Nourish: The Definitive Plant-Based Nutrition Guide for Families by Reshma Shah and Brenda Davis (2020) – Book Review

Book Review by Cory Davis

Nourish
Nourish by Reshma Shah and Brenda Davis Book Cover

5/5

“Nourish It is packed with great information, meaningful dialogue, and practical tips in a well-structured fashion, filling a critical gap in the plant-based family literature”

This review may differ from my usual structure for reasons that will become clear shortly. First, I will introduce the authors, describe the purpose of the book, tell you what I loved about it, break it down and finally give a few quotes. I hope you enjoy this introduction to Brenda Davis and Reshma Shah here at Interest Peaks. For those of you who may not be familiar with them, I highly recommend you check these authors out on social media and online.

About the Authors

Brenda Davis, dietitian, author of a dozen books, is a pioneer in plant-based nutrition. I am incredibly privileged, grateful, and continually inspired by my always loving mother, Brenda Davis. My mother is the most pleasant kind of person. She is kind, warm, energetic, overwhelmingly positive, and always encouraging. She is a powerful speaker and masterful writer. Her words flow with passion, emotion, and a well-respected authority. If you have not already, I highly encourage you to check out her books, lectures, and other content available online.

Rebuild Your Body with Hall of Fame Dietitian Brenda Davis - Switch4Good
Brenda Davis, RD

Please check out Brenda Davis’ website at www.BrendaDavisRD.com for more.

Reshma Shah is a pediatrician with a Masters in Public Health. If I remember the story correctly, she met Brenda on an airplane. They immediately hit it off and this book was the result. It reminds me that beautiful things can be found in unexpected places. I am thrilled and excited by Reshma’s collaboration with Brenda. Their synergy flows through the writing as they articulate concepts and information in ways that resonate with the reader beyond expectation. I look forward to more from Reshma and thank her for the work she has done here.

Reshma Shah, MD, MPH

Please check out Reshma Shah’s website at www.ReshmaShahMD.com for more.

Purpose of “Nourish”

Nourish is for families. It provides clarity and relief to the question of how to raise a healthy plant-based family. It starts from square one – preconception. Then it carefully and articulately tours you through pregnancy, lactation, childhood and beyond. It provides practical tools and advice to plan and prepare healthy meals, and family eating activities.

This is the definitive guide for plant-based families. Much like “Becoming Vegetarian” was the much-needed definitive guide for those considering a vegetarian diet, Nourish is a modern and relevant guide designed for families considering healthier dietary choices or are moving toward a more plant-based diet.

What I Loved

The authors begin many sections with storytelling to provide context and relevance for the ensuing content. For example, they will tell the story of someone’s journey to understanding the importance of fat or iodine, and steps they took to address it. Or the true story about a four-year old daughter’s reaction to her parents deciding to try out a plant-based diet. I love this. It makes the information personal. It demonstrates why or how the forthcoming content will be practical to understand. They don’t need to tell you directly “this is important to know” as an authority. Rather the importance is realized through storytelling of regular people. It makes you want to know what is coming.

This book is a welcomed addition to the plant-based guidance literature. The first part provides general information about what a plant-based diet is and demonstrates that plant-based diets can achieve adequate and optimal nutrition. It addresses several misconceptions about plant-based diets, and omnivore diets. Such as how vegans get protein, is cow’s milk a necessary component of a healthy diet, and so forth.  

My favourite aspect of this book is the thread of compassion woven throughout it. They note that nutrition books, especially for families, should not solely focus on nutrition. Rather we need to consider compassion, resource allocation and the environment when making decisions around consumption as well. There are of many ways to be nutritionally fulfilled at an unjustifiable expense of the planet and well-being of others. It would be irresponsible for any health professional to promote diets that come with such hefty opportunity costs and negative impacts to humanity.

Nourish also does a great job at defining its terms. They define the term “plant-based” in a way that really resonates with me. Some vegan circles demonize outgroups while restricting membership to their ingroup. With an “your either with us or against us” mentality, they make the vegan community exclusive… while the societal norm today is focussing efforts on diversity and inclusion. There are many non-vegans who share the same values which serve as the foundation for veganism. Yet these allies are still outcasted by many vegan communities, contrary to their goals. Brenda and Reshma do a wonderful job here, defining plant-based diets along a spectrum that captures many people. Along this spectrum it promotes the idea that plant-based communities can be more inclusive and amicable to others who may share similar values such as compassion, environment, or health.

The Meat of the Matter: Breaking Down the Book

Nourish is broken down into four parts:

  1. Consideration
  2. Care
  3. Confidence
  4. Connection

The Introduction breaks down terminology around plant based diets and does a fabulous job of setting up the stage for what is to come, “from picky eaters to childhood obesity, disordered eating, we hope to show that how we feed our families may matter as much as what we feed our families”.

Consideration contains three chapters, Health, Home and Heart. These are great introductory chapters to the rest of the book and provides a rationale for why parents should consider a plant-based lifestyle for themselves and their families. This will capture your attention leaving you anxious to delve into the chapters to come.

Care is about nutrition and feeding the family. It breaks down the facts and gives sound advice about nutrition. It dispels myths and is full of tips on nutrients. It discusses what makes a diet healthy and guides you through pregnancy, lactation, childhood and adolescence.

Confidence takes you on a tour beyond nutrition of the body, delving into psychology and communication techniques. Confidence addresses family dynamics, picky eating, and supports a healthy, happy, inclusive dinner table.

Connection is the section you will keep open in your kitchen for days at a time. It provides resources, sound tips and advice on shopping, meal-planning, menu development, and of course… recipes! From Tofu Tikka Masala, pumpkin muffins, to peanut butter brownies, you can show your loved ones you care with the tasty treats and thoughtful dishes this section will teach you to make.

I really do love the structure of the book. The first section reels the reader in. It was riveting, covering topics that resonate with me in a way that only Reshma Shah and Brenda Davis can produce.

The authors are honest and genuine when they admit that not all plant-based diets are ealth promoting. A vegan diet does not necessarily promote health if it relies on mostly processed foods. You can be a junk-food vegan easily. Potato chips, deep fried veggie-meats, vegetable tempura, white bread, cookies, cakes and all kinds of foods that are vegan can mitigate the benefits of eating a whole food plant-based diet.

The section on feeding styles really peaked my interest. Parental feeding practices can have a significant impact on a child’s food preferences and consumption patterns.  I love the interdisciplinary approach here. They first cover the science of nutrition, then apply principles of psychology and family dynamics to it. This helps the reader form a much more level-headed and well-rounded perspective toward family eating. They provide excellent guidelines and tips for how to go about feeding the family. Tips like make meals a family event, pair familiar foods with unfamiliar foods, and be patient and calm introducing different foods to the family all are excellent additions to a parent’s toolbox.

The discussion on family meals really makes me appreciate my parents. My parents always made dinner time a family affair that we all looked forward to. Most importantly, it was time we could always count on to spend together, where stories were shared and relationship building occurred. The authors note here that some research suggests that eating meals as a family may have more of an impact on an adolescent’s positive outcomes than things we would more strongly associate with such as socioeconomic status, tutors, or church.

There are positive outcomes associated with family meals such as helping kids do better at school. For example, family meals facilitate conversation which can promote language development, literacy and future academic success. Family meals may come with a suite of other positive impacts such as health, helping you worry less about your teens, happier teens, happier parents, and it allows you to be more connected with your family. Of course not all families can eat meals together every day and the authors are very understanding and forgiving of that, providing tips and strategies to increase family meal opportunities and make the best of the opportunities you do have.

Nourish is packed with great information, meaningful dialogue, and practical tips in a well-structured fashion, filling a critical gap in the plant-based family literature.  

A Few Great Quotes

“Perhaps the most extraordinary of a plant-based approach to feeding our families is the realization that they are all connected – our health, the health of our planet, and compassion for all living beings…. health, compassion and sustainability are wrapped together in one beautiful package”

“Family meals are one of the most powerful tools that parents have in protecting and nurturing their children”.

“Many parents find themselves stuck on the words ‘appropriately planned’ and fear that such planning is beyond the reach of busy families with limited resources. We contend that all diets for children need to be appropriately planned, and while a plant-based diet for children may require some care and consideration, it is no more than any parent would give in feeding their child a balanced and appropriate diet.”

“Not only does diet play an essential role in our health but it also has the power to connect and serve as an expression of our culture and our values”

Closing Remarks

Nourish is a timely and welcomed  addition to the plant-based literature addressing an underrepresented topic. If you, or a family member has thought about leaning toward a more plant inclusive, or plant-based diet, then I highly urge you to pick up a copy of this book. If anything, the recipe section alone pays for itself, and the meaningful content will spur conversation and introspection about how we think about food together.

Love you Mom and Reshma! You are both heroes to me.  

“This is Marketing” By Seth Godin – Book Review: People Like Us Don’t Do Things Like Them

Book Reviewed by Cory Davis

This Is Marketing: You Can't Be Seen Until You Learn to See: Godin, Seth:  9780525540830: Books - Amazon.ca
This is Marketing By Seth Godin – Cover


This is a book review of Seth Godin’s This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See (2018), published by Portfolio/Penguin, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, USA.

5/5

This is Marketing does an effective job of addressing cultural challenges the marketing industry has faced for decades. It is a refreshing perspective that attempts to put the humanity back into marketing.

About the Author

Seth Godin image from Joi Ito, image retrieved from Wiki Commons and modified.

Seth Godin is a marketing guru who made the Guerrilla Marketing Hall of Fame, Direct Marketing Hall of Fame and the Marketing Hall of Fame. He has written 19 best-selling books and has given five TED Talks. He is the founder of the podcast Akimbo, and altMBA, a 30-day marketing workshop. In 1996, Godin and Mark Hurst founded Yoyodyne, which was purchased by Yahoo for $30 million dollars two years later. Godin then became Yahoo’s vice president of Direct Marketing. In 2006, he went on to found Squidoo, which within two years became one of the top 500 websites visited globally.

About the Book

“This is Marketing” attempts to change the culture of marketing and shift public perception about what marketers do. We have all had poor experiences with marketing. We have been victims of shady marketing tactics, bought items that were not as advertised, and have been bombarded with untrustworthy marketing content, especially online. This book guides marketers away from the crooked hype train of hacks, and get rich quick schemes enshrouded in false hope. “This is Marketing” is an organic approach that helps marketers leverage their operation’s core competencies to the smallest viable market who could benefit from them the most. This book is about creating change, serving people, and honest work. When you see that YouTube ad of a so-called self-made millionaire who claims to have the one trick that could make you, or anyone rich with the click of a few buttons, you know they did not read this book.

What It Promises The Reader

This book promises to give readers direction by working with you to help spread your ideas and innovations to create change in the world that you want to see.

How It Delivers On Its Promise

The book is broken down into 23 small, easy digestible chapters that provide high level overviews on topics such as identifying your target market (those who you intend to serve), how to engage them, and how to position yourself in the market with respect to your competition.

In the second chapter, he gives five steps to marketing. However this is not a step by step guide, just intended to provide direction.

Five steps of Marketing:

  1. Invest something that is worth producing. Invest in something meaningful to people, something that will help them. Have a powerful story, something that communicates why it is important, and why people should care. Have a contribution that is worth communicating as well. Do something for that cause and tell people about it.
  2. Design and build it out in such a way that a few people will benefit immensely from, that they will really care about. In other words, tailor your product to a very narrow audience. The more narrow the audience, the more personalized your product or service will be. The more personalized it is, the more effective it will be at addressing their unique problems. The broader the audience, the less effective it will be at addressing their unique problems.
  3. Build a story that aligns with the narrative of the tiniest group of people, the “smallest viable market”. Align your story to that narrowest of audiences. Don’t try to make it for everyone, because the more it is for everyone, the more is it personal to no one.
  4. Communicate to people about your product. Engage with your audience. You must put yourself out there, risk rejection, and use rejection to make a better product. You need the feedback to continually improve. Rejection is not a bad thing, it orientates you.
  5. Be present very regularly and be active to see the change you are trying to make, lead people and build confidence. You not only need to market your product, you need to market yourself. Engage with others and be a leader. To market yourself effectively, you need to be honest, authentic and genuine. You need to genuinely want to see the change you are trying to produce in this world, not just in your pockets. If your motives are sideways, hidden, or greedy, people will find out.

