Maybe it was the infusion of Pinkerism that helped atheism fizzle out


I’m going to call the relentless, performative celebration of something called “rationality” Pinkerism now. I’ve noticed it before: every YouTube channel that considers it a sufficient declaration of their worthiness to simply label themselves “The <insert adjective for “smart” here> Atheist”, all the lists of logical fallacies, the books about how everyone else is so stupid, the insistence that we get better by just being more logical (even when they’re contradicting themselves), the Mr Spock envy. It got old. It just seemed so joyless.

Well, you can trust good ol’ Steven Pinker to come along and dial it all up to 11. His new book is titled Rationality, and every smug wanker in the fading atheist movement will snatch it off the shelves. I won’t be one of them, so I’m going to have to rely on getting my impressions second hand, unfortunately. But oh boy, this review is stinging.

For someone who so frequently and serenely proclaims that he’s right, Steven Pinker can get curiously defensive. In “Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters,” Pinker writes as if he’s part of an embattled minority, valiantly making the case that “the ability to use knowledge to attain goals” is so underappreciated these days that the reading public needs a new book (by Pinker) “to lay out rational arguments for rationality itself.”

He’s very disappointed that we aren’t all down on our knees praising Saint Steven.

Still, Pinker is troubled by what he sees as rationality’s image problem. “Rationality is uncool,” he laments. It isn’t seen as “dope, phat, chill, fly, sick or da bomb.” As evidence for its diminished status, he quotes celebrations of nonsense by the Talking Heads and Zorba the Greek. (Pinker is also vexed by the line “Let’s go crazy,” which he says was “adjured” by “the Artist Formerly Known as Prince.”) It’s precisely this cultural derision of reason, he says, that prevents us from appreciating rationality’s spectacular accomplishments. “Human progress is an empirical fact,” he writes. “‘Progress’ is shorthand for a set of pushbacks and victories wrung out of an unforgiving universe, and is a phenomenon that needs to be explained. The explanation is rationality.“

You know the Talking Heads is a rather cerebral band, right? That dadaism was an intellectual movement? And that Prince was a joyful celebrant of art? I guess we’re not supposed to be happy. We’re supposed to be like Martians, with “intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic”.

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.

We all know how the Martians ended up.

Some of Pinker’s observations on racial issues are similarly blinkered. Are mortgage lenders who turn down minority applicants really being racist, he muses, or are those lenders simply calculating default rates “from different neighborhoods that just happen to correlate with race?” (A long history of racist redlining may “happen” to have something to do with this too, but Pinker doesn’t get into it.) He goes on to ask why “race, sex, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation have become war zones in intellectual life, even as overt bigotry of all kinds has dwindled.”

Anyone paying attention to what’s been happening in the last few years might wonder where he got his information. In support of his vague claim, Pinker directs the reader to a footnote citing two sources: a study, whose data ended in 2016, that measured a person’s “explicit attitudes” based on self-reporting (i.e. the respondents had to admit their bigotry); and a few (unhelpful) pages from “Enlightenment Now.”

It looks like he’s well on the path to self-referential insertion of his head up his own rectum. Perhaps the walls of his colon prevent him from noticing the increases in hate crimes in the US.

Poverty is also negligible in Pinker’s brain, and he’s always ready to indulge in the small pleasure of wagging a finger at fat people enjoying lasagna. He’s very petty that way.

The trouble arrives when he tries to gussy up his psychologist’s hat with his more elaborate public intellectual’s attire. The person who “succumbs” to the “small pleasure” of a lasagna dinner instead of holding out for the “large pleasure of a slim body” is apparently engaged in a similar kind of myopic thinking as the “half of Americans nearing retirement age who have saved nothing for retirement.” His breezy example elides the fact that — according to the same data — the median income for those non-saving households is $26,000, which isn’t enough money to pay for living expenses, let alone save for retirement.

So what’s the source of these “problems”? If you’ve read any right-wing media in the last few decades, you know the answer: education. I’m a little surprised that a Harvard professor would so readily find common cause with Prager U.

