll take good care of me.  Of course, this caused the birthday girl and her friends to have fits of giggles watching her mom flirt with me.  As I was getting ready to leave they put some merengue on (they were Latinas).  I pretended to be uber-gringo--when I'm working amonst Spanish speakers I usually don't let on that I understand them--and said "Oh! What is this kind of music?".  One of the girls, challenging me, said "I can teach you how to dance".  This was too good to pass up.  I pretended not to know what I was doing for a bit, then "POW!".  They couldn't believe this gringo stripper knew what he was doing.  Anyway, they loved it so much they tipped me and extra $40.00, which was nice.  Yay! Fist pump!
     Oh! I guess there is some news....my bike got stolen from campus...and it rained that day.  Great, the last thing I need as a broke student is to buy what I already owned.  And that bike was a piece of crap...what were the stinkin' theives thinking? "Hey look! This one comes with a free water bottle!" Idiots...and so much for that extra $40.00

Tyler Burge, Philosophy of Mind and Visual Science.  
A Primer.

First watch these:

   This is a little overview of some of the stuff I'm studying in my philosophy of mind class.  Very cool stuff if you're like me and don't know too much about it.  Back in my undergrad we studied the major problems of philosophy of mind and some of the important historical movements in philosophy to try to solve these problems.  However, we never studied any contemporary accounts. The book we are studying came out in February this year, so you're not going to get much more contemporary than that...Anywho, I remember having two related thoughts while we were studying theories of mind in my undergrad class:  First, what do the philosophers of today think about this stuff?; and second, can't we have an orange mocha frappaccino--I mean--turn to empirical science to help sort through some of these important issues?  Guess, what? Tyler Burge is contemporary, and....whenever possible, he refers to vision science and perceptual psychology to form/support his arguments.  Cooooool!
     To quote a famous poet, "lets get it started in ha".  Burge is concerned with asking what it means to objectively represent the physical world.  You see, when it comes to sensory perception (for the sake of simplicity we will concern ourselves only with vision) there are a couple of problems.  The first problem is that of objective representation.  We do not perceive the external world directly.  Rather, we attribute properties/kinds/relations to particular objects in the physical environment through the mysterious inner workings of our perceptual systems.  So, if our perceptions are the products of our perceptual systems' inner workings, how then do we know that our perceptions of the world correspond to what the external world is actually like? The second problem is that of fallibility of the senses.  We know the senses can sometimes misinterpret input and produce an incorrect representation.  Consequences of this problem are determining why, when and to what degree we should trust our senses.  The third problem is called "the underdetermination" problem, the solution to which will help us with problem two.  The essence of the underdetermination problem is that there are an infinite number of different external stimuli that will produce the same representation.  How does our perceptual system "decide" which interpretation of the stimuli to represent, i.e. which property to attribute to an external object?  I want to focus most of my attention on the third problem because understanding/solving it helps guide us in the first two problems.

Objective Represention
    I'd like to begin with the short answer to the first problem, the problem of objective representation.  Burge proposes an argument from evolution.  That is to say, it is not unreasonable to suppose that our perceptual systems evolved to represent the external environment accurately.  For what would be the evolutionary benefit of representing the external environment as it isn't?  Side note, generally speaking we can use "accurate" and "objective" interchangeably when referring to successful representation.  There are cases where this is not true, but we'll set those aside for now.  

The Underdetermination Problem
     Yeah, I know I'm skipping problem #2 for now, but I'll get there.  Patience!  (Note to self, follow your outline, or create one you will follow...or write the body first, then give an outline...or...shut up and write!)  To discuss the underdetermination problem, I want to first introduce some terminology that will simplify explanations.  Distal Cause:  The three dimensional external environment that is the cause of a representation and that which the perceptual system aims to represent.  Proximal cause:  The two dimensional array of light in various degrees intensity on your retina as a result of a distal cause.
     Ok, got that out of the way.  So, here's how visual science tells us (visual) representation works.  A given distal object forms a certain 2D array on your retina.  The light in this 2D pattern stimulates certain receptors which send signals to the rest of your visual system.  A bunch of stuff happens in your brain, and voila! you represent a potential distal object, and you perceive that distal object.  The problem is this.  There are an infinite number of 3D distal objects that could produce the same 2D pattern on your retina.  A simple example:  A basketball at 1 meter from you face and a mini ping pong sized basketball at 15cm from your face will cover the same amount of your visual field.  In other words, the 2D array of light on your retina will be the same size for both.  How then does your brain know which scenario to represent?  How does it correctly gage the size? Also, how does it construct a 3D representation from only a 2D pattern on the retina? This is what underdetermination means, there are mathematically an infinite number of possible distal causes of a proximal light array.
     The short answer is that you are hardwired toward certain interpretations of retinal stimulations.  Your brain is hardwired toward certain interpretations of proximal input.  We are hardwired toward interpretations that are (or were during the time they evolved) the most useful for the organism. 

...Ok, going to have to finish this another day, it's almost 5am and I can't think straight anymore...good night!  Oh! check out these cool optical illusions.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Carnap Part 3 and My Blog's Identity Crisis

Hello Friends,

Today I'm going to wrap up the overview of Carnap, and in future posts I will go into more detail.  On Tuesday I have to give a presentation on his paper "Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology" and I'll be using you guys as a practice audience.  I know! You can hardly wait!
Before I begin, as usual, I have to go off on a tangent.  After tracking the stats of my blog it became apparent to me that many of you don't read the philosophy entries (gasp!) but luuuvs you some anecdotal stories about my life.  So, I'm going to do my best to accommodate both groups of readers (yes, there are some that read the philosophy content).  The problem is that I realized that I can use the philosophy content aspect of my blog to strengthen my application package when I go through the next round of grad school applications in January.  But, then again, if an applications panel actually decides to read my blog they might find some things that could moderately move their decision in the wrong direction.  Hmmm, anyway, I guess I'll come to that bridge when I cross it...In the meantime, here's a quick status update on my life:

I finally feel like I've settled into a sustainable routine.  Studying every day from the moment I stubbled out of bed until my eyes could read no more was not effective.  After some trial and error I have, for the time being, found a precarious balance between studying, class, gym, and free time.  Of course I haven't had to write any major term papers yet so we'll see how long this balance lasts!  Nevertheless, after overcoming the initial shock of using my brain academically for the first time in longer than I care to admit, I'm getting some confidence back and feeling that this is indeed some thing I can do, not just want to do. 

Carnap Overview Part 3

     In a nutshell Carnap said this:  The entities that we choose to embrace in our beliefs, be they abstract or physical, are reflections of the linguistic framework we have implicitly or explicitly chosen to adopt.  In other words, our beliefs about our experiences can be traced back to linguistic structures we have adopted.  The important implications of this idea are as follows:  a) all knowledge systems are legitimate, but some are preferable to others on the basis of pragmatics, fruitfulness, and simplicity b)  the linguistic frameworks we choose to describe our experiences and beliefs are (should be) selected on the basis of pragmatics, fruitfulness, and simplicity c)  we cannot know the absolute reality of physical or abstract entities.   These 3 issues are intertwined, however, I'll do my best to focus on each one in turn.
Quick defining of terms: by language I don't necessarily mean natural languages, but linguistic frameworks to describing our experiences.
Lets examine the first implication, that all knowledge systems are legitimate.  Before I begin I want to clarify the vague notion of "knowledge system".  What I really mean is the collection of beliefs, both experientially and logically derived, that can be traced back to the fundamental tenets (or axioms) of your knowledge system.   At the ground floor our knowledge system is comprised of linguistic frameworks.  Lets step away from these extremely abstract notions for a second and use an example to illustrate what I'm talking about.  

For a moment lets imagine we have a very very primitive language and we don't yet have a concept for physical things.  We experience "objects" but we have no language to describe the experience.  One smart guy in our group decides that these experiences we have of objects in space-time we will call "physical things/objects".   Then he goes on to list the qualities a physical thing must have to be a physical thing; namely it has a temporal and physical location and physical extension.  Now we have a linguistic framework for physical things, and we can verify if an experience is of a physical thing by empirically determining if it conforms to our framework.  The language framework is legitimate because there are clear axioms (rules) for determining what constitutes "physical thing". 
Well, almost.  There's one more thing we need, it's called the rules of inference.  We need a clear set of rules to show how the rules interact with each other and empirical data.  There are deductive rules and inductive rules, but this goes beyond the scope of this discussion.  An example of a rule of inference is the transitive rule--if A equals B and B equals C, then A equals C.  So, any language is considered legitimate if it's basic axioms and rules of inference are spelled out.  Languages are equally legitimate to the degree that the axioms and rules of inference are clear.  
Nevertheless, different languages can lead to different systems of belief for several reasons:  The basic axioms could be different or the rules of inference could be different, or both.  An (over-simplified) example where the axioms are different would be if in another language, Language 2, instead of a physical thing linguistic framework, they adopt an idealist framework.  That is to say, instead of saying the objects of perception exist independently of our minds as physical objects, things are actually just mental phenomena--they exist only in our mind.  Before you go calling this view crazy, there have been many prominent philosophers who held similar views, you may have heard of Berkeley and (arguably) Plato.  

We can say that both the linguistic structures account for our experiences.  So long as language 2 states that all sensory experience (touch, taste, smell, vision, sound) exists only in the mind then indeed this is a legitimate account of experience.  There is no way of knowing if one Language is true and the other is false because the net result is the same and there is not objective test we could ever do to provide evidence.
Despite this problem, we can make a decision based on pragmatics, fruitfulness, and simplicity to choose which language framework to adopt.  With Language 2 and its idealist account, things start to get complicated if we want to tender the reasonable hypothesis that things continue to exist even when we are not directly perceiving them.  Idealism in it's simplest form implies that if I look away from an object, it ceases to exist (because things only exist in my mind when I perceive them directly).  The framework starts to look complicated if we want to adequately account for this phenomena.  It will require adding more axioms to our framework.  So, in this quick and dirty example we can make the pragmatic decision to adopt the language framework of physical things, because it is simpler.  It is very important to note that we can never say of any competing language structures that one is true and one is false, so long as they both account for the phenomena we seek to explain.  Simplicity is not a measure of truth.  
One final note which I will revisit in a future post is the idea that we cannot know the absolute reality of physical and abstract entities.  For any given entity there will be a variety of different linguistic (mathematical in the case of theoretical physics and science) structures to account for the phenomena.  In the case of electrons, we cannot ask if electrons have metaphysical reality, but we can say, provided we antecedently adopt the physical things linguistic structure, that we can answer this question through empirical and deductive means.  Notice, how we answer the question depends on previously adopted linguistic frameworks.  If we ask, do numbers exist? There is no metaphysical answer, but given the usefulness of numbers in explaining and predicting experience we can say it is useful and fruitful to adopt a framework that encompasses numbers.  But do numbers really exist?  We can't know, we can only say it's a useful framework to adopt.