Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The surface and the depths

On a superficial level the question I've been exploring here and in my book is: Is natural good? There are some people who tend to believe that what is natural is healthy, and there are just as many of their opposites who are inclined to believe whatever carries any mark of its natural origin is dangerous. For some the fish lifted moments ago from a lake is more wholesome than anything you could buy in a grocery store. For others, it is suspect, uncontrolled and unsanctioned by food-safety authorities. Getting beyond the gut reaction and sorting out the facts is fascinating to me and I think people who read the book will find it entertaining, I only call this stuff superficial because I think there's a deeper, more important level.
To start out, the question as I've just framed it (Is natural good?) presupposes a yes or no answer. But nature is wholesome, nurturing, and abundant at the same time that it is deadly. And the deeper problem has to do with that frame of mind that crosses its arms and says: "Well, which is it? It has to be one or the other." The people drawn to this binary distinction are the most extreme. They are the folks that take a wheelbarrow-load of herbs every day so that they will never die and they are also the people who demand surgery early and often in the vain hope that technical intervention will allow them to live, if not forever, at least until the next surgery can be arranged. These extremes--though at opposite poles when it comes to what they believe in--are strikingly similar in how they go about their lives.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Cholesterol (orange) buried within the transparent protein, including interaction with a lipid in the membrane (cyan). Credit: Grace Brannigan and Jerome Henin, University of Pennsylvania

In a good article on the confusion over cholesterol, Johan Lehrer gets at tendency to assume that when we have a lot of detailed information about something we understand it. We have wheelbarrows of data on cholesterol, but have almost no idea how its related to heart disease. Lerher writes: