Saturday, January 20, 2018


Indra. Note Ganesha the Elephant God in the bottom part. It's such an exhilarating image. Imagine if instead of the crucifix we had a dancing god.



hangs a curtain of pearls
threaded with infinite skill:
each pearl reflects every other pearl,
suspended in the moon gleam.

We too are interlaced
more than we dare believe.
We dream of heaven
because we have known hell. 

My mother, already unconscious,
lifted her arm and reached out
as if to lace her hand with the hand
of someone waiting on the other side.

Then she went into that love.

~ Oriana

I knew that gesture so well. My parents used to hike a lot. My father would be the first one to cross a stream, then wait for my mother to catch up. Then he’d stretch out his arm to her, and she’d take his hand before crossing.


The poem that opens this week's blog is exquisite — that interlaced "curtain of pearls" self reflective, that hand reaching for the other hand, with such confidence, such love — a gesture at once intimate and universal.


Yes, the trust that your partner will always “be there for you” — based on decades being there for each other. To me, barring something extreme, marriage is a non-abandonment contract.


If I imagine a  dancing god we couldn't have Christianity.


Definitely a radically different Christianity (if it would even exist) with a dancing Jesus. A celebration of this life, not its rejection.

(A shameless digression:

“It’s telling that the emblem of Allah is the lunar crescent. This clearly points to his pagan origins as the moon god, the chief god of the Quraish, Muhammad’s tribe (a god who by the way had three daughters before Muhammad canceled their existence). The Black Stone of the Kaaba (possibly a meteorite) is still the sacred object in Mecca, receiving veneration. The names Yahweh and Elohim, used thousands of times in the OT, never occur in the Koran. The bible mentions Jerusalem, “the city of David,” 800 times; the Koran, not even once.”)

~ “Did a secret society bring about the French Revolution? In the classic fictional version of this widely believed conspiracy theory, Alexandre Dumas’s novel “Joseph Balsamo,” a Masonic society known as the Illuminati gather in a ruined castle in 1770 and plot the overthrow of the French monarchy. Their leader, called the “Great Copt,” speaks of the day when “the monarchy is dead…religious domination is despised…social inferiority is extinguished.”

Dumas would have found a great deal to appreciate in Jonathan Israel’s Revolutionary Ideas. Israel, a much-respected professor of history at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, does not present the French Revolution of 1789 as the result of a literal conspiracy. But he repeatedly characterizes it as the work of a “small minority” or “unrepresentative fringe” of disaffected Frenchmen who, in his view, consciously and deliberately sought to bring about the greatest political upheaval the Western world had ever seen. Israel does not contend that they belonged to a secret society. But he does argue that they shared a common creed, which they acted deliberately to realize. It is very much the same creed outlined by the Great Copt, although Israel would add sexual and racial inequality to the list of injustices his heroes sought to overthrow.

Rising literacy rates, declining patterns of religious observance, and a consumer revolution that put books within the reach of millions do not concern him. He takes no interest in the common people’s culture, and never considers the possibility that they might have conceived and articulated revolutionary political ideas on their own. “Most ordinary folks did not read their books and would have scarcely understood them had they tried.” . . . Only ideas matter for understanding how the Revolution came about, and what course it took. A particular set of ideas was its “sole fundamental cause,” and conflicts over these ideas drove it forward.

The proponents of “radical Enlightenment” were not only atheists, but also democrats, social egalitarians, feminists, advocates of complete religious toleration, and even, for the most adventurous among them, believers in sexual toleration . . . ideas in clandestine books and pamphlets, mostly printed in the Netherlands, that subsequently reached a wide European audience.

But history does not have the neatness, or the moral clarity, of conspiracy fiction. There was no Great Copt plotting out the events of the French Revolution and driving it forward. And, alas, there was no unified, coherent radical Enlightenment either — at least not as Jonathan Israel has imagined it.” ~


Interesting that the struggle of Enlightenment, the foundation of modern democracy and egalitarianism, is far from over . . . Ideas can be very powerful, but there was also the rising price of bread. Still, I appreciated the reminder that the Netherlands played an important role as the country of tolerance and printing presses that spread the forbidden Enlightenment ideas. It’s not the Revolution I admire (and especially not the Reign of Terror), but the visionary minds that dared imagine a different social order.