He repeatedly says that by promoting rationality he’s promoting “epistemic humility,” but you’d be hard-pressed to find much humility here, as he pronounces that among the biggest barriers to rationality’s triumph is “the universities’ left-wing suffocating monoculture.”

Oh, I know. I’ve noticed that biology departments across the country suffer from a suffocating monoculture of evolutionists, and math departments still persist in suffocating students with calculus, and chemists, those old fuddy-duddies, still strangle students with stoichiometry and bonds and thermodynamics. I dare not look across campus to the humanities and social sciences, where everyone is in zombie-like lockstep, there is never any dissent, and no one has any ideas, other than ones that might make comfortable Harvard professors uncomfortable, and which may therefore be ignored and belittled.

Has he ever considered that maybe left-wing philosophies thrive on college campuses because a) we like diverse ideas, and b) we like to challenge those ideas, two principles that are anathema to conservatives? And, apparently, anathema to Pinker, who has The Answer to everything. Rationality. Don’t you dare go crazy or question the status quo. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. That’s “epistemic humility”.

But don’t worry. Pinker is a smart man who will make a good sum of money out of his schtick. And that’s what matters, although I have to recommend that he put on Remain in Light or Purple Rain and listen for a while. He’d be a better person for it.

Comments

  1. hillaryrettig1 says

    Pinker’s continuing to eat meat despite admitting that that’s not the moral choice shows that his vaunted “rationality” and ethics are skin-deep and disposable the moment he himself experiences inconvenience. (And we see that, too, in his whining about being judged for the low morals of his friends.)

    And his boasting about the meat-eating (and his disgusting caiman-skin boots, reptile skin harvesting is exceptionally cruel, even by animal exploitation standards) – as opposed to the humility more appropriate to the admission of an ethical lapse – betrays an insecurity and need to be accepted by the “cool kids.”

  2. hillaryrettig1 says

    Pinker tldr: “It’s unfair to judge me for being friends with some really terrible people.”

    Even little children know better.

  3. says

    Are mortgage lenders who turn down minority applicants really being racist, he muses, or are those lenders simply calculating default rates “from different neighborhoods that just happen to correlate with race?”

    This feels like Pinker reaching for the idea of disparate impact, without ever having heard of it. Is he advocating that we do away with regulation against disparate impact? I hate it.

  4. stroppy says

    Hmm, sounds like typical conservative rhetoric, take some good sounding words and use them to drag people down the rabbit hole–superficially right, deeply wrong– which is why they’re hard to counter without reinforcing their dysfunction.

    These are the characters who never moved on from being the kids in the back of the classroom; the ones who spent their time figuring out ways to get away with being jerks (or worse). Kind of ironic to have them teaching college now.

  5. hemidactylus says

    To use a favorite word of his I wonder when Bulldog Coyne will start osculating Pinker again and his new tome.

  6. kathleenzielinski says

    No. 4, the problem with Pinker’s analysis here is that he stops before he should. Assuming it’s true that minority neighborhoods do tend to have higher mortgage default rates (I haven’t looked it up so I don’ t know if that’s actually true or not), it does not follow that a specific applicant in that neighborhood is likely to be at any higher risk. If there is a black couple, and one of them is a doctor, and the other is a lawyer, and they both have good incomes and credit scores, there’s no reason to assume, based on the neighborhood that they’ve chosen, that they are any more likely to be stop paying their mortgage. If you’re applying for a home loan, the relevant factors should be income and credit score. I suppose that if in addition to being a minority neighborhood the neighborhood is also blighted, that might be a legitimate factor to take into consideration, but that’s a separate issue.

    In fact, the logical fallacy in which PInker is engaging has a name: the fallacy of composition. For someone who claims to be a rationalist he should probably pay more attention.

  7. Pierce R. Butler says

    It isn’t seen as “dope, phat, chill, fly, sick or da bomb.”

    Nor was it “the bee’s knees”, to use an idiom only slightly more obsolete than that Pinker apparently considers current.