Favourite Part of the Book

My favourite part of the book is the author’s perspective. People like Seth do things like this because they want to create change. People like us do not do things like them. By them, I mean the people behind that YouTube advertisement trying to sell you a get-rich-quick scheme, or that this one ingredient will make you thin in no time. Rather than being driven by get-rich scheming, this book helps marketers stay grounded, by reassuring them that better business is done by a genuine desire to serve others and create a change for the better. It humbles us by reminding you that better is not always what you think it should be, but rather by what better means to your audience.

This is Marketing does an effective job of addressing cultural challenges the marketing industry has faced for decades. It is a refreshing perspective that attempts to put the humanity back into marketing. In the first chapter, Seth articulates this message.  He says that shameless marketers have hurt the rest of us by generating a stereotype in the public sphere through scamming, spamming, hustling and shady tactics such as fake reviews, and giving consumers unrealistic expectations of what their products can offer. Marketers today should not follow suite. Effective marketing requires you to understand the needs of consumers intimately and providing them with solutions. Don’t make consumers your victims, rather make them volunteers.

People like us do things this way, because we are genuinely trying to make the world a better place and doing our part to get there. People like us don’t do things like them, because those people are driven by greed, or other ulterior motives that are not in their audience’s best interest.

Some Favourite Quotes:

“The marketing that has suffused our entire lives is not the marketing that you want to do. The shortcuts using money to buy attention to sell average stuff to average people are an artifact of another time…”

“Marketers make change happen: from the smallest viable market, and by delivering anticipated, personal, and relevant messages that people actually want to get.”

“Empathy is at the heart of marketing”.

“When you know what you stand for, you don’t need to compete”. That if all you do is try to fill a gap in the market, you are “nothing but a commodity in the making”.

“Marketers don’t make average stuff for average people. Marketers make change. And they do it by normalizing new behaviours.”

“Advertising is unearned media. It is bought and paid for. And the people you are trying to reach know it. They’re suspicious. They’re inundated. They’re exhausted. You didn’t pay the recipient to run that ad, and yet you want the recipient to pay you with their attention. So you’re ignored”.

Pricing is a marketing tool, not simply a way to get money.”

“Cheap is another way to say scared”.

“Treating people with respect is the best way to earn their attention”.

“What really matters is the quality of their story and the depth of their empathy and generosity”.

“Permission, attention, and enrollment drive commerce.”

“Everyone is famous to 1500 people”

“Just because you can market something doesn’t mean that you should”

Least favourite part of the book

There were areas of this book where I thought it was vague, or too high level to get enough direction from the message. For example, I really appreciate the sections that highlight the need to create and relieve tension in the market, however I did not immediately understand how to apply that concept. There were sections that were also too detailed, such as walking you through how to position yourself on a positioning map, which is very basic marketing curriculum.

Another criticism I have is that it sometimes feels more geared toward physical products rather than services. Since I am more interested in delivering services, it did not connect with me as deeply as I anticipated after reading the first couple chapters. Maybe this book is not for me, I thought. However, the book does incorporate services into it on occation and much of the theory could apply to both services and products. On the other hand, many case studies and examples were about products and the takeaways were product oriented. With some creativity, you can apply them to services.

Conclusion

I really enjoyed reading this book and recommend it to anyone interested to learn more about marketing, entrepreneurship, or those wanting create change in this world. If you are adverse to marketing, like I am, maybe it will help you open yourself to some marketers, those behind causes you believe in and create community around it.

Thank you so much for reading my review of This is Marketing by Seth Godin. I found this book very interesting. But, I am more interested to hear your thoughts and opinions. If you have any thoughts about marketing and this book, please share them in the comment section below. I always appreciate it when you do.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like or subscribe. You can also follow me on twitter @interestpeaks.

Dale Carnegie’s Advice on How To Be Liked At Work… Let’s Change The World By Following It

By Cory Davis

In November, 2020, I read and reviewed Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Win Friends and Influence People“. It was so inspiring and impactful that I thought it would be a great idea to share some of the advice from it here. In this post, I will share two priciples from “How to Win Friends and Influence People” to be liked at work and in your daily life.

It may be impossible to get everyone you meet to like you. However, what you can do is increase the likelihood that they will? One method noted by Dale Carnegie in his book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is to “make the other person feel important and do it sincerely”. So how do you do this, and why is it a good tool to bring to work?

How to make the other person feel important and do it sincerely

First ask yourself, “what is it about that individual that you can truly and honestly admire?”. If you cannot identify something, then be creative. I am sure you can find something you admire about almost anyone if you approach the situation with the mindset that everyone has a unique quality and untapped potential. Brainstorm things about people that you can admire:

  • Fashion sense
  • Work ethic
  • Positive attitude
  • Knowledgeable in a particular area
  • Their personal interests
  • A book they are reading
  • Some life experience they have
  • Advice they gave
  • A report they wrote

After you found something that you can genuinely admire about that person, tell them. It may be increasingly more difficult with strangers, but even try saying something like “your workmanship is only exceeded by your contagious smile”. A compliment is a good way to make that person feel important.

Next, if you can, be sincere by turning the compliment into some kind of action. For example, if you are a manager and communicating to an employee, giving someone responsibility followed by a compliment can go a long way to boosting their confidence in themselves and you as a confidant. For example, say “I would feel so much more secure if you managed this [important task] because you are clearly qualified [list qualifications; organized, sharp, knowledgeable, etc…]”.  By doing this, you may avoid any feelings that you are singling them out. For example, an employee may feel like you are picking on them by giving them an additional workload. The point is to make them feel important by taking the project, explicitly state that leaving no room for uncertainty or miscommunication.

Most importantly, this gesture needs to be sincere and authentic. Do not use this as a trick or hack. If you state their qualifications and they are not something that has been demonstrated or communicated to you, then your dishonesty will be made clear. Not only does it show off your dishonesty, but it may make the other person feel used while demonstrating an irresponsible level of disregard for them. If you state their qualification, be sure you can back it up. You can back it up through their resume, previous jobs they held, or better yet, work/training they have done for your organization and the aspirations or goals they shared with you.

Getting someone to like you instantly could even be as easy as just acknowledging something they do as interesting, or making their opinions feel legitimate and recognized. You as a colleague, a peer, or manager, can get people to like you by acknowledging their feedback or opinions on business matters. Listen to them and compliment the good points.

Remember, this quote:

Praise is like sunlight to the warm human spirit; we cannot flower and grow without it. And yet, while most of us are only ready to apply to others the cold wind of criticism, we are somehow reluctant to give our fellow the warm sunshine of praise.
– Jess Lair, Psychologist.

Remember to Smile When it’s Worth Smiling

Another principle mentioned by Dale Carnegie is so simple that we often overlook its impact, just smile. A smile they say is worth a thousand words, but a sincere and genuine one says that you are friendly, warm, kind, non-judgemental and approachable.

As Dale Carnegie proclaims:

The expression one wears on one’s face is far more important than the clothes one wears on one’s back”.

So, whatever you do, give people a smile. It doesn’t hurt to try.

Conclusion

These tidbits of advice do not only benefit you. It can benefit others as well. They may return the sentiment to others. Your smile could lead to a hundred more. Your compliment could lead to 100 more. If more people behaved this way, undoubtedly, we would be making our world a better place to live. How simple is that?

If you enjoyed this read, please subscribe to my blog, give it a like or follow me on Twitter @interestpeaks. I found this content interesting. But I am more interested in what your thoughts, opinions or advice are. If you have any thoughts, ideas, or feedback, please share them in the comments section below. I would love to hear them.

“Alone in The Universe”: John Gribbin’s Argument for Why Most Star Systems in the Milky Way are Uninhabitable

By Cory Davis

This is a breakdown of John Gribbin’s argument as made in his book Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet is Unique (2011) for why most star systems in the Milky Way Galaxy are uninhabitable for technological life.

Alone in the Universe -- Why Our Planet Is Unique.jpg
Alone in the UniverseWhy Our Planet is Unique (2011) by John Gribbin

On December 19, 2020, I wrote a review of this book, giving it 4/5 stars. I thought it was a fun thought experiment which made me wonder and ponder our existence in the universe. If you are interested in checking it out, please find it here. There were four reasons that I did not give it a 5/5: (1) there was no summary of the argument, (2) there was no clear outline about why it is important, (3) the conclusion was extreme, and (4) the title of the book is not honest.

On December 30, 2020, I summarized the author’s argument consicely into 12 premises and a conclusion for why we are alone in the Milky Way Galaxy as a technological civilization. If you are interested to check it out, please find it here. His argument first reduces the the amount of stars that could harbor life from 100% of the Milky Way to just 10%, based on metallicity and location. On January 1, 2021, I broke down this argument for why most of the Milky Way area is uninhabitable for technological civilizations here. But this still accommodates 10% of the stars in the Milky Way. That leaves between 10 – 40 billion stars to consider as potential systems to harbour life. However, the author shreds this down from 10% to 0.06% in his discussion about habitable star systems and types, the topic of this post.

In this post, I will break down John Gribbin’s argument for why most star systems in the Milky Way are uninhabitable for technological civilizations. His argument is as follows:

Most stars are not the right type to accommodate complex life like ours.

Star Types (Not to Scale)

75% of the stars in our neighbourhood are red-dwarf stars with about 10% the mass of our sun.

  • Their habitable zones are very narrow and extremely close to their star, much closer than mercury is to the sun. They are around 5 million kilometres to their star, whereas mercury never gets closer than 46 million km to the sun. Because of this, these planets would be tidally locked, where one side of the planet always faces the sun, and the other side faces away. This means that one side the atmosphere would freeze off, and the other side would get scorched. You are also much closer to the star and therefore more vulnerable to solar radiation.
  • A note that the author does not make here is that some argue that tidally locked planets would have a zone of habitability between the frozen and scorched sides where temperatures would be just right. The oceans may not completely freeze or burn off because of circulation. This may be true, and create a habitable area under water. However, air moves in response to differences in pressure (related to temperature). Hot air rises and cold air (more dense) moves in. If you have an extremely cold side, and an extremely hot side, such as with a tidally locked planet, this would create winds more violent than we can imagine on earth. The chance of a “green belt” (as they call it) forming on land plummets. There may be a possibility of some lichen-like life on land here, but I am skeptical of complex life thriving on land. Please correct me if I am off-base.
  • Red Dwarves are also much more active than the sun. They blast their solar systems with radiation that would strip away atmospheres and blast life with dangerous radiation. You are also more vulnerable to things like solar flares and coronal mass ejections.

Large stars also have more difficult habitable zones. They have much shorter lives and are way hotter. Therefore, intelligent life most likely couldn’t evolve there either. The range of habitable stars would be only K-type, F-type and G-type.

Most stars inhabit multiple star systems.

Artist’s impression of the double-star system GG Tauri

Most stars orbit at least one other star which threatens stable planetary orbits, circular planetary orbits, stable habitable zones, and stable climates. Therefore, most multiple star systems cannot accommodate the evolution of technological life.