And the ideas lived on, though the opposition to them is still fierce (note our “culture wars”), even murderous (ISIS and other terrorists). As Sam Harris says, this is the great story of our time. Will the guiding idea, the idea of human rights, prevail once and for all? We still can't be sure, though there has been steady progress — with vehement authoritarian backlash always on its heels.


The idea of a secret society of “Illuminati” determining the movement of history seems to me one of a kind with the “Great Men” theory and even the “Ancient Aliens” theory. If we can’t have a god, or gods responsible for everything, then it must be great ideas, or great men, or the Masons, or the Priory of Sion, or some other secret cabal, including meddlers from outer space.

Yes, as human beings, we anthropomorphize, we see agency everywhere, and we tell ourselves and each other stories generated by that inclination. A lot of this kind of thinking seems to me essentially backward — that great men (or supernatural beings, or wise and powerful aliens) are behind the curtain, like the Wizard of Oz, pulling the strings, creating history — rather than seeing that it is history that creates exceptional men and exceptional ideas. Revolutionary ideas arise when the time is ripe for them, and usually appear in more than one place, in more than one imagination, whether those ideas are social, political, scientific or practical.

Notions of conspiracy and control in the hands of a few secret “actors” must assume passivity, incapacity, inertia, in all the rest of us. This kind of thinking follows the pattern of patriarchy,  paternalism, religion, and the forms of hierarchies wherever they are found. “Secret Movers” are only necessary if you assume most everyone is incapable of original thought and self determination. Sheep in need of a shepherd, wayward, clueless, lost.


And it’s usually only in retrospect that we even notice which ideas and individuals stand out as visionary. As a side note, Tolstoy tried to combat the “great men” idea of history. It’s indeed easy to imagine that under different circumstances Napoleon would have become a minor novelist and Hitler a minor landscape painter. Jefferson would have bequeathed us nothing more than Monticello.

I’ve taken the liberty of putting in bold your excellent statement that was first hinted at by Shakespeare: Ripeness is all.

The Death of Marat, David, 1793

VIA NEGATIVA TO HAPPINESS (or at least contentment)

~ “British journalist Oliver Burkeman is the author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking. He believes that the negative path is the one, if not to happiness, then to fulfillment. His brilliant analysis of what’s wrong with that “happiness industry” shows the limitations of spending your mental energy on such staples of the self-help guides as positive imagery, getting yourself motivated(!!!), and dousing your mind of all thoughts that you could possibly fail at your life’s most cherished goals.

On the contrary, he advises thinking about the some of the very worst outcomes you could possibly imagine, including your own demise. Instead of trying to rid your mind of all negative imagery, he advocates embracing it, watching the negative thoughts drift in and out of your consciousness without trying to drown them out.

Burkeman strips his message down to its roots in Stoic philosophy which, as he argues, forms the basis for modern cognitive behavioral therapy. By this he means that the Stoics of ancient Greece believed that our emotions are determined by our judgments—or, as Hamlet said, “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” An event, in and of itself, has no emotional meaning. It’s what we make of it that determines how we feel. Stoics could observe events without judging their inherent goodness or badness and, as a result, accept these experiences on their own terms. Things happen and it’s up to us to decide how to interpret what these things mean and how they ultimately will affect us.” ~

A little more on the via negativa to happiness:

~ "Here's the word that will change your life," Schuller tells his audience. After a dramatic pause he yells out, "Cut! … Cut the word 'impossible' from your life.... Cut it out forever!"

A few months later Schuller, the ringmaster of this failure-is-not-an-option lovefest, declares his Crystal Cathedral bankrupt.

Accept the idea that you will inevitably die. Learn to celebrate your failures. See the wisdom in your pessimistic thoughts. Burkeman writes that "the effort to try and feel happy is often precisely the thing that makes us miserable." He argues that "it is our constant efforts to eliminate the negative — insecurity, uncertainty, failure, or sadness — that is what causes us to feel so insecure, anxious, uncertain, or unhappy."