  8. PaulBC says

    “Rationality is uncool,” he laments. It isn’t seen as “dope, phat, chill, fly, sick or da bomb.”

    I dunno. When I interview people for software engineering jobs, it’s kinda what I’m looking for. In other instances, I might want a little more emotional investment. Does Pinker really have such a monochromatic life that he is unable to switch modes of thought to match the task at hand?

  9. PaulBC says

    Call me old school, but I want to know if rationality is “out of sight” or possibly even “groovy.” (Hey, Spock’s groovy in his pointy eared Vulcan way, amiright?)

  10. hemidactylus says

    This is crap: “Fashionable academic movements like postmodernism and critical theory (not to be confused with critical thinking) hold that reason, truth, and objectivity are social constructions that justify the privilege of dominant groups. These movements have an air of sophistication about them, implying that Western philosophy and science are provincial, old-fashioned, naïve to the diversity of ways of knowing found across periods and cultures.” -From
    Rationality by Steven Pinker

    Put together in a room Pinker and Coyne couldn’t give a coherent synopsis of Critical Theory if they tried. Idiots.

    Then that is all Pinker says about that topic in the book. Probably didn’t want to embarrass himself, given his epistemic humility and all that.

  11. consciousness razor says

    Call me old school, but I want to know if rationality is “out of sight” or possibly even “groovy.” (Hey, Spock’s groovy in his pointy eared Vulcan way, amiright?)

    I don’t know. I guess I would rank Spock ahead of Tuvok and behind T’Pol. That’s not saying very much though.

    He’s a terrible singer, that much is clear.

  12. cartomancer says

    Two words for you Stevie: Oedipus Tyrannos

    To wit, Sophocles wrote the last word on overweening intellectual arrogance nearly two and a half thousand years ago. You’d expect a fan of “Western Philosophy” and Enlightenment thought to have heard of something with such excellent Classical pedigree.

    So sure of himself, our King of Thebes. So convinced that his vaunted reason and logical deductions could solve any problem and put the world to rights. So unwilling to listen to the warnings of others that he really shouldn’t keep going down the path he was. They had Pinkers in Athens back then too, and already they knew that such an attitude wasn’t helpful in dealing with real world problems.

  13. James Fehlinger says

    Call me old school, but I want to know if rationality is “out of sight”
    or possibly even “groovy.”
    (Hey, Spock’s groovy in his pointy eared Vulcan way, amiright?)

    http://www.chakoteya.net/StarTrek/75.htm
    ++++
    The Way To Eden
    Stardate: 5832.3
    Original Airdate: 21 Feb, 1969

    . . .

    ADAM: Hey, how about a session, you and us? It would sound.
    That’s what I came for. I wanted to ask, you know,
    great white captain upstairs, but he don’t reach us.
    But would he shake on a session? I mean, we want to co-operate,
    like you ask, so I’m asking.

    SPOCK: If I understand you correctly, I believe the answer might be yes.
    ++++

  14. PaulBC says

    stroppy@16 I prefer Shatner’s Tambourine Man. I don’t think I ever listened to this before though I heard of it The problem is less with Nimoy’s voice, I think, than the terrible lyrics.

  15. says

    I linked to the Washington Enquirer because the NY Times version is behind a paywall, and I’ll never pay money to access anything by that horrible conservative rag.

  16. consciousness razor says

    PaulBC, #19:
    Sorry, but every single thing about that video is cursed.

    Here’s another taste from his music career, track one on the A side of the same record: Highly Illogical

    An excellent example of “rationality.” There are in fact reasons why it was made: greed and vanity, among others. If all you need is that, there you have it. Nobody said they ought to be any good.

  17. PaulBC says

    CR@21 No argument there. The whole thing has the feel of “Those dumb hippies’ll go for anything with hobbits and jumping girls.” First I ever heard of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Randolph_Grean (the composer) but he sounds like a “square”, definitely not groovy.

    Rationality, oh yeah. Perhaps this is a good example of the failure of rationality, since the calculated marketing element of it produced such crap that nobody was fooled.

  18. kome says

    If higher education had anything remotely like the monoculture Pinker ascribes to it, how has he spent his entire career in it? He’s only ever worked at MIT, Stanford, and Harvard, which I can imagine have a sort of monoculture around celebrating mediocre white men who have to be constantly reassured how special and smart they are, but that’s not the kind of monoculture Pinker is railing against. As usual, he’s just making shit up, this time irrespective of how his very existence contradicts his blanket assertion.

  19. stroppy says

    CR, PBC

    Personally, I can’t work up a lot of animus for these, and I tend file them under so-bad-they’re-amusing, but otherwise not very important: not much more than niche novelty gag items–and I might add, much cleaner than say Doug Clark and His Hot Nuts.

    One of the things that jumped out at me in the Nimoy one, was partly the fish-bowling that was common in entertainment media at the time, but also that pop go-go had a fairly broad appeal. Both those things were evident in The Monkees, for instance.

    IMATLEHO*.

    *In My Totally Lacking Epistemic Humility Opinion

  20. says

    I’m sure there’s a chain of causality and logic here that leads somehow from Pinker to the Ballad of Bilbo Baggins. I’m not sure that I want to puzzle it out.

  21. kurt1 says

    “Rationality is uncool,” he laments. It isn’t seen as “dope, phat, chill, fly, sick or da bomb.”

    Seems like a visit to Little Saint James was the last time he was around teenagers.
    Thinking that any of that our great humanitarian progress was achieved through rational discourse and not bitterly fought for, speaks of someone who values rational thought a lot.

  22. PaulBC says

    It must have been devastating to the ten year old Pinker when Zorba the Greek came out in 1964 and shattered his world. Oh wait, the novel was published in 1946. I guess he missed that.

    David Brooks has a different schtick (religion), but both of them boil down to “Kids today whaddaitellya?” Where “today” means about 60 years ago.

    Pinker’s really going to freak when he discovers the transcendentalists. “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” (Stop. Brain. Exploding.) He’ll never be a hepcat like Walt Whitman if he keeps on this “rationality” kick.

  23. stroppy says

    PZM @ 26
    Best two sentences I’ve read on the Internet today! The juxtaposition of Pinker and the Ballad of Bilbo Baggins fits with Dadaist humor (which is apparently lost on Pinker per the OP).

  24. PaulBC says

    He’s very disappointed that we aren’t all down on our knees praising Saint Steven.

    Not with that hair we won’t. He looks like a hair hopper to me. (OK, I’m over my limit, but suffice it to say I don’t think there is any cultural milieu in which Steven Pinker would be cool.)

  25. Allison says

    The problem with “rationality” is that when I read what people who trumpet their “rationality” write, so far, it’s always turned out to be their prejudices dressed up in language to hide that fact. I actually tried to read a book by Pinker (my right-winger brother likes to send me books like that), and what I realized was that he simply asserts stuff, implying that since he said it it must be true, and if he ever even admits that there are arguments against what he asserts, he simply dismisses them without bothering to engage with the objections. I call this “proof by assertion.”

    Centuries ago, if you wanted to make your prejudiced assertions unassailable, you presented them as “the word of God.” Nowadays, in some circles, at least, you dress them up with clever rationalizations, and use “rationality” or “reason” as your authority.

    The fact is, what passes for a reasonable (or “rational”) argument is very much dependent upon the perspective of the person judging the argument. What Mr. Pinker calls attacks on “rationality” are in fact demands that people, especially privileged people (like Pinker or Dawkins), recognize that what they believe is Eternal Truth is going to be affected by things like their social class, their gender, etc.

    I like to sum this up by saying: He[*] who gets to decide the rules of a debate controls the outcome of the debate.

    [*] Funny how it somehow always seems to be a “he”, isn’t it?

  26. says

    When you’ve convinced yourself you are purely rational and logical, then everything you believe must stem from rational, logical thought so anything that contradicts that must, logically, be irrational.

    He goes on to ask why race, sex, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation have become war zones in intellectual life, even as overt bigotry of all kinds has dwindled.

    There seems to be an exasperating belief in a lot of white people that unless they are putting up “WHITES ONLY” signs or making lynchings a fun photo op for the community, then it’s not really racist. They don’t spend their days stewing over how much they hate non-white people, there isn’t a racist bone in their body.

  27. DanDare says

    There is something similar between Qanon followers and the Pinkers of the world.
    They have somewhat fixed perspectives and thinking methods that reinforce those perspectives rather than expand them. Expanding perspectives can cause massive foundational shifts for your reasoning to work on. Reasoning alone can follow stupid parhways if your foundations are crap.
    The old “atheists can’t be moral” thing is reasonable if you build on the premises that there is a god who dictates morals. I also find it funny that defenders of secular morality sometimes don’t see that biology grounds our moral systems.

  28. says

    You’re a little unfair to the Martians. Presumably the ones who didn’t join the invasion were all right, though still water-stressed. And the invaders didn’t suffer from any human nonrational grooviness; they fell to Terran microbes. Martians beat Humans; Humans beat Common Cold; Common Cold beat Martians: a nonlinear order!

    One overlooked passage of “War Of The Worlds”: just before the Martians succumbed to the diseases that we shrug off, our narrator encountered a Cockney who was philosophical about Martian domination. The Cockney was willing and able to survive as vermin, because he had always been treated as vermin.

  29. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    I know I won’t be the only person who finds it remarkable that, for how much Pinker sings rationality’s praises, he sure doesn’t seem to use it much. Obviously overt bigotry is not where it was in the 19th century. Most people having those conversations he’s talking about are willing to admit it. What we are seeing is that it’s possible to make meaningful progress toward solving a problem but then encounter barriers solving the last part of it.

    In other words, it’s basically the racial “last mile” problem. Pinker has to assume that a conversation about a problem should get quieter as it is getting closer to being solved by adding in an unstated assumption that shows he does so little work even thinking about the topics of race, gender, etc. that he thinks it is an unremarkable assumption: That problems are linearly easy to solve and that the last phase of fixing something is always as easy as the first. It wouldn’t even matter if he had actually good data: his laziness in citations is just a symptom of his bigger laziness in not having even thought about the issue.

  30. says

    cartomancer @ 17:
    But Oedipus saved the city. It was at cost to himself, but that’s tragic heroism. He didn’t know that the plague was caused by him, but he was determined to find out what was wrong. His friends told him to lay off, but that would have meant a continued plague. So his rationalism was virtuous; it did good. Not for himself, and that’s his problem, but it’s not his fault, nor rationalism’s.

  31. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    @38: We could then turn to Antigone, where Creon’s unflinching adherence to the rules over respecting people’s duties and freedoms (yes, religious duties, but that doesn’t matter) does not have that salutary outcome. Democracies have to have flexible, messy rules. Tyrants can have seemingly rational ones.

  32. PaulBC says

    “large pleasure of a slim body”

    Given his connection to Epstein, does he really want to be quoted saying that? (And now I’m even more over my limit. Bad Paul! I guess I need to work on that very rational impulse control.)

  33. fentex says

    I get quite annoyed about the reasoning that led to that Spock reference…”the Mr Spock envy”.

    Quite a lot of people completely missed the story behind Star Treks Vulcan’s embracing of logical responses to problems that was explained in the series – Vulcan’s aren’t emotionless and logical; they are passionate to a dangerous degree but practice repression as a cultural more to avoid conflict.

    Much more iteresting idea than a people absent emotion.

  34. nomadiq says

    I’m coming in late in this thread so may e this has already been said, but what I really dislike about Pinker is he thinks he is deep, he sounds deep, but he is decidedly shallow. How can anyone think that refusing loans to black people is ‘rational’ because black people default at a higher rate. This is the absolute shallowest understanding of social economics. It reduces human decision making to the most unsophisticated process possible – the only way to be purely ‘rational’. To perform the calculus necessary to be simply ‘rational’ you have to discard so much that matters. The alternative is tricky and can appear biased or reactionary. Being honest and fair while being rational is not so easy a calculus. So what to do? Pinker goes for the shallow, every time, reducing complex issues to deductive reasoning of the most simple kind. It’s the logic of a Vulcan who can not keep two ideas in their head at the same time because it is just too hard. Easier to think there are no inherent contradictions in anything… actually everything (excepting perhaps mathematics – where instead we have incompleteness).