Only 20% of stars are single. Even in single-star systems, there is a lot that could go wrong for complex life. However, binary, or triple star systems are more dangerous for the planets who reside there. Very stable orbits can only occur in a narrow range of conditions in them. But even where they do occur, it is unlikely that they are circular, causing the planet to dip in and out of the habitable zone.

Fluctuating heat caused by the binary system would also cause problems (different temperatures of each star). Just a 4.5-degree (Celsius) shift on earth today could threaten civilization. The habitable zone would also vary greatly. The two stars would be getting hotter at different rates as they mature, which would impact the stability of planetary climates.

Most stars do not show refractory element patterns conducive for rocky planet formation

The Sun, with Bird Silhouette

Stars that have depleted refractory elements at their surface tend to have rocky planets, stars who have not tend to have gaseous giants in their early solar system. Only 10% of stars exhibit refractory element patterns.

  • When the sun was about 2 million years old it received a blast of iron-60 and aluminium-26 from a supernova very close to us at the time.
  • Our sun had an unusually high metallicity – which is a puzzle easily solved by the above statement.
  • However today, sun has less heavier elements at its surface than the interior – vaporizing refractory elements like calcium and aluminium at high temperatures – these elements are common in rocky planets like the earth. So, the sun has been depleted of refractory elements which in turn have been used to form rocky planets.
  • The behaviour of our sun and the formation of rocky planets is related. That depleting these “refractory” elements at its surface is related to the formation of rocky planets. Early on these elements that would have been present in the sun’s atmosphere went into the formation of rocky planets.
  • Depletion of refractories seems to be a signature that there are rocky planets like ours.
  • Stars that don’t exhibit this behaviour tend to have gaseous planets in the inner solar system to the detriment of any possible rocky planets that formed there.
  • Refractory elements are not volatile and include things like silicate that make up rocks – and form asteroids, rocky planets, and moons. Other elements are volatile and form gaseous planets.
  • Only about 10% of stars exhibit refractory element patterns that fit into this category

Summary

In a previous post, I broke down John Gribbin’s argument for why most of the Milky Way Galaxy is uninhabitable. He argued that 90% of stars in the Milky Way are not habitable for technological life due to their location with respect to metallicity content. That leaves only 10% of stars to consider for the discussion today.

  • 75% of these stars are red dwarves, or M-Stars. This lowers the percentage of stars to consider from 10% to 2.5%.
  • Only K-Type, F-Type, and G-Type stars should be considered to accommodate technological life. This reduces the number of stars from 2.5% to 2%
  • Multiple star systems are dangerous. Only 30% of the 2% are left – 0.6%. He notes that only 20% of stars are single. So here he includes some multiple star systems as candidates by incorporating 30% for consideration.
  • Only 10% of stars exhibit patterns of depleting refractory elements at their surface to be used for rocky planet formation. That leaves only 0.06% of stars left.

Even if it we were to ignore all other premises (here), you could still argue that 0.06% is rare. That is 0.06% of 400 billion. That leaves roughly 240 million stars out there, in the galactic habitable zone, with the right kind of star, in the right kind of star system, and exhibits behaviour that depletes refractory elements at their surface to form rocky planets. Many of these stars may be younger or older than our sun, in various stages of their life cycles.

So, it is worth noting that stars live in and die, leaving a relatively narrow period of time that they can accommodate technological life:

  • It took almost 4 billion years to produce complex life on earth
  • The sun is heating up giving us a limited amount of time before the oceans are evaporated
  • Time is important, and the stage in the star’s life cycle is indicative of the probability that complex life exists within its solar system

These are just a few premises for why John Gribbin argues that we are alone in the Milky Way Galaxy. Other interesting points to drive that 0.06% down even further (he argues) are: (1) that evolution is not goal-oriented, but rather adapts to environmental changes, (2) our solar system is uniquely accommodating, (3) our planet is uniquely accommodating, (4) the explosion of complex life was a rare event that does not guarantee lineages who could result in technological civilizations, (5) mass extinctions play a critical role in evolution, (6) there are several looming existential threats to humanity, and (7) human level intelligence is rare, even in the context of complex life.

If you are interested in having those arguments broken down further, as argued in the book, please let me know in the comment section below.

Conclusion

I think the author makes a compelling argument, that provokes imagination and big thinking across vast expanses of time and space. However, I am not necessarily convinced by the argument, as the conclusion at the end of the book is extreme. If we take his argument at face value, I think that one conclusion we could make is that technological life in our Milky Way Galaxy is rare, and the the likelihood of two existing at the same point in time and close enough in space to recognize each other is vanishingly small. With that said, not all arguments were totally convincing, and there are still many unknowns.

As always, I found this topic very interesting. But I am more interested to hear what your thoughts and opinions are. If you have any thoughts, comments, feedback or ideas, please share them in the comment section below. I am sure they will create an interesting dialogue. If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like and subscribe, or follow me on twitter @interestpeaks. I always appreciate it when you do.

Thank you so much for reading this post. I look forward to my next book review on “This Is Marketing” by Seth Godin. If this book interests you, stay tuned for future posts.

Book Breakdown Part 2: Lindo Bacon’s Health at Every Size

By Cory Davis

On January 30, 2021, I wrote Book Breakdown Part 1: Lindo Bacon’s Health at Every Size (here). On January 23, 2021, I wrote a book review for Health at Every Size (2010) by Lindo Bacon (here). I gave this book a 3/5 for three main reasons: (1) the argumentation and logic was not convincing, (2) some of the messages were dangerous, and (3) it was unecessarily aggressive and polarizing. However, the book had several points that resonated with me, giving a swath of great advice, and made a strong stance against diet culture and weight-based discrimination.

This post is the second of two that breaks down Lindo Bacon’s key points made in Health at Every Size. Last post, I broke down the first five major points, and in the this one, I discuss the rest.

Breakdown of Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight, Part 2

Key Point #6:

We are victims of fat politics and there is no evidence that obesity is dangerous to your health.

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Lindo Bacon opens their argument by attacking the statement that thousands of Americans will die from obesity. They claim that the science on obesity is flawed and that on average, overweight people actually live longer than normal weight people.

They say that the obesity epidemic was manufactured, that obesity does not increase the risk of death. They call it the “Death by Fat Myth”. They go on to attack several linkages health professionals have established between diet, weight and disease including hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and atherosclerosis. They argue that fat can actually protect you from disease claiming that there are many conditions that are observed in normal weight people that are less common in obese people such as cancer, chronic bronchitis, anemia, type 1 diabetes and osteoporosis.

This argument is frustrating because they are using data to reach inappropriate conclusions. I struggle to follow the logic because the diseases they list are not caused by being thin – so extrapolating that obesity protects you from them does not make sense. The thinness related to these conditions may be induced from smoking (Cancer, chronic bronchitis), lack of nourishment and eating disorders (anemia, osteoporosis) or a myriad of other reasons. This is where their critical thinking and argumentation really comes under scrutiny. They claim that being overweight can protect you from certain diseases, those diseases more commonly seen in thin people. The examples they use are flawed because the thinness is a result of other pre-existing mental, health or economic conditions. They are not a result of thinness, but rather thinness may be a result from the pre-existing condition.

For example, they argue that being obese can potentially protect you from type 1 diabetes. This kind of argument is dangerous and scientifically flawed. This is a dangerous claim because obesity is related to type 2 diabetes. The reason why that claim is scientifically flawed is that thinness is often a result of type 1 diabetes. Thinness does not by any means induce type 1 diabetes. In fact, type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented by weight regulation or anything that we are aware of for that matter. Therefore, obesity cannot prevent such diseases.

For those interested in the relationship between weight and longevity, please see Dr. Michael Gregor’s Obesity Paradox short video here.

They argue that your genes play a big role: that “genes determine the result of the habits you choose”. If that were true, then environmental influences (like advertising and politics that they argued about earlier) are not a big deal. This is the old debate about nature versus nurture. The likely answer is that they both play significant roles. However, a lot of environmental factors can trigger genetic factors as well. Someone genetically vulnerable to cancer may not get cancer, but under certain environmental conditions, they may be at greater risk. Someone not predisposed to cancer may get it from repeated exposure to carcinogens. We cannot say exactly how to weigh genetic and environmental influences because they vary from circumstance to circumstance, person to person. So, I cannot agree with their analysis.

They say that being obese or thin is mostly a result of your genetic predisposition of storing fat. They also argue that everyone cannot lose weight (and maintain the weight-loss) by eating healthful food and regular exercise (as well as other methods).

They attack the experts and say they may be influenced by cultural norms or use shady science tactics. They argue that all they are doing is fear mongering about weight – that the weight-loss industry is worth a lot of money – “fearmongering about weight is worth billions”.

Again, the argumentation here is aggressive, and unconvincing.

Key point #7:

Respect yourself, regardless of body-size.

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I really enjoyed the message here about self-hate and your body shape. It is true that people “remain stuck to the body they’ve grown to loathe”. As if hating your body should be the motivator to change. They say that change should come from valuing yourself so much that there is invested interest to change. If you love yourself, you will be motivated to treat yourself well, which may include exercising more and eating healthier foods.

They make another good point about how we frame healthy foods in our diets. If we are eating salads as a tool or chore for weight-loss, then how will we be able to actually enjoy the flavours of all the fresh, vibrant produce it contains? Furthermore, being thin may not result in getting a supportive partner, more friends or acceptance by your family. People have all these ideas about what being thin will do for them, providing a sense of false hope.

In response to that, I do believe being thin as a result of a healthy lifestyle will reduce your risk of certain diseases and make you feel good. I am not thin, per se. However, I have found that by losing weight I feel better. I feel lighter. It is easier to move, hike, jog, run, bike, walk around, get up, sit down, sleep. It is easier on my joints, I have less swelling. For me, having a healthy weight induces a much better quality of life. Building muscle mass makes me feel strong, life is easier, it is easier to do almost everything when you go from little muscle, to just a little more. When I gain weight, it is because I am lazy and lack self control – something they say is a myth. They say that “thin is better” is another myth – I just need to disagree here. I am not thin – but being thinner than I was, has been life-changing.

In their study, some patients claimed their obesity started with some childhood trauma, a self-representation about motherhood, or a desire to be noticed by taking up more space. These psychological frameworks reinforce weight-gain. So, their obesity is closely tied to their mental health or worldview. Of course, a program that addresses mental health, self-acceptance, self-esteem and letting go of their obsession with weight would help get positive results. Addressing mental health may be a gap in obesity awareness. However, by no means does this disprove modern understandings about the science of weight – as they imply.

They want us to avoid negative talk, frame our thoughts differently, seek support and to seize the moment, pieces of advice that should resonate with us all.

Key Point #8:

Eat when you are hungry.

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Here they give you several guidelines: eat delicious food, pay attention to what you eat, satisfy your hunger, and address emotional eating. I like this message, however, earlier in the book they adamantly argue against the use of rules in your diet. Here, they seem to be giving us rules, but call them guidelines instead.

They urge you to keep a journal to understand your hunger, fullness, emotions, feelings, and satisfaction. Without journaling, they assert, you may not be able to notice certain feelings or sensations you have from eating. Becoming sensitive to how your body responds to food is at the heart of the book, and the concept of intuitive eating.

Great points. I agree with the core message to eat when you are hungry and don’t deny your hunger as a result of weight regulation efforts. Eating should be in response to how your body feels, rather than avoided and shamed as a result of your weight goals.

Key Point #9:

Live well to be healthy.

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Here they urge you to seek a healthy lifestyle.

They want you to reframe exercise. When on the diet and exercise regime, your workouts may seem to be a chore. Exercise rather should be fun and does not need to be at the gym necessarily, if you don’t enjoy it. Just be active by doing things like delivering mail in person, going for walks, and stretching.