Using the example of the disasters that have befallen many who have tried to climb Mt. Everest — the ultimate type-A personality goal — Burkeman shows persuasively that "goal setting" as a path to success is a fallacy.

Countless books relate the triumphs of the adventurers and the corporate executives who set ambitious goals for themselves — and who take risks in the relentless pursuit of those goals. What those books don't tell us is that the leaders responsible for the world's most spectacular failures possess exactly the same qualities. It's a simple insight, but a powerful one.” ~

(Alas, the link has expired, but I'm pretty sure that the author is Susan Krauss Whitbourne, who frequently posts in Psychology Today and Huffington Post)


Yes, the Mt. Everest trail is by now strewn with the frozen corpses of extremely motivated people who refused to “think negative.”

It took me a long time to find out that, except for short-term goals, I change too fast and know too little to "visualize an ideal future self," as so many self-help books recommend. My vision of my future self at 22 was as a psychology professor! Good grief! (I was beginning to discover myself as a writer as an undergraduate, but got discouraged by a person I mistook for a mentor; I became a poet and writer only in my mid-thirties.)

At this point I am very aware that “the stage of life rules.” At the very least, it’s enormously important. The future that stretches ahead when we are in our twenties begins to shrink . . .  until it’s no longer pleasant to contemplate any future self. Of course later life is no longer as dismal as presented by Shakespeare in the famous “Seven Ages of Man” speech in As You Like It. And yet . . . friends now tell me that the fastest way to get themselves depressed is to think ten years ahead. Past a certain age you don’t dare do that. “At my age, you don’t even buy green bananas,” Maggie Smith says in “The Best Marigold Hotel.”

But the paradox is that without those fantasies about the radiant future, life actually gets better. The whole world becomes enlivened as we pay attention to what IS, not what should be. By letting go, not trying to manipulate things but just letting them be, we discover how endlessly surprising and interesting reality actually is.


There is something so false, so saccharine,  and so misleading in the “happiness” and “self help”  industries, which are also very judgmental and prescriptive, urging constant “positivity” while we feed ourselves rich meals of “high self esteem.” When I hear someone repeating these directives I want to shake some sense into them. Everyone is NOT a winner, and if you insist everyone is, the word means nothing. Insisting on feeding self esteem is insisting on delusion, and abandoning any effort to grow and improve, certainly any effort to master something. It can only produce self-involved mediocrity.

“Happiness” as a lifetime goal is itself problematic. What do you want to be happy about? Projection into the future is always chancy and if you hang everything on achieving your own projections you will most likely be severely disappointed — and will have missed everything going on in the present, all the small steps on your way. Ultimately I think happiness actually comes in embracing and paying mind to the present, being in the process as it is occurring, not focusing always ahead to some ideal endpoint far in the future.


That’s apparently why older people are happier than the young. Society tends to force young people to be always “planning for the future.” Everything is supposed to be a stepping stone to some grand goal. Past a certain age, nothing is a stepping stone to anything anymore, so you relax and start enjoying life at long last. I have a friend past ninety, in poor health, who nevertheless is enjoying life as never before — a terrific inspiration.

In any case, we need to redefine happiness and “success.” Sometimes I wish those terms would just disappear — they have caused to much misery (even suicide) because people see themselves as failures by completely crazy standards.



~ “In his most famous essay, “The Myth of Sisyphus,” Camus made the point that Sisyphus stands for all humanity, ceaselessly pushing our rock up a steep hill, only to have it roll back down again. Over and over, ceaselessly, remorselessly, always striving but never succeeding, if only because ultimately everyone dies and his or her personal boulder rolls back down. Gravity always wins.

Camus nonetheless concludes his essay with the stunning announcement that “One must imagine Sisyphus happy,” because he accepts this reality, defining himself—achieving meaning—within its constraints. Camus’ stance is that meaning is not conveyed by life itself but must be imposed upon it.