  35. John Morales says

    [OT]

    Reginald @24, what a silly claim.

    From the article:

    In contrast to the energy balance model, the carbohydrate-insulin model makes a bold claim: overeating isn’t the main cause of obesity. Instead, the carbohydrate-insulin model lays much of the blame for the current obesity epidemic on modern dietary patterns characterized by excessive consumption of foods with a high glycemic load: in particular, processed, rapidly digestible carbohydrates.

    Sure; not ‘overeating’, merely ‘excessive consumption of foods’.

  36. microraptor says

    Pinker’s continued yammering about rationality reminds me of the way libertarians practice rationality: assume whatever they like is rational and therefore everything else must be irrational. And because they’re rational, everything will work out in the way they want it to and when it doesn’t it’s because an irrational person screwed things up.

  37. consciousness razor says

    John Morales, #43:

    Sure; not ‘overeating’, merely ‘excessive consumption of foods’.

    I know you can read, and you’re not that dense.

    Not all “foods” are “foods with a high glycemic load: in particular, processed, rapidly digestible carbohydrates.”

  38. John Morales says

    cr: not all eating is ‘excessive consumption’, either.

    Look, it’s simple as: excessive food consumption is excessive, and another word for that is ‘overeating’.

    (First law of thermodynamics still applies)

  39. consciousness razor says

    John Morales:

    not all eating is ‘excessive consumption’, either.

    Consuming an excessive amount of this particular type of food is not the same as consuming too much food of any type whatsoever.

    Look, it’s simple as

    Except that human metabolism is actually not a very simple thing at all.

    (First law of thermodynamics still applies)

    And if you apply it to a spherical cow, where does your assumption that it’s going to be helpful in the real world come from?

    From the summary linked previously, which you had dismissed without argument as “silly”:

    According to the authors, ‘conceptualizing obesity as a disorder of energy balance restates a principle of physics without considering the biological mechanisms underlying weight gain.

  40. John Morales says

    cr:

    Consuming an excessive amount of this particular type of food is not the same as consuming too much food of any type whatsoever.

    No, but the words and the meaning are still there: “an excessive amount”.

    Except that human metabolism is actually not a very simple thing at all.

    Depends on the level of abstraction; end of the day, it’s a closed system.
    If you consume and process more calories than you use, you will gain weight.
    The specific mechanism doesn’t matter; I mean, sure: carbs and fats are easily broken down, and proteins need more processing, so the body extracts more net energy from the former than the latter. Similar with higher and lower glycemic indexes, and so forth.

    But the only matter the body stores is from what one actually ingests, end of the day.

    Doesn’t magic itself into being.

    And if you apply it to a spherical cow, where does your assumption that it’s going to be helpful in the real world come from?

    <snicker>

    I’m not referring to spherical cows, I’m referring to humans. Who only gain body mass if they eat more than they need to eat. And, if they eat less than they need, they lose body mass.

    (Not talking about storing water, BTW)

    From the summary linked previously, which you had dismissed without argument as “silly”

    Yeah, yeah. The human body is magical, and ignores the laws of physics, right?
    No?

    (All they’re saying is that some foods are more conducive to fattening than others, which is hardly a revelation)

  41. hemidactylus says

    @49- John
    When I was in high school then later in my 20s I gained quite a bit of weight. I went from around bean pole 160 at 17 to 220 in my early twenties. My bench press increased a bit too. I had a harder time with quads, not for lack of trying.

    I found carbs my best approach, though focused on protein too. Peanut butter was easy calories but hit the waist. Pasta tuna casseroles and protein shakes.

    In my 20s I got serious about cardio, as in 1.5 hrs on treadmill several times a week.

    The point is major weight gain can be a goal, but bigorexia a danger as real as anorexia. I never did anabolics, but understood the temptation.

    In my 30-40s I didn’t really care about exercise and physique and chicken wings and tasty Mexican cuisine resulted in Dunlap’s disease.

  42. Tethys says

    Potatoes rank very high on the glycemic index. Alcohol and soda are nutrient free, but calorie dense. Same for chips, fast food, and American bread products. All spike your blood sugar levels.

    Over consuming these things is why many American people are overweight, yet not well nourished. A healthy diet requires whole grain and vegetables, while limiting refined sugars and junk food. This isn’t new information.

  43. PaulBC says

    hemidactylus@50 You must be tall if 160 is “bean pole.” I’m over 6 feet and I didn’t hit 160 until i started to let myself go in middle age. My target its still around 165 but I have drifted up a bit. In college I was well under 140 (and yes, visibly skinny).

  44. hemidactylus says

    @52- PaulBC
    I’m 6’1”. When I was in my best shape around 23 yo I recall some fancy scale which let me put info in about various things saying something about potential of being obese at my weight (depending how “frame” is framed). My arms were nearing 17” mainly because triceps. Never got my Tom Platz thighs plan very far.

    https://i.pinimg.com/originals/8b/61/a9/8b61a9a078f2a0d5410d3defd55420e9.jpg

    I’m around 210 now and could stand to lose some weight. Or exercise more. Youth is wasted on the young.

  45. consciousness razor says

    All they’re saying is that some foods are more conducive to fattening than others, which is hardly a revelation

    So, this isn’t silly, magical or contrary to physics, because your actual problem is instead that it’s not news to you?

    Okay.

  46. John Morales says

    cr, my actual problem? Heh.

    The clickbaity article title, which clearly sucked Reginald into a misleading conclusion, and which you reflexively but half-heartedly tried to defend, is not my problem.

    (Your grudging concession is accepted)

  47. hemidactylus says

    @3- hillaryrettig1
    Ok. This is really messed up right here (from your link):

    “[Pinker] has twice been a guest at Bohemian Grove, which has been described as an off-the-record summer camp for male members of the American establishment. He told me he had met some amazing people there, like Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, the former secretaries of state to Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, respectively. He seemed to enjoy both the absurdity of the experience and its purpose – to bring powerful people into contact with one another.”

    So Pinker is an elitist. Full stop. So out of touch at his elitist university. And this is icing on the cake:
    ““A quantitative mindset, despite its nerdy aura, is in fact the morally enlightened one,” he writes in Enlightenment Now. On this basis, he has ranked Gates, who has spent roughly $50bn on philanthropy, near the top of a moral hierarchy crowned by people such as Norman Borlaug, a Nobel Peace prize-winning agronomist credited with saving more than a billion lives through his innovations in agriculture.”

    Gates? 🤢🤮

    https://www.theguardian.com/science/2021/sep/28/steven-pinker-celebrity-scientist-at-the-centre-of-the-culture-wars

  48. vucodlak says

    If the “your body is Bunsen burner” crowd actually knew what they were talking about, I’d weigh several tons. And yet, despite eating roughly the same amount of calories and same kinds of food for the past 25 years, my weight has been stable for the last 16 years or so of that period.

    I did gain a fairly significant amount of weight starting about 24 years ago, despite eating less than usual around the time of the greatest gains. What changed was that I was under a tremendous amount of stress, both physical and mental. Between a long battle with MRSA, constant colds, serious injuries, and other ailments, alongside worsening untreated mental illness, my weight doubled.

    Again, I gained more weight during times when I ate less of the same damn things. During the first few years of junior high/high school, I seldom had more than one meal a day, and sometimes not even that. Massive weight gain. When I was in my first year of college I gained something like 60 pounds, despite eating less than a third of what I currently eat now, when my weight is stable.

    But sure, it’s just “physics.” Calories in, calories out! Just eat less. Simple answers with a veneer of scientism are the hallmark of quality thinking.

    I swear, bigots are all the same.

  49. John Morales says

    vucodlak:

    But sure, it’s just “physics.” Calories in, calories out!

    No, it’s not simple — again: depends on the level of abstraction.

    Different people have different physiologies; people are not bomb calorimeters — food is processed, not burnt.

    Simple answers with a veneer of scientism are the hallmark of quality thinking.

    Disputing reality is the hallmark of wishful thinking.

    I swear, bigots are all the same.

    You think it’s bigotry to think that if one is persistently gaining corpulence, one is eating more than is needful? If not, I don’t see where this putative bigotry exists.

    It’s notable how I make no value judgements about these matters, but you do.

  50. chigau (違う) says

    I fell asleep to a video…

    Let’s drink a drink a drink
    To Stevie the Pink the Pink the Pink
    The saviour of the human ray-ay-ace…

    then I woke up

  51. brucegee1962 says

    @55 John Morales
    If you actually read @54 as a concession, then you really do have a comprehension problem. CR was saying that you were throwing out a whole bunch of random, contradictory objections to the article until you settled on one that seemed to stick. That was my take on your posts as well.
    Like hemidactylus, I too have been thicker and thinner at various points in my life. At either extreme, though, I’ve never felt the urge to look at overweight people and sniff “Well, if you just ate less you’d lose weight. Physics, you know.”
    As everyone here keeps saying, it’s complicated. After all, two people can eat completely identical diets and end up with widely differing BMIs. Or just try eating the same diet in your thirties that you ate in your teens, and see what the results tell you about “the first law of thermodynamics still apples.”

  52. John Morales says

    brucegee1962, you do amuse me.

    If you actually read @54 as a concession, then you really do have a comprehension problem. CR was saying that you were throwing out a whole bunch of random, contradictory objections to the article until you settled on one that seemed to stick. That was my take on your posts as well.

    Your take is duly noted.

    Like hemidactylus, I too have been thicker and thinner at various points in my life. At either extreme, though, I’ve never felt the urge to look at overweight people and sniff “Well, if you just ate less you’d lose weight. Physics, you know.”

    Neither have I.

    (Did you imagine my response to Reginald and his adduction of that article was that to which you refer?)

    As everyone here keeps saying, it’s complicated.

    Again, depends on your level of abstraction.

    Point being, one can process and store less than 100% of the nutriment upon which one partakes, but no-one can process more than 100%.

    (You think shit lacks nutritional value entirely?)

    Or just try eating the same diet in your thirties that you ate in your teens, and see what the results tell you about “the first law of thermodynamics still apples.”

    <snicker>

    Fine, you want to imagine adipose tissue magically appears without ingesting food, go ahead. You want to imagine 1LoT is falsified by fat people, I can’t stop you.

  53. lotharloo says

    I actually looked at a few free sample pages from the book. To be honest, I don’t think it’s a bad book but it looks very derivative and quite unoriginal. He talks about “if P therefore Q” type stuff, why people make mistakes, exponential growth, Monty Hall problem and so and so on. On google, I also saw that he seems to talk about some topics from social choice theory but in very primitive “layman” terms. I guess that’s Pinker’s shtick; have a surface read on an academic topic “X” (computational social choice theory in this case), use 20+ pages to explain what is explained in the first two pages of any graduate “Introduction to X” textbook and leave it at that under the excuse that “well, I’m just writing for the laypeople, no point in going deeper than that!”
    It’s probably an ok book for someone who has is just getting into this stuff but for us it will probably be very boring.

  54. KG says

    I’ll just note that individuals’ accounts of what they ate yesterday, let alone what they ate decades ago, do not weigh very heavily in the balance of evidence about diet and BMI.

  55. says

    @John Morales

    “Point being, one can process and store less than 100% of the nutriment upon which one partakes, but no-one can process more than 100%.”

    It’s called burning more calories than you take in, aka a “calorie deficit”, and it forces your body to use what it’s already stored. This is basic fucking biology.

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