They urge us to build in activity throughout the day, even by things as little as throwing away your remote control so you must change the channel manually. Moving can be fun, the outdoors is beautiful and there is so much to see, smell and touch in this world.

They want us to address the resistance we have to physical activity albeit feelings of humiliation, ridicule, injury, or self-confidence.

Here, they also advise us to eat a whole-foods, mostly plant-based diet. Great advice. They claim that by doing so, you could reset your “set-point” weight to a healthier level. So, I guess what you eat does matter – to maintain a healthy setpoint weight. Something I they argued did not matter much earlier in the book. Earlier on, they argued that what you eat does not really matter when it comes to weight, now they are taking it back. I found this book to be full of mixed messaged like this. That kind of communication is dangerous. Anyone could pick up this book, skim through some main points, then totally get the wrong idea.

They tell you exactly what most dietitians and nutritionists would (the same health professionals they attacked earlier on claiming their science is flawed) – to eat a variety of food, primarily plants. They say that intuitive eating will only get you so far, that “some conscious effort” is needed to ensure you get all the appropriate nutrients. For example, if you are lacking iron or zinc, your body may not give you any urge to eat foods high in them.

They have more rules here. Something they told us to avoid early on. So, they call hem guidelines. That really bothers me because it seems hypocritical and is more about semantics. They attack the health and wellness community by their use of rules, then proceed to give us many rules under the guise of “guidelines”. However, these guidelines are great, the common type of advice that you hear from many mainstream health professionals:

  • Eat real food (not processed crap)
  • Enjoy what you eat
  • Eat a lot of plants
  • Be active

Key Point # 10:

You can change your taste.

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They author argues that you can change your taste. If you crave junk food, fast food, or unhealthy food, rather than healthy foods, you can change that. Don’t eat healthy food because you have to. Don’t be restrictive and forceful with your eating habits, rather be open and try new, healthy things.

They claim that we can break old habits. We can change how we perceive meals and food and explore what plants can offer your taste buds.

I think this is true. We can change our taste buds. By eating a variety of different plant foods, we can explore a much more diverse and vibrant diet and discover insatiable foods that we may not have considered previously. In my experience, I never liked soy milk, tomatoes or peppers, but grew to love them by exploring different ways of using them.

Key Point # 11:

Society needs to change their perception about weight.

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The author is really trying to change the public’s perception about weight. They say that weight is not the issue, healthy living is. Rather than attacking weight, address health – being active and eating a whole-foods, mostly plant-based diet.

They seek to break the stigma about weight, saying that the science does not support society’s assumption about obesity. They claim that the war on fat was lost, that attacking weight resulted in eating disorders and an unhealthy relationship between our society, diet and weight.

They claim to have the solution, to address lifestyle factors rather than weight to destigmatize fat and shatter the stereotypes around weight. To do this we need to shift from a weight-centered view of health to one that celebrates a diversity of body sizes. They urge the scientific community to fix their broken method of weight-related research and disentangle relationships between government, industry and universities that negatively impact the health of citizens.

They urge us to avoid supporting the processed food industry who sell us empty calories and unhealthy junk. They urge policy makers and industry to address social inequities when it comes to access to information and healthy food.

Finally, they urge health professionals and the public to stop making weight the central issue, but rather to address lifestyle factors. They are disappointed with the extent that weight shaming, and weight related discrimination proliferates in our society.

One issue I had was with their argument that weight related disease is more influenced by genetic factors than weight. This may be true, however, if you are genetically predisposed to weight related diseases, then losing weight should greatly reduce your risk. Yes, genetics plays a role but lifestyle factors related to weight, and your weight specifically can be mitigating factors for weight-related health conditions.  

I appreciate what the author is doing in this chapter, urging health professionals to destigmatize weight and rather address lifestyle factors. Maybe this is a better approach, I don’t know. However, I think the route they took to get there was flawed, namely by attacking the science of obesity poorly.

Conclusion

This book was interesting. As frustrated as I am with the argumentation, Lindo Bacon makes several great points and impactful messages.  I agree with all the advice about healthy living – which is the same advice I hear health professionals say when they urge people to find a healthy weight (especially to obese people who need to lose weight). However, I disagree with how they got there.

They say to follow the science, but only the science they prescribe you, as mainstream science is flawed. However, I found their use of logic in their scientific arguments to be lackluster, stretching evidence beyond its applicatory scope. They say things like obesity could protect you from type 1 diabetes, chronic bronchitis and cancer. They claim that overweight people live longer. These are all claims based on unreasonable extrapolations, poor comparisons, and bad logic. Presenting them to the public in such a fashion is dangerous.

Thank you so much for reading this summary of Lindo Bacon’s Health at Every Size. I sure found this interesting. I am much more interested to hear what your thoughts and opinions are. If you have any feedback, comments, or ideas, please share them in the comment section below. I am sure it will create an interesting dialogue.

If you enjoyed this post, please like and subscribe, I really appreciate it when you do. You can also follow me on Twitter @interestpeaks.

Book Breakdown Part 1: Lindo Bacon’s Health at Every Size

Health at Every Size Book Breakdown Part One

By Cory Davis

On January 23, 2021, I wrote a book review for Health at Every Size (2010) by Lindo Bacon (here). I gave this book a 3/5 for three main reasons: (1) the argumentation and logic was not convincing, (2) some of the messages were dangerous, and (3) it was unecessarily aggressive and polarizing. However, the book had several points that resonated with me, giving a swath of great advice, and made a strong stance against diet culture and weight-based discrimination.

This post is one of two that will break down Lindo Bacon’s key points made in Health at Every Size. It will breakdown the first five major points, and in the next one, I will discuss the rest.

Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight: Bacon, Linda:  9781935618256: Books - Amazon.ca
Health at Every Size Book Cover

Prior to reading this breakdown, please note that Lindo Bacon prefers to be referred to by the gender-neutral pronouns “them” and “they”. So, please be cognizant of this when reading this post as when I state that “they argue”, or “they claim”, I am referring to Lindo, rather than two or more authors.

Breakdown of Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight, Part 1

In this breakdown, I will share with you the first five key points the author makes in this book. Some of which I agree with, others, I do not.

Key Point #1:

You body has a built-in mechanism to regulate your weight.

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The first chapter introduces us to the concept of a “fat-meter”, that our bodies have a natural weight which it gravitates towards called your “set-point”. They describe it as “built-in mechanism” that tells your body to boost your metabolism after over-eating and weight gain or slow it down after under-eating and lost weight. This explains why people who diet often gain weight afterwards, rendering it pointless. However, if you are struggling to maintain weight and are considered over-weight, this meter may not be functioning correctly and cannot correctly determine your setpoint. They promise the reader that after completing this book you will be able to reset your fat meter to naturally reach your healthiest weight.

They argue that your setpoint weight is mostly genetic. Dieting reminds our bodies of famine which forces them to store fat more easily. Your fat cells communicate with your body to regulate its functions. When you lose weight below a setpoint, your body recognizes it as a threat. By dieting and losing weight below that setpoint, your body may respond by increasing it to protect itself.

They object to diet culture here, a point that I agree with. Fad diets can be dangerous and ineffective for long term weight loss. Better advice would be to live a healthy lifestyle rich in exercise, social activities, and whole foods, as the author gives later in the book.

I am skeptical about the “set-point weight” concept, but do believe there are grains of truth in it. Our bodies do compensate for under-eating, and starvation. However, it may not be so simple as to say that you have a natural setpoint weight that your body reverts to. Weight is a complex, and an incomplete science that varies across cultures, genetics and lifestyles. I think it may be a useful term when explaining certain characteristics about how your body responds to weight but lacks grounds to say it is as simple as they imply.

Key Point #2:

If you struggle with weight, your weight-regulatory system may be broken.

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If someone struggles with weight, the author claims that their fat meter may not be working. This is because they are not driven to eat by hunger anymore. Rather, they are driven to eat by boredom, sadness, anger, loneliness, or a host of other emotions or circumstances. It could also be that past behaviours increased the setpoint weight making a thinner build much more difficult to achieve.

They argue that eating in response to hunger will not make you gain weight, but denying or ignoring hunger will force your body to protect itself by storing fat more efficiently.

They identify that Americans do not enjoy food as much as other cultures. Where Americans would call chocolate cake a guilty pleasure, the French call it a celebration. They imply that the reason French people suffer less heart disease and obesity than Americans is not only what they eat, but also how they eat. Part of this argument resonates with me. Food should be fun and enjoyable, not shameful and resentful.

They argue that we maintain our natural healthy setpoint weight when we actively respond to what our bodies tell us. When we challenge this process, we damage the systems that regulate it.

They categorize people into two groups: restrained and unrestrained eaters. They point out that researchers found that unrestrained eaters are more sensitive to hunger than restrained eaters. So, restrained eaters will need to be deprived of food for longer in order to feel hungry.

They argue that restrained eaters are in danger of gaining weight. Restrained eaters when faced with pizza, will eat several slices when the unrestrained eater is satisfied after one. They claim researchers found that restrained eaters, when already full, are more likely to order a dessert when enticed by a waitress than unrestrained eaters. The major difference being that restrained eaters engage with food in response to emotion more than unrestrained eaters who respond to hunger and fullness.

I appreciate the reinforcement that we should eat when we are hungry, not as a coping mechanism for various emotions or circumstances.

They attack the notion of labelling foods as good or bad. There are mixed messages here because later chapters paint a clear picture of good food to maximize in your diet and bad foods to avoid. I think the aim here is to get us to reframe how we think about food. Rather than labelling food good or bad, eat what you want but do it consciously, in response to how your body feels. Chips are often thought of as “bad”. However, are they really that bad if you limit your intake to only a small handful on rare occasions? Probably not. If you eat an entire bag impulsively though, you probably wont feel that good afterward. After you eat a salad, you feel light, full, and clean. They are trying to get us to be less restrictive with our eating. If you set yourself a dietary framework or meal-planning regime based on rules and regulations, it may take the fun out of it.

Key Point #3:

Dont trust the experts. An attack on the science of weight-loss.

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They attack the science of weight-loss by saying that there is no “scientific evidence to support any theory of how to lose weight and keep it off”. They state that diet and exercise only works for a minority of people. They go on to state your failure at weight loss is not your fault and that self blame could get in your way of “what is possible”.

They say you are not completely in control of the factors that contribute to your weight such as when and what you eat or how often you exercise. I agree that we are not in complete control, there are all kinds of factors that influence our behaviour. However, we do have some control, even in how we manage those influences in our lives. Although I should not blame myself for being overweight, it was control, motivation, and support to change my lifestyle that enabled me to drop and maintain it.

I agree with the statement but disagree with the message. It feels like they are telling us to not take responsibility for our personal health and that we are not in control of our own behaviour. It is demoralizing to have someone imply that your internal locus of self-control is unwarranted, that we should relinquish responsibility of ourselves to the environmental and genetic factors that influence our behaviour.

They justify their logic by pointing to the hypothalamus, a small but important part of the brain that regulates your appetite. It may nudge you when you see junk food that you cannot resist. They say “it is not your fault” because these urges are not completely in your control, and are so powerful that they can ruin diets. They say that few people are able to overcome this.

They contest that if you eat less food you will weigh more because of your biology’s defence against starvation. They say that a study showed that women who diet over the long-term return to their original weight even if they stick to it. Furthermore, those women ended up having a larger abdominal circumference. They use this as evidence that those who reduce their calorie intake would just gain it back anyways even if they stick to their diet. There is a grain of truth here but there are huge problems with the message.

I found the study they were referring to (Howard, et, al, 2006), even though they did not properly cite it. They just say that according to a study from the Women’s Health Initiative, eating less calories does not make you lose weight. There is a glaring problem with Lindo Bacon’s analysis here. The study was conducted over the course of about eight-years, in age ranges where increasing abdominal circumference in women is expected. The science suggests that “both time (chronological aging) and ovarian aging” contribute “to substantial changes in body composition (fat and skeletal muscle mass) and waist circumference.” (Sowers, et al., 2007), which supports conclusions already well established in the literature such as in Noppa, et al. (1980), and Shimoka, et al. (1989). The waist circumference increase was not a result of your body’s weight regulation system responding to a lack of calories, rather it is a direct result of aging. In fact, the Women’s Health Initiative Study (Howard, et al., 2006) found that over the course of years, the women on the lower fat diet did not gain weight. That is great, because women tend to gain weight over these years (Sowers, et al., 2007). So, the diet actually worked. Where most women in those age ranges would gain weight, the participants in the Women’s Health Initiative did not. For this reason, the logic that Bacon uses in their argument is unconvincing.

It is also confusing because later on they argue that to reset your “fat-meter” and achieve a “healthier” body and weight, you need to eat better, and be more active. They point to low-caloirie, low-fat foods as a tool to get there. Exactly what they are arguing against in this chapter.

They go on to say that there is no evidence to suggest that exercise will make you lose weight, that research shows that people on exercise programs do not lose significant weight in the long term. They say things like studies have shown that sedentary people on average only weigh about five pounds more than those who exercise regularly.

The thing with statements like this is that people can be “thin” for many unhealthy reasons. Smoking, drinking, cancer, eating disorders, and drugs can all effect weight causing people to be thin. Weight problems are not the only symptom of sedentary lifestyles, all kinds of other health related problems are associated with that. In November 2020, the World Health Organization said that 5 million deaths per year could be avoided if people were only “more active”. Later on in the book, Lindo agrees that physical activity is good for your health.

However, here they say that people living sedentary lifestyles do not weigh much more. Lindo suggests that active people are not thinner because they are active, but maybe because they are better at managing stress or some other reason. They give lots of alternate possibilities such as exercise makes some people eat more so they don’t get the benefit of weight loss.

However, there is a clear indication that physical activity can play a role in maintaining weight-loss weight loss. According to Swift, et al (2013), physical activity “has a major role in the amount of weight regained after initial weight-loss”, that significant exercise increases the amount of weight-lost people can maintain.

Key Point #4:

What you eat does not matter when it comes to weight-loss, but what you eat does matter when it comes to weight loss.

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So, we unpacked a lot in so far. Here they reaffirm that we should understand by now that dieting is not likely to encourage long-term weight loss, but rather weight gain. They say things like “What you eat – at least from the perspective of weight loss – probably doesn’t matter that much”.

But then they acknowledge that they are not surprised that what you eat is associated with weight gain. What? They just said that it does not matter what you eat for weight. They attack certain foods – bad foods (recall earlier they said to stop categorizing food as good or bad) like refined carbs and high fructose corn syrup for likely being associated with weight gain.

They claim that what you eat – particularly high fat, high sugar, processed or animal-derived products – will mess up your weight regulation system. This can then cause you to have a higher set-point weight.

Earlier on, they said that your weight does not matter, that overweight people live longer, that most people cannot lose weight and maintain that weight loss, even with diet and exercise. Now, they are saying yes you can lose weight. Changing your diet and exercise is important – exactly what health professionals recommend – but they argue health professionals rely on bad science – and Lindo’s science is good and “clinically proven”.

I really struggle with the presentation and message thus far. There is so much that is agreeable and so much that is not.

For example, they try to get you to stop dieting with rules. Rules like limit processed food, eat high fibre food are not tolerated in their regime. However, they go on to say but you should not eat processed foods and to maximize your intake of high fibre foods. They urge you to avoid artificial sweeteners, soft drinks and fat-free foods as they can mess with your weight regulation system. These sound like rules to me, but they call them guidelines – not rules. This is a matter of semantics, not a reason to attack the entire nutrition and health profession as they do.

Key Point #5:

Industry wants you to eat unhealthy food, and the government is assisting them.

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They discuss how corporate marketing impacts our eating habits without us knowing using psychological tricks. Companies “nutri-wash” their products, like Pepsi Co. awarding Diet Pepsi the Smart Spot nutritional seal. They spend tens of billions in marketing and research to convince the public to buy foods. They talk about economic law, how shareholders can sue a CEO if they pursue social responsibility at the cost of maximizing profits.

They discuss food prices and government subsidies. One bushel of corn only cost about four dollars (USD at the time) and contains enough calories to sustain someone for two months (130,000 calories). The reason it is so cheap is that the government subsidizes it. Therefore, agriculture does not operate in a free market like most of the economy, but rather is protected. If a farmer cannot sell their produce for a fair price for certain crops the government will pay the difference. This is an incentive for farmers to grow more of a certain crop, even if it can’t sell.

The meat and dairy industries benefit from the subsidies too because they get cheap feed for their animals. They say that government subsidies do not cover many fruits, veggies and legumes, so schools find it difficult to get healthy food. So, rather than fruits and veggies, children get meat and dairy.

Because of the incentives, industry grows exuberant amounts of corn to sell to the animal farming and high fructose corn syrup sectors.  Most fast-food menu items have corn in it – from fries fried in corn derived oils, to breaded chicken nuggets, to high fructose corn syrup in sodas. Just because it is so cheap and they can pass those savings onto you.

The second most subsidized food is soy – which could be healthy. However, most soy is converted to oil to make hydrogenated oils, soy lecithin, and other products – but is mostly processed and refined. This is opposed to using soy for tofu, tempeh or whole.

These policies and economics create a system that ensures unhealthy food that makes you gain weight is cheaper than healthy food.

They talk about how processed food (with high fat and high sugar) release opioids in your brain, which is pleasurable and encourages you to eat more. Industry is interested in you eating more because it is good for business. Getting you to eat high fat high sugar food is good for business. Maybe that is why only around 2% of food advertising is for fruits and veggies.

The food industry heavily influences the health-related organizations and health professionals. They donate to non-profits and sponsor professional events where they can disseminate information, internal studies about their products that may suggest they are healthy but only in a narrow sense.

Subway can now use the Fighting Heart Disease and Stroke Logo, Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes has a Heart Healthy Logo. Coca-Cola donated 1M$ to a dentist organization and partnered with the American Academy of Family Physicians.

They attack the Dairy Industry, and they do it very well. The claim that “You Need Milk” is nonsense. They make a case that milk is not even good for you. That is true for most people, as over half the world has some degree of lactose intolerance.

They say we need to shift the blame. Industry blames the individual for overconsumption because nobody forces people to buy junk food. But they argue that because we believe in freedom of choice. Therefore, government should play the role to educate people and create incentives to eat healthy food.

I agree with a lot of the argument here. However, they frame industry in such a negative light, as if they want you to be unhealthy. As if political and economic forces have some plot against humanity. I dont think these kinds of attacks are warranted, nor does it further their goals. Industry is made up of people, they are not evil. However, I do agree that the system is not robust enough to promote and incentivise healthy foods, making them accessibile for the public. This is not because government is corrupt, rather that the system is complex and difficult to maneuver. If the public wants policy changes, we can vote that in. That is the power of democracy. So, we (the public) are also responsible. Governments in North America do not typically make decisions at will. Decisions are made through legislation (which is developed through public and stakeholder engagement), public consultation, and advice from experts. Decisions are a reflection of modern societal norms, beliefs, goals and values.

I dont think that attacking governments and industry does the cause justice. Rather, these groups are stakeholders in the interest of our discussion. Therefore, we need to treat them as stakeholders, which means being inclusive to them by establishing respectful relationships where innovation can flourish. By attacking eachother, we are polarizing people, dismantling relationships, and pitting people against eachother. Chaos is not the way forward, rather tolerance, understanding, diplomacy, diversity of perspectives and unity is.

Conclusion

Lindo Bacon makes many good points, creates an interesting dialogue and has lots of good advice. However, the argumentation and logic was difficult for me accept. I disagree with some points and agree with others. I also found some mixed messages, resulting in mixed feelings about the book.

Please stay tuned for my next post, where I will break down the rest of the key points made in Health at Every Size.

Thank you so much for reading this breakdown. If you enjoyed this post, please like it and subscribe, or follow me on Twitter at @interestpeaks. I always appreciate it when you do.

As always, I found this discussion interesting, but I am more interested in what your thoughts and opinions are. If you have any comments, questions, or concerns, please share them in the comment section below. I am sure it will create an interesting dialogue.

References

Howard, B. V., Manson, J. E., Stefanick, M. L., Beresford, S. A., Frank, G., Jones, B., … & Prentice, R. (2006). Low-fat dietary pattern and weight change over 7 years: the Women’s Health Initiative Dietary Modification Trial. Jama295(1), 39-49.

Noppa, H., Andersson, M., Bengtsson, C., Bruce, A., & Isaksson, B. (1980). Longitudinal studies of anthropometric data and body composition The population study of women in Göteborg, Sweden. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition33(1), 155-162.

Shimokata, H., Andres, R., Coon, P. J., Elahi, D., Muller, D. C., & Tobin, J. D. (1989). Studies in the distribution of body fat. II. Longitudinal effects of change in weight. International journal of obesity, 13(4), 455-464.

Sowers, M., Zheng, H., Tomey, K., Karvonen-Gutierrez, C., Jannausch, M., Li, X., … & Symons, J. (2007). Changes in body composition in women over six years at midlife: ovarian and chronological aging. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism92(3), 895-901.

Swift, D. L., Johannsen, N. M., Lavie, C. J., Earnest, C. P., & Church, T. S. (2014). The role of exercise and physical activity in weight loss and maintenance. Progress in cardiovascular diseases, 56(4), 441–447. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pcad.2013.09.012

World Health Organization (2020). Every move counts towards better health – says WHO. Retrieved 23 January 2021, from https://www.who.int/news/item/25-11-2020-every-move-counts-towards-better-health-says-who

Health at Every Size by Lindo Bacon – Book Review

By Cory Davis

This is a book review for Lindo Bacon’s (formerly Linda Bacon) Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight (2010) published by BenBella Books Inc., Texas, United States.

Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight: Bacon, Linda:  9781935618256: Books - Amazon.ca

3/5

“A polarizing perspective about weight that aims to shatter diet culture and fat-shaming.”

About the Author

Lindo Bacon is a speaker, author, and professor. They hold a PhD in Physiology from the University of California and has graduate degrees in both psychology and exercise metabolism. Lindo has been a researcher and professor for over 20 years, teaching courses in social justice, health, and nutrition.

They have written several papers for publications such as the International Journal of Obesity, Nutritional Journal, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, and Appetite. Lindo has also authored three books: Health at Every Size, Body Respect, and Radical Belonging.

 About the Book

50+ Free Obese & Obesity Illustrations - Pixabay
Retrieved from Pixabay

Health at Every Size aims to shift society’s perception about weight. They claim that weight should not be the central focus around health. They urge health professionals to stop telling patients to lose weight, but rather focus on healthy living factors. This is not a diet or exercise book. Rather, it is a program based on a “clinically proven” government funded study. It addresses the stigmatization of fat, urging people to let go of the stereotypes we associate with obesity and weight. The author claims that genetics, rather than lifestyle is the main driver of weight-related disease, therefore we should not attack weight as the problem. The solution offered however, is similar to the advice you hear from many health professionals who address weight, to be more active and eat mostly whole plant-based foods. The difference being how they frame weight and obesity, and the sensitivity toward body image, self-esteem and fat-shaming.

What the Author Promises in the Book

Promise Icons - Download Free Vector Icons | Noun Project

They promise the reader that after completing this book you will be able to reset your fat meter to naturally reach your healthiest weight.