Camus is the existential thinker most associated with the “life is absurd” characterization of the human condition. Often misunderstood, he felt that this absurdity didn’t reside in life itself, but in something uniquely human, namely the peculiar relationship (which he called a “divorce”) between the human need for ultimate meaning and the “unreasonable silence” of the world. For Camus, neither human existence nor the universe is inherently absurd, but rather the relationship between the two, whereby people seek something of the universe that it fails to deliver.

"The greatest mystery," according to André Malraux, whose work Camus greatly admired, "is not that we have been flung at random among the profusion of the earth and the galaxy of the stars, but that in this prison we can fashion images of ourselves sufficiently powerful to deny our nothingness.” Denying our nothingness isn’t what Camus proposed; rather, he urged something closer to accepting our nothingness and pushing on nonetheless, achieving meaning via meaningful behavior, even though—or rather, especially because—in the long run any action is meaningless.

Probably the greatest such account of people achieving meaning through their deeds is found in Camus’ novel The Plague, which describes events in the Algerian city of Oran during a typhoid epidemic.” ~

Titian: Sisyphus

One of the nurse’s aides I had in the hospital said, “I was a lobotomist in Kentucky for 16 years.” ~ “You were no such thing,” I began to explain, but she interrupted, “I didn’t do anything disgusting, like remove blood from dead people.” 



Stewart Guthrie cites our tendency to see faces and face-like patterns everywhere as an example of interpreting sense data in ways that are relevant to survival. For early humans — as well as modern ones — the most important elements in the environment have tended to be other humans. Other humans are where we get our resources, knowledge, care, affection, vital information, and most other goods. They’re also the sources of most significant threats: physical aggression, social ostracism, bullying, and competition. So it makes sense for our brains to be finely tuned to over-perceive human agents in our environment.

For Guthrie, “perceptual uncertainty is chronic.” That is, it’s hard to always know for certain what we’re seeing or experiencing, and even harder to know what might be causing that experience; our senses are unreliable, and our ability to tell causal stories about the world even more so. This unreliability, combined with our human-oriented social brains, leads us to err on the side of perceiving events as having been caused by humans or human-like agents: the leaves didn’t move because of the wind, but because someone moved them.

Plenty of research over the past decades has suggested that humans are intuitive mind/body dualists, sensing at a gut level that our minds are somehow separate from, and independent of, our bodies. Guthrie’s not talking here about metaphysical, Cartesian-style dualism; instead, he’s referencing our general tendency to feel that emotions, inner states, dreams, and so forth belong to our “minds,” while physical sensations and actions belong to our bodies. This mind-body dualism allows us to perceive minds in places where there are no bodies: for example, in wind that blows our hats off, or in the gurgling of water in a stream.

Finally, our minds are constantly making the anthropomorphic equivalent of Pascal’s wager: “betting” that it’s most worthwhile to use models of human agency in interpreting perceptions. If we’re wrong, we don’t lose much: a moment of distraction. But if we’re wrong in the other direction, we stand to lose a lot: we could get ambushed, killed, or excluded from social relationships. So when choosing which models to apply to our perceptual experience, we tend to err on the side of choosing the model labeled “human mind.”

Guthrie’s model, when added up, presents a picture of humans as intelligent, socially aware animals whose evolutionary history has pressured us to be hyperalert to signals of agency and intelligence in our environment. Since we’re intuitive dualists, this intelligence doesn’t always have to be connected to a body, which means our minds are free to detect agency in the shapes of clouds, in meaningful coincidences, and in experiences we interpret as answered prayers. Together, these proclivities lay the cognitive foundation for the universal human tendency to believe in gods and spirits – the core of religion, according to most cognitive scientists of religion.

An interesting consequence of Guthrie’s theory — which in the years since 1993 has become almost universally accepted among CSR researchers — is that it may help explain why there’s such an overlap between the autism spectrum and irreligion. People with autism-spectrum disorders are generally less socially oriented than neurotypicals, and tend to be poor with social cues, body language, and imagining others’ mental states. Such people are also often less interested in imaginative play or storytelling as children than their peers. Together, these traits make it unsurprising that autistics tend to anthropomorphize less than neurotypicals.

On the other hand, many autistics are high systemizers, showing interest in impersonal systems with regular, predictable features. Interestingly, there’s evidence to suggest that the networks of the brain that underlie systemizing thought are distinct from, and may even inhibit, those that drive social cognition. Guthrie points out that the brain’s so-called “default mode network” is likely oriented toward social events and relationships. The fact that dozens of brain-imaging studies have found this network to light up when subjects had no tasks to attend to implies that, whenever humans aren’t actively engaged in a focused task, they tend to revert to daydreaming about what matters most: other humans. (Anecdotal corroboration: this is certainly true for me, for example when I win my recent arguments in the shower.)

So if some people tend to be higher systemizers, and to use social cognition less than most folks, then according to Guthrie’s theory you’d expect such people to be less likely to anthropomorphize, and therefore be less religious than average.* And, in fact, this is exactly what studies have found: people on the autism spectrum tend to be less religious than normal.

The fact remains that individualism and low levels of interest in personal relationships are two of the best predictors of religious nonbelief. So Guthrie’s theory may not be all-encompassing, but it certainly sheds light on many of the basic features of the religious landscape. Religion may not be exclusively social. It may not be solely our brains’ tendency to anthropomorphize reality. But there is something deeply social and anthropomorphic about much of what we call “religion,” and Guthrie’s lifetime of work forces us to take that fact seriously.


The broader pattern here is that we have evolved to see patterns even where there are none, to connect the dots. For instance, the belief in cosmic justice (“the just universe”) is our default setting — it takes skeptical thinking to see randomness and coincidences.

It takes a cognitive effort to see that much depends on mere chance, though we can make the best of it. And we can still reject an immoral, outdated religion, and venture to find and/or create our own journey.

For me the article becomes more interesting in the second part, when it gets to autism and individualism being associated with less religiosity. The third trait is being male. Men tend to be less religious — this was found already in surveys going back to the 1930. However, women who work outside the home are more similar to men in that they are less interested in religion.

At the same time, science has chipped away at the anthropomorphizing of nature by supplying natural explanations for various natural phenomena. Thus, we know that storms and earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are not caused by angry deities that need to be appeased by animal or human sacrifice and/or rituals and prayers. It’s not witches or demons that make us sick or sour the milk.

Finally, technology and medicine have made us feel less helpless. When we are sick, we are hoping for the most competent physician, not the most pious one.

The irony here is that the less we need religion, the better we understand why our ancestors did. In my childhood I was puzzled why the most devout churchgoers were elderly women. Now it seems pretty obvious.

But it still seems puzzling that a do-nothing god, a god that can’t even say Hi, is constantly being asked for complicated favors that would violate the laws of physics on behalf of a single "undeserving" (you need to appear "humble" while asking) individual.

Doré: Beatrice gives Dante a tour of heaven


~ “I drove around some PA farm country yesterday. Don Draper could have been born in any of the houses—“I’m a whore child, ain’t you heard?”—and people actually still talk like his family did. You hear them talking at restaurants etc. “Communists do have souls, but they can’t get into heaven.” Who can’t get into heaven is a big topic around here. Sometimes I get why dumb hipster kids want to wear pro-Soviet T-shirts—especially if they live in a place like this.” ~ RLB (I have a reason for using only the initials, but would rather not go into it).

Oriana: “Who can’t get into heaven is a big topic around here.” Some hold the view that cats can’t, but “good dogs” can. Alas, this is just the type of discussion that religion tends to generate — all tangled up in unreality, absurdity, and judgmentalism.

By the way, I have nothing against Pennsylvania per se; a scenic state, a lovely place to visit. Besides, as someone said to me, “As you get deeper into inland California, believe me, it’s not that different from rural Alabama.” I have indeed spent some time in inland California, as well as in Arkansas — and while Arkansas, with its tent revivals, still struck me as being ahead in fundamentalism, I know the basic truth of that statement. 

Pennsylvania, stone bridge over the Susquehanna; Kerry Shawn Keys

~ “Damage from extreme weather events during 2017 racked up the biggest-ever bills for the U.S. Most of these events involved conditions that align intuitively with global warming: heat records, drought, wildfires, coastal flooding, hurricane damage and heavy rainfall.