What I Liked About the Book

400+ Free Love Book & Love Images - Pixabay
Retrieved from Pixabay

The book is easy to read and is structured very well. The first part of the book establishes the theory or foundation behind the Health at Every Size program. The second part outlines the program itself. The third part is comprised of several letters addressed to various groups such as health professionals, those considering another diet and school administrators, among others.

The objection to diet culture and weight-shaming is welcomed. Fad diets and “dieting” are not the answer. These are temporary weight loss solutions that can be dangerous, especially when adopted over the long term. Better advice would be to adopt an active lifestyle complimented with a meal-planning regime that maximizes whole foods such as fruits, veggies, and legumes while minimizing processed foods – exactly what Bacon prescribes.

I appreciate the sensitivity toward those who have struggled with body image or feel discriminated against as a result of their weight. There are a range of healthy body sizes, where beauty, sexuality and self confidence should be normalized and celebrated. It is sad that we punish ourselves over a couple pounds of weight, establishing a standard of beauty that is unrealistic, and self-sabotaging. I sympathize with those who struggle with weight, as I too have been bullied, mistreated and shamed as a direct result of mine.

What I Dislike About the Book

Confused Hands Up - Free photo on Pixabay
Retrieved from Pixabay

I struggled with some of the messages. The back of the book attempts to address three “myths” and contrast them against “reality”. However, I am unconvinced by the analysis argued in the book.

The first myth is that fat kills. Lindo claims that on average, overweight people live longer than normal weight people. Even if true, some thinness can be a result of many different health conditions or lifestyle choices such as smoking, cancer, alcoholism, eating disorders, etc. Fat does kill and is clearly associated with a suite of lifestyle induced diseases. They say that genetics are a larger influence on these diseases than weight. Even if that is true, for those who are genetically predisposed to lifestyle related diseases, weight, physical activity and diet may be mitigating factors. It is common knowledge, with a myriad of clinical evidence, that “obesity is a highly and increasingly prevalent chronic condition associated with significant morbidity and mortality” (Haslam, 2005 as cited in Oreopoulos et al. 2008).

CDC Diagram showing medical complications related to obesity

The second myth is that if you lose weight you will live longer. Lindo claims that, no study has ever shown that weight loss prolongs life. Even if it is true that weight loss on average may not prolong life, it is true that weight loss in people with weight-related health conditions does. This is the same group that this book addresses. Several studies indicate that weight change in aging adults are associated with higher mortality. Yes, weight change can occur for many unhealthy reasons. However, this is not true for intentional weight loss as a result of weight-related health conditions. When you separate out the results and look at intentional weight loss for diabetics, or people with weight-related health conditions you will find reduced risk of all-cause mortality (Harrington, Gibson & Cottrell, 2009). These results were supported by further research time and time again. For example, JAMA Cardiology research reported that obesity was related to significant risk of cardiovascular morbidity, mortality and shorter lifespan when compared to people with normal BMI (Monaco, 2018).

The third myth is that anyone can lose weight if he or she tries. Lindo claims that your biology will make you regain weight you lose, even if you continue your diet and exercise regime. I may agree that not everyone can or should lose weight, but for those who are obese or over-weight, you can. Lindo agrees with me. Later in the book they say that you may be overweight because your natural, or “set-point” weight has been damaged and therefore increased. By resetting your set-point weight to a more “healthy” level, you can lose weight. So, they pretty much refute this claim themself.

Mixed messages at Forthampton © Philip Pankhurst cc-by-sa/2.0 :: Geograph  Britain and Ireland
Retrieved from Geograph

This leads me to my biggest criticism which is that there were many mixed messages. In one chapter they state that what you eat does not matter when it comes to weight. Then, they proceed to clarify that what you eat is very important, not only for your health, environment and morality, but to reset your set-point weight to a healthier level. They downplay the role of weight in an individual’s health to the point where it does not seem to matter at all, which is not what the science implies or the most credible health professionals say. As Dr. David Katz wrote (2018), “Overweight, then, is apt to take life from years; obesity is apt to take years from life as well. That this pair is a clear and present danger could scarcely be clearer, long neglected though it may be.”

There seems to be an understanding that there is a range of healthy body sizes that can vary from person to person or between cultures. But the claim that you can have health at any size is dangerous.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I found this book to bring a polarizing perspective about weight that aims to shatter diet culture and fat-shaming. I agree with the core recommendations, to be active and eat a whole foods diet based on mostly plants while being mindful of our self-esteem and weight-based discrimination. This is a profound message. However, the way they frame the argument bothers me. It is aggressive, authoritative, and polarizing, rather than conservative, curious, and diplomatic.

Thank you so much for reading this post. If you enjoyed it, please like and subscribe. You can also follow me on twitter @interestpeaks. Of course, I enjoyed this discussion, but am more curious to hear what your thoughts are. If you have any opinions, thoughts, ideas or feedback, please share them in the comment section below. I promise to read them all and am sure it will create interesting dialogue.

If this book interests you, please stay tuned for my next post which will breakdown the book by highlighting the key takeaways, and my thoughts about them.

References

Harrington, M., Gibson, S., & Cottrell, R. (2009). A review and meta-analysis of the effect of weight loss on all-cause mortality risk. Nutrition Research Reviews, 22(1), 93-108. doi:10.1017/S0954422409990035

Katz, D. (2018). The true paradox of obesity. LinkedIn. Retrieved from: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/true-paradox-obesity-david-l-katz-md-mph-facpm-facp-faclm/

Monaco, K. (2018). Shorter life, heart risk linked with excess weight. Medpage Today. Retrieved from: https://www.medpagetoday.com/endocrinology/obesity/71437?xid=nl_mpt_DHE_2018-03-01&eun=g436715d0r&pos=0&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Daily%20Headlines%202018-03-01&utm_term=Daily%20Headlines%20-%20Active%20User%20-%20180%20day

Oreopoulos, A., Padwal, R., Norris, C. M., Mullen, J. C., Pretorius, V., & Kalantar‐Zadeh, K. (2008;2012;). Effect of obesity on short‐ and Long‐term mortality postcoronary revascularization: A Meta‐analysis. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), 16(2), 442-450. doi:10.1038/oby.2007.36

“Alone in The Universe”: John Gribbin’s Argument for Why Most of the Milky Way Galaxy is Uninhabitable

By Cory Davis

This is a breakdown of John Gribbin’s argument as made in his book Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet is Unique (2011) for why most of the Milky Way Galaxy is uninhabitable.

Alone in the Universe -- Why Our Planet Is Unique.jpg
Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet is Unique (2011) by John Gribbin

On December 19, 2020, I wrote a review of this book, giving it 4/5 stars. I thought it was a fun thought experiment which made me wonder and ponder our existence in the universe. If you are interested in checking it out, please find it here.

Later on I tried to summarize the author’s consicely into 12 premises and a conclusion for why we are alone in the Milky Way Galaxy as a technological civilization. If you are interested to check it out, please find it here. His argument first reduces the the amount of stars that could harbor life from 100% of the Milky Way to just 10%, based on metallicity and location. This blog post breaks down his argument for why.

Chapter two of Alone in the Universe is dedicated to explaining why the Milky Way is “special”. This chapter outlines why our galaxy is able to accommodate technological civilizations, whereas many galaxies in the universe cannot. This can simply be inferred by their metallicity content. However, even in our special galaxy, conditions are violent and often inhospitable to life, even in the most habitable regions.

Accumulating Heavy Elements in the Galaxy

Galaxies like the Milky Way formed within the first three to four billion years after the big bang. Through many generations of stars in the Milky Way, the content of heavy metals built up, accumulating to the point where it could form rocky planets. The process of building up heavy metals took billions of years leading up to the birth of our solar system. Therefore, it must have taken billions of years to develop conditions that allow for the evolution of life.

  • 3-4 billion years after the big bang – galaxies like the Milky Way form
  • 6-9 billion years after the big bang – the Milky Way develops enough heavy metals to sustain rocky planet formation. Our sun is born
  • 13.2 billion years after the big bang – complex life begins to emerge on planet earth

It took our solar system around five billion years to produce complex life, followed by technological civilization. If this is a regular amount of time it would take to do that, then we could be one of the first in the Milky Way.

As noted in the “cosmic calendar” (see previous image), it was not until mid-May that the thin disk of the milky way formed. The development and accummulation of heavy metals occurred in the galaxy’s disc. This disc produces stars that make heavy elements essential for complex life, rocky planets and technology.

The disc is a feature of spiral arm galaxies. Most galaxies are not this type, and the Milky Way wont be one forever. The Milky Way may become elliptical, through a collision course with the Andromeda galaxy billions of years in the future.

So, how did heavy metals build up over time in the Milky Way’s disc? As noted above, it was through the succession of generations of star birth and death.

Larger stars than the sun [at the ends of their lives] will collapse creating heat and pressure fierce enough to fuse heavy elements like nickel and iron then blow a bunch of it away in clouds of dust. The biggest stars in the universe will create and disperse even heavier elements in supernovae explosions. John Gribbin highlights the importance of supernovae. He says that supernovae are what create the heavier elements like iron. When our sun dies, collapsing into a white dwarf, it will only be able to fuse together elements up to carbon and oxygen. Whereas more massive stars will collapse further and create materials required not only for rocky planet formation, but also for essential biochemical reactions.

Supernovae and time are required for technological civilization as the metallicity (or amount of metals) in stars increases over generations. However, too much metallicity could be a bad thing. Stars with higher metallicity, are more likely to have a large-Jupiter planet orbiting close to it. These large “Hot Jupiter’s” would orbit as close as earth is to our sun or even closer, which would disrupt orbits of earth-like planets close by.

The Galactic Habitable Zone

Currently, there is a narrow region within the Milky Way Galaxy that has enough metallicity to sustain rocky planet formation. This region accommodates 10% of all stars in the Milky Way. This is what some call the galactic habitable zone. The area is thin, short in width, not near the galactic centre, or the outer edge.

  • The outer part of the galaxy consists of old stars that formed 10 billion years ago (twice the age of the sun) that don’t even have 10% the metallicity of ours. You likely need around 40% the metallicity of our sun to develop rocky planets.
  • The galactic centre has a bulge around it that make up most of the stars in the galaxy. The bulk of the stars in the bulge are old and low in metal content. There are few younger stars in there. Because it is so dense and close to the centre, the radiation would be far too high to accommodate life, reducing the probability of life occurring even more. The number of encounters with other solar systems would also result in many more extinction level impacts.
  • The galactic habitable zone is a thin disc in between the outer edge and inner bulge no more than 1000 light years thick. This area contains young stars like the sun. It is currently the only area within the milky way producing new stars and enriching it further with heavy metals.

The galactic habitable zone idea was put forward due to the link between metallicity and the likelihood of forming planets such as Earth, Mars, or Venus. However, it is not constant, expanding over time. Charles Lineweaver (Senior Fellow at the Planetary Science Institute, Australian National University) postulates that the galactic habitable zone emerged roughly 8 billion years ago from a ring roughly 26 thousand lightyears from the galactic centre. Now he postulates that it extends from about 23 thousand lightyears to 29 thousand lightyears from the centre.

However, the galactic habitable zone depends not only on metallicity, but also on the frequency of potential hazards that star systems would encounter when they travel around the Milky Way Galaxy. Supernovae and the supermassive black hole at the galactic centre are two of them:

  • Supernovae are a hazard.
    • Supernovae are more common in the galactic centre because it is more dense.
    • They likely occur on average about once every 100 million years in our galaxy and could be devastating to life on earth even from across the Milky Way. The author says that it could be possible for a supernovae to even sterilize an entire galaxy – but it has been pointed out that they are very short-lived. So, the side of the planet facing away from it could be shielded from the more harmful effects although there will be setbacks, such as a large hole in the ozone.
    • Supernovae were more common in the earlier galaxy, which could be a reason that intelligent life took so long to form on earth. So, it would be easier for intelligent life to form now by not having as many gamma ray burst events slowing things down.
  • The supermassive black hole at the galactic centre is a hazard.
    • Radiation hazards don’t just come from supernovae, but from the galactic centre itself where the supermassive black hole is located. Although it is not very active today, there are signs it was more active in the past.
    • Active black holes studied in other galaxies show that when they swallow material (such as stars or gas clouds), it gets sucked in at an extremely high speed and results in intense radiation shooting into the bulge. Unfortunately, stars in the bulge tend to have elliptical orbits around the black hole, so they end up coming very close to the centre. Either way, any planet bombarded with this kind of radiation will suffer immensely.

Most of the galaxy is thus uninhabitable. Only the thin disc has the metallicity required to sustain the evolution of technological life. However, the galactic habitable zone is still a violent, life-threatening place to be.

The Galactic Habitable Zone is a Dangerous Place to Live

Passing Through the Galaxy’s Spiral Arms

The sun is located about 27,000 light years from the middle of the milky way, and takes roughly 225 million years to make a complete orbit. So, since the sun formed, it made about 20 complete orbital rotations around the centre of the galaxy. We are currently near the inner edge of a spiral arm called the Orion arm, or otherwise known as the Local Arm. The author notes that spiral arms are not permanent, that they get smoothed out over time – it just seems permanent since we are just a snapshot in time, as he puts it – “like snapshots of the spiral patterns of coffee”. But the bulge can also kick back up a spiral pattern, so they may come and go and set of a process of star formation in the arms when they do. This process is very good at mixing metals in the thin disk of the galaxy when it occurs. The spiral density waves, like the one that makes up the Orion or Local arm sent off from the bulge actually moves slower than the stars do. So, we are not just existing within the Local Arm, we are literally just about to pass through it.

Spiral arms are where supernova occur. If the solar system was impacted by one, it could destroy our ozone layer and cause serious harm to life on earth. If the solar system was within 30 light years of a supernova explosion, it would likely destroy most life on the surface. So, the likelihood of an extinction event caused by a nearby supernova explosion increases as we go through spiral arms. That is because more supernovas occur in them.

So, stars closer to the bulge would pass through more arms over time because they are closer together near the middle. We are further from the middle. So the risk of extinction by supernova or other hazards in the spiral arm decreases the further away from the centre you are located.

Last time the solar system passed a spiral arm was about 250 million years ago. The Palaeozoic era ended around 250 million years ago in a mass extinction. This could be related to the spiral arm encounter, or it could not be. But that is just another indicator that some regions in the milky way are more accommodating to life than others, and the probability of technological life developing or continuing to exist varies depending on where you are located in space and time.

Comets

The problem with comet impacts like the one that killed off the dinosaurs is that they could potentially sterilize a planet of all complex life. If the comet was larger than the one that killed the dinosaurs, it could have. But what if the comet was much smaller? The trajectory of evolution would be vastly different and we would likely not be here today to talk about it.

Where there are lots of comet-impacts, these extinction events would not provide enough time to evolve intelligent life.

We are surrounded by a massive Oort cloud around our solar system, presumably most star systems are. The Oort cloud is a halo of rocky and icy debris with trillions of pieces larger than one kilometer in diameter, and billions of pieces over 20 kilometers in diameter.

A close encounter with any large body like a solar system or black hole could perturb the Oort cloud sending them toward our sun, where earth is in its path.

  • This will be much more common in the bulge where there is a higher density of solar systems
  • This will also be more common in the spiral arms where the density of gas clouds would give the Oort cloud a “hydrostatic jump”

We are on a collision course with another solar system right now. The star Hipparcos 85605 will pass by our solar system very closely within the next 250 to 500 thousand years. The star Gliese 710 will pass by in approximately 1.3 million years. Both of these encounters will interact with our Oort Cloud, increasing the risk of impact with the earth.

Conclusion

We are not just located in a good spot in the milky way, we are in a good time as well. Life most probably occurs in the galactic habitable zone and becomes exceedingly less likely the further you travel out. So, for an intelligent civilization to colonize or explore the galaxy for life, they would only need to reach 10% of the stars. This makes that Fermi Paradox question more impactful. If we could practically send robots (like Von Neumann Probes) to explore the galaxy, it would take much less time to explore the the galactic habitable zone than the entire thing. So where are they?

This discussion has all been about the Milky Way, but what about other galaxies? About 80% of other galaxies are fainter, star birth and star death  is occurring less frequently – so the process of increasing metallicity is weaker, possibly too weak for earth like planets. From observations, only about 20% of galaxies seem to have the metallicity required for rocky planet formation. 

Final Thoughts

Do I agree with the author’s conclusion? Well, I can agree that the probability of complex life should decrease where the frequency of hazards increase. I also agree that the probability of complex life decreases the further away from the galactic habitable zone you are interested in. However, it accommodates 10% of the stars in the Milky Way. That still leaves between 10 – 40 billion stars to consider as potential systems to harbour life. However, the author easily shreds this down from 10% to 0.06% in his discussion about habitable star systems and types, a topic for a later post.

All in all, I am not necessarily conviced that we are alone in the Milky way, but found it to be persuasive, forcing me to think big and reflect about our place in the Milky Way Galaxy, or even the universe. I could agree that it is possible for us to be alone in the Milky Way as a technological civilization. However, I would not state is as fact. I am not convinced that we are alone as such in the universe, but would that even matter if we are spatially disconnected to the point where we could never make contact?

Thank you for reading this blog post. I had fun reviewing John Gribbin’s argument for the galactic habitable zone and why most of the galaxy is uninhabitable. However, I am more interested to hear your thoughts and opinions. If you have any thoughts, ideas, disagreements, or insights to the topic, please share them in the comment section below.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like, or subscribe. You can follow me @interestpeaks on Twitter too. Please stay tuned! I will return later to discuss John Gribbin’s argument why most stars systems and types are uninhabitable in the Milky Way galaxy.

“Alone in the Universe”: Breakdown of John Gribbin’s Argument for Why We Are Alone in the Milky Way Galaxy

By Cory Davis

This is a breakdown of John Gribbin’s argument as made in his book Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet is Unique (2011).

Alone in the Universe -- Why Our Planet Is Unique.jpg

On December 19, 2020, I wrote a review of this book, giving it 4/5 stars. I thought it was a fun thought experiment which made me wonder and ponder our existence in the universe. There were four reasons that I did not give it a 5/5: (1) there was no summary of the argument, (2) there was no clear outline about why it is important, (3) the conclusion was extreme, and (4) the title of the book is not honest.

For those of you who felt the same, or are just curious, I will break down John Gribbin’s argument for why we are alone in the Milky Way Galaxy. The conclusion of the book is not that we are alone in the universe as you may have inferred from the title, just that we are alone as a technological civilization in our galaxy.

This is one possible solution to the Fermi Paradox, which poses the question that if technological civilizations are common, where are they? John Gribbin argues, we cannot detect them because they are not there.

The Argument

The argument here has been simplified drastically into 12 premises and one conclusion for the purpose of this post. In later posts, I will elaborate on each premise to provide you with context.

#1 Alien technological civilizations are not close enough in time or space to detect.

  • We cannot detect them now, therefore (1) they are either not here, (2) are not here yet,  (3) have been here and are already dead, (4) have never been here (5) will never be here, or (6) are so far away that we cannot detect them easily

#2 Most of the galaxy is not currently habitable.

  • The galactic habitable zone makes up the region of the galaxy where metallicity is high enough to produce rocky planets
  • Complex life requires heavy metals to function efficiently enough to sustain themselves
  • Technology necessarily requires available heavy metals
  • The galactic habitable zone contains 10% of the stars in the milky way

#3 The galaxy was not always habitable.

  • The galactic habitable zone’s metallicity was built up over time
  • Five billion years ago, it was less metal-rich and had a higher frequency of supernova explosions
  • It took earth almost five-billion years for earth to evolve technological life
  • If that is a usual amount of time, we could even be the first

#4 The galactic habitable zone is a violent place that threatens the long-term sustainability of life.

  • Stars orbit the galactic centre faster than the Milky Way’s spiral arms do.
  • Supernovae occur more frequently in the spiral arms
  • The solar system has passed spiral arms about 20 times since its formation
  • The risk of a supernova encounter threatening life on earth increases as we pass a spiral arm
  • We are surrounded by a massive Oort cloud [of debris] around our solar system, presumably most are
  • A close encounter with any large body like a star system or black hole could perturb the Oort cloud sending them toward our sun, where earth is in its path
  • The spiral arms could also disrupt the Oort cloud with a hydrostatic jump

#5 Technological life can only form in the habitable zone around a star where liquid water can be sustained on a planet’s surface.

  • Habitable zones are not constant, they change over time
  • Water is essential for life
  • The habitable zone also accommodates rock weathering, which is important for the carbon cycle
  • Not all habitatable zones are habitable for complex or technological life
  • Not all stars have rocky planets in their habitable zones

#6 Most stars in the galaxy regardless of the region of the Milky Way they inhabit are inhospitable to technological life.

  • Most stars in our galaxy are red dwarves (M-Stars) (75%)
  • The habitable zone of an M-Star is extremely close to it
  • M-Stars are also much more active than the sun blasting the habitable zone with deadly radiation
  • Large stars are also very dangerous
  • The range of habitable stars consist of K-Type, F-Type and G-Type stars
  • Most stars exist in binary star systems (80%) which threaten stable planetary orbits and result in fluctuating habitable zones
  • Stars that have depleted refractory elements at their surface (like the sun) tend to have rocky planets, stars who have not tend to have gaseous giants in their inner solar system. Only 10% of stars exhibit refractory element patterns.
  • Stars live and die, leaving a temporary window of time for technological life to emerge

#6 Our solar system is uniquely accommodating to technological life.

  • Our solar system has rocky planets in the inside, gaseous planets are on the outside. Most star systems do not.
  • All planets in our solar system orbits in the same direction as the rotation of the sun. Some systems have Hot Jupiters orbiting in the opposite direction which would endanger the stability of orbits in the habitable zone
  • Hot Jupiters, regardless if they orbit in the opposite direction or not are dangerous. 1% of star systems have  a Hot Jupiter.
  • Our solar system is structured and relatively stable, many are full of “violence and drama”
  • Planets usually have elliptical orbits (which could bring them in and out of the habitable zone regularly. Whereas our solar system’s planets have relatively circular orbits
  • Our solar system received a blast of material from a nearby supernova in its very early formation period, enriching it with beneficial materials.
  • Our planets are far enough away from each other that they don’t dramatically influence their orbits
  • Changes in the initial conditions of our solar system formation could have easily led to chaos, or absence of complex life
  • Jupiter has been beneficial for earth, but only in the context of stable orbits

#7 Our planet is uniquely hospitable to technological life, but if initial conditions were slightly different it may not be.

  • We have a relatively low amount of carbon on earth. Most stars with planets have a higher carbon to oxygen ratio.
  • Carbon dominated planets would be built out of carbon materials like graphite on the outer surface and diamond in the centre. The atmosphere would not sustain O2 like on earth, the little oxygen available would form carbon monoxide and methane. The oceans and lakes would be filled with tar
  • We have tectonic plate activity that is rare and essential for life
  • We have a magnetic shield that is rare and essential for life
  • Similar planets to ours are dead – just look at Mars and Venus. So, just because planets are “earth-like” does not mean that they are alive, let alone have complex or technological life
  • We have a very unique moon, without which we would be doomed. The creation of the moon was the same event that led to plate tectonics.
  • The moon does and did produce three critically important things for technological life on earth: tides, planetary tilt and plate tectonics.

#8 The evolution of the Eukaryotic cell was a rare event.

  • The evolution of the eukaryotic cell was an extremely unique event, taking over two billion years to achieve

#9 The evolution of complex life was an extremely rare event.

  • It took an enormous amount of time for simple life to become complex (almost 3.5 billion years)
  • This indicates that evolving complex life is a very long process, as life must slowly compile and gain the required adaptations to do so in the right environments

#10 The evolution of complex life does not guarantee that a technological civilization will emerge.

  • Complex life emerged out of the Cambrian explosion, but that is not the only scenario that could have played out
  • If different kinds of complex life emerged, there is no guarantee that they could accommodate complex structures within their interiors
  • Evolution is not goal oriented, so technological civilization is no guarantee even with complex life and an accommodating planet
  • Any change in the condition of earth during our evolutionary history could have produced radically different lineages
  • Mass extinction events play a critical role in evolution. Slight variations in timing and circumstance could have produced radically different lifeforms, and we would not be here

#10 Human level intelligence is rare, even in the context of complex life

  • Human-level intelligence is rare on earth, and would not have necessarily happened if conditions varied even slightly

#11 There are several looming existential threats to humanity. Some cannot be avoided.

  • Even in our uniquely accommodating solar system, there are several immediately concerning (today to a couple thousand years) existential threats that challenge our long-term sustainability as a technological civilization.
    • Global Warming
    • Ocean Acidification
    • Asteroid impacts
  • There are many existential threats that can and/or will destroy life on earth from
    • Earth will be burned up by the sun
    • Data suggests that a “kill-all-life-on-earth” event should occur roughly once every two-billion years or so. We are overdue for one, and should consider ourselves very lucky.
    • We are on a collision course with several other solar systems, and about to enter a galactic spiral arm.

#12 There is likely no second chances for evolution to produce another technological civilization on earth if we are wiped out.

  • If we are wiped out – earth does not have a second chance to evolve technological life
  • It may not be possible without huge reserves of fossil fuels and accessible ores.
  • We depleted these resources dramatically. To make them accessible again would take billions of years, that the earth does not have.

Conclusion

The last note from the author addresses the Fermi Paradox by stating that technological civilizations are not here in the Milky Way. The reason why we are here, is that a string of highly improbable events occurred, so rare that the probability that other technological civilizations exist in the Milky Way Galaxy at the exact same moment in time as us, is extremely small. Thus “We are alone, and we better get used to it”.

What are your thoughts on the Fermi Paradox? Do you agree with John Gribbin’s argument? Or are you more optimistic? I sure thought it was a fun exercise. But I am more curious to learn about what your thoughts are. If you have any thoughts, ideas, or opinions, please share them in the comment section below. I am sure it will create an interesting dialogue.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like or subscribe. You can also follow me on twitter @interestpeaks. Please stay tuned! In my next post, where I will break down the premises of John Gribbin’s argument in more detail.

Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet is Unique – Book Review

Book Review by Cory Davis

This is a book review of author John Gribbin’s “Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet is Unique” (2011) published by John Wiley & Sons Inc. out of Hoboken, New Jersey, originally published by Penguin Books Ltd. In Great Britain.

4/5

“Alone in the Universe  will make for interesting conversations and leave you awake at night pondering our fragile existence and place in the cosmos.”

Alone in the Universe -- Why Our Planet Is Unique.jpg
Alone in the Universe by John Gribbin Book Cover

About the Author

John Gribbon is a visiting fellow in astronomy at the University of Sussex, UK with a PhD in Astrophysics, M.Sc. in Astronomy and B.Sc. in Physics. Notably, John Gribbin worked as a research student for Fred Hoyle, a famous scientist known for developing the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis and opposition of the big bang, in favour of the steady state model.

However, he is most well known for being a science communicator who wrote many books including “Before the Big Bang”, “In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality”, and “Richard Feynman: A Life of Science”.

What the Book is About

First and foremost, “Alone in the Universe” is not an argument that we are literally alone in the universe. It is an argument that we are alone as a technological civilization in the Milky Way Galaxy. It answers the Fermi Paradox, which is essentially, if technological civilizations are common, then “Where are they?”. Perhaps using Occam’s Razor, the most-simplest explanation is that technological civilizations are not common, and they are not here.

Along the same vein as “Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe” By Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee, this book explores the conditions and series of events that made complex life possible here on earth, and the many possible ways it could have gone sideways if it occurred slightly differently.

Indeed, the universe is a violent inhospitable place for life, and even more so for complex life. The series of events that led to the fragile state of conditions we currently inhabit were very unlikely. Earth could have easily turned out differently. If we ran the clock back and changed the initial conditions only slightly, we may not be here today to talk about it.

The book is structured into eight chapters. The first chapter felt like an argument that life is common. He does this throughout the book, giving the reader support for an opposing view, before arguing against it. The second chapter is about the Milky Way Galaxy and its habitability. He does go beyond the Milky Way at times, noting that not all galaxies are habitable. Just based on metallicity alone, we can conclude that most galaxies are not very accommodating to technological life. The third chapter talks about the stars and their influence on life in worlds that orbit them. The fourth chapter focusses on factors that influence the habitability of solar systems, such as orbits and the influence of large Jupiter-like planets in different locations within them. The fifth chapter is dedicated to the conditions of earth such as plate tectonics and how they influence habitability making comparisons to other planets such as Venus and Mars. The sixth and seventh chapters are dedicated to evolution, highlighting the fact that it is not goal-oriented (intelligent technological life is not a goal of evolution), rather it is a series of adaptations to changing environmental conditions, which vary over time differently in various locations on earth. Here, the author also highlights the several unlikely events throughout our evolutionary history that led to complex life. The last chapter focusses on us as a technological civilization, why it is a unique feature and the possibility of it occurring again.

All eight chapters support the final conclusion: that we are alone in the galaxy. Not that technological life never existed before in the galaxy, or that it won’t happen again sometime in the future. He is not arguing that we are alone in the universe. He is arguing that in the short sliver of time that we exist, it is highly improbable that another technological civilization inhabits the Milky Way at this particular moment.

What I Liked About the Book

Alone in the Universe communicates science in an easily digestible way. It outlines a suite of scientific information to provide context to the inferences used to establish the premises of the author’s argument.

The argument itself is thorough. From the chemical structure of the galaxy, planetary orbits, rotation, and tilt, to the evolutionary circumstances that resulted in our civilization, orientated in the vast expanse of time, it is clear to see that complex, technological life like ours is relatively rare.

There were many moments throughout the book where my mind was racing. Excited, I stayed up at night pondering our existence and what earth would be like if pivotal moments in our evolutionary or cosmic history went slightly different. This is why I gave this book such a high rating. It was fun and it engaged the reader, giving me lots to think about.

Whether you agree with the conclusion or not, that we are alone in the Milky Way Galaxy as a technological civilization, the argument itself makes for a fun thought experiment that will fuel interesting conversations on topic.

Alone in the Universe makes for an excellent addition to the Fermi-Paradox and Rare Earth Hypothesis compendium, putting forth an argument for why it may be the case that intelligent life in the universe is exceedingly rare.

What I Disliked About the Book

The argument itself was not summed up in an easily accessible way. After reading the book, I will have to go back through all my notes to summarize the argument. The end of the book does not do this for you, which was disappointing. After getting through the whole book, it just would have been really nice to sum it up in a one-or-two-page reflection piece to really hit the message home.  

The introduction was initially bland. It talked generally about the milky way, how big it is, how many stars there are and so forth. It talked about the observable universe and how many galaxies there are, how many light years accross it is, etc. He states that we can see a diameter of 27 light years or so, because the universe is about 13.8 billion light years old. I was getting bored because this is old news. However, those new to the topic, could find it to be a feature, rather than a bore.

As I kept reading though, I started to find gems of knowledge that were new to me. For example, did you know that the first direct evidence that planets form out of clouds of debris was around a pulsar? Pulsars form from stars much larger than the sun who go supernova. Some of these stars, if they are big enough, form black holes. But if not, they can form pulsars, neutron stars or possibly other exotic forms such as quark-stars. Apparently, some planets cannot survive a supernova, the event is much too violent. However, researchers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail of Penn State University found planets orbiting a pulsar that could not possibly have survived a supernova. Therefore, the planets were formed out of the material discharged from the supernova explosion. My mind is blown.

There were a couple times I was lost in the book, having to re-read paragraphs to try to understand what he was saying or why it supports his argument. This mostly occurred in the last few chapters, where the material became a little more complex.

The book is structured well, but it did not come together for me in the end.  My four main criticisms are a follows:

  1. I would have appreciated a diagram or summary of the argument. Each chapter was like a premise leading the reader toward a conclusion. The end of the book does not summarize the argument for you. You need to take notes and formulate his argument yourself.
  2. Some of the premises did not necessarily lead to the conclusion as there are still so many unknown variables. All in all, it was a strong argument, but the conclusion was extreme. I think a fairer conclusion would have been “therefore, the probability that more than one technological civilization exists in the Milky Way Galaxy at this precise moment in time is very low”, rather than “we are (authoritatively and definitively) alone in the Milky Way Galaxy”.
  3. The book was not written very purposefully. I understand that the purpose is to argue that we are alone in the galaxy, but why is this important? He indicates that the earth is fragile so we should probably take care of it, but is this why he wrote the book? That is not clear. In my opinion, the book should have had one final chapter, that sums up the argument and outlines why we should care. What is the agenda? Should we defund SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence)? Should we save the planet? Does the conclusion that life is rare indicate some kind of greater responsibility for humanity? What is the point of this book and why is it important? I would have appreciated some ending that drove the message home.
  4. The conclusion is not that we are “Alone in the Universe”, it is that we are alone in the Milky Way Galaxy. He makes this clear when you read the book, but the cover is dishonest, like a catchy title to lure the reader in.

For the above four reasons, my rating was reduced from 5 stars to 4 stars.

Conclusion

I really enjoyed reading this book and recommend it to anyone curious about the subject, especially for those who hold opposing views. If anything, it will inform you of the other side to an argument that you may not have heard explained in depth before. Enter it with an open mind, make notes and develop a more substantiated opinion of the topic, even if you don’t reach the same conclusion. Alone in the Universe  will make for interesting conversations and leave you awake at night pondering our fragile existence and place in the cosmos.

If you are curious about life in the universe, and our place within it, then this is a must read. But this is not the only book I would recommend on the subject. Below are some books and audiobooks that I thoroughly enjoyed on the topic and would recommend to anyone who is interested in no particular order:

  1. Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe by Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee
  2. Lucky Planet by David Waltham
  3. The Eerie Silence by Paul Davies
  4. Aliens: The Worlds Leading Scientists on the Search for Extraterrestrial Life by Jim Al-Khalili
  5. The Contact Paradox: Challenging Our Assumptions About the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
  6. The Copernican Complex: Our Cosmic Significance in a Universe of Planets and Possibilities by Caleb Scharf
  7. Goldilocks and the Water Bears by Louisa Preston
  8. Light of the Stars by Adam Frank
  9. Confessions of an Alien Hunter: A Scientist’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence by Seth Shostak
  10. All These Worlds Are Yours: The Scientific Search for Extraterrestrial Life by John Willis
  11. Extraterrestrial Intelligence by Jean Heidmann

If you would like me to revisit any of these for a review or breakdown, please let me know in the comment section below.

Thank you so much for reading my review for Alone in the Universe by John Gribbin. I found this material super interesting. But I am more interested to hear your thoughts and opinions. If you have any thoughts about life in the universe, or comments about this book, please share them below. I promise to read them, and am sure they will make for interesting dialogue.

If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like or subscribe. You can also follow me on twitter @interestpeaks. Please stay tuned! In my next post, where I will break down the author’s argument for why we are alone in the Milky Way Galaxy.