Paradoxical, though, are possible ties between climate change and the recent spate of frigid weeks in eastern North America. A very new and “hot topic” in climate change research is the notion that rapid warming and wholesale melting of the Arctic may be playing a role in causing persistent cold spells.

It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to suppose that losing half the Arctic sea-ice cover in only 30 years might be wreaking havoc with the weather, but exactly how is not yet clear. As a research atmospheric scientist, I study how warming in the Arctic is affecting temperature regions around the world. Can we say changes to the Arctic driven by global warming have had a role in the freakish winter weather North America has experienced?

Weird and destructive weather was in the news almost constantly during 2017, and 2018 seems to be following the same script. Most U.S. Easterners shivered their way through the end of 2017 into the New Year, while Westerners longed for rain to dampen parched soils and extinguish wildfires. Blizzards have plagued the Eastern Seaboard — notably the “bomb cyclone” storm on Jan. 4, 2018 – while California’s Sierra Nevada stand nearly bare of snow.

This story is becoming a familiar one, as similar conditions have played out in four of the past five winters. A warm, dry western North America occurring in combination with a cold, snowy east is not unusual, but the prevalence and persistence of this pattern in recent years have piqued the interest of climate researchers.

The jet stream – a fast, upper-level river of wind that encircles the Northern Hemisphere – plays a critical role. When the jet stream swoops far north and south in a big wave, extreme conditions can result. During the past few weeks, a big swing northward, forming what’s called a “ridge” of persistent atmospheric pressure, persisted off the West Coast along with a deep southward dip, or a “trough,” over the East.

New terms have been coined to describe these stubborn features: “The North American Winter Temperature Dipole,” the “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge” over the West, and the “Terribly Tenacious Trough” in the East.

Regardless what it’s called, this dipole pattern – abnormally high temperatures over much of the West along with chilly conditions in the East – has dominated North American weather in four of the past five winters. January 2017 was a stark exception, when a strong El Niño flipped the ridge-trough pattern, dumping record-breaking rain and snowpack on California while the east enjoyed a mild month.

Two other important features are conspicuous in the dipole temperature pattern: extremely warm temperatures in the Arctic near Alaska and warm ocean temperatures in the eastern Pacific. Several new studies point to these “ingredients” as key to the recent years with a persistent dipole.

The new twist in this story is that the Arctic has been warming at at least double the pace of the rest of the globe, meaning that the difference in temperature between the Arctic and areas farther south has been shrinking. This matters because the north/south temperature difference is one of the main drivers of the jet stream. The jet stream creates the high- and low-pressure systems that dictate our blue skies and storminess while also steering them. Anything that affects the jet stream will also affect our weather.

When ocean temperatures off the West Coast of North America are warmer than normal, as they have been most of the time since winter 2013, the jet stream tends to form a ridge of high pressure along the West Coast, causing storms to be diverted away from California and leaving much of the West high and dry.

If these warm ocean temperatures occur in combination with abnormally warm conditions near Alaska, the extra heat from the Arctic can intensify the ridge, causing it to reach farther northward, become more persistent, and pump even more heat into the region near Alaska. And in recent years, Alaska has experienced periods of record warm temperatures, owing in part to reduced sea ice.

My colleagues and I have called this combination of natural and climate change-related effects “It Takes Two to Tango,” a concept that may help explain the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge observed frequently since 2013. Several new studies support this human-caused boost of a natural pattern, though controversy still exists regarding the mechanisms linking rapid Arctic warming with weather patterns farther south in the mid-latitudes.

More extreme weather ahead?

In response to the strengthened western ridge of atmospheric pressure, the winds of the jet stream usually also form a deeper, stronger trough downstream. Deep troughs act like an open refrigerator door, allowing frigid Arctic air to plunge southward, bringing misery to areas ill-prepared to handle it. Snowstorms in Texas, ice storms in Georgia and chilly snowbirds in Florida can all be blamed on the Terribly Tenacious Trough of December 2017 and January 2018.

Adding icing on the cake is the tendency for so-called “nor’easters,” such as the “bomb cyclone” that struck on Jan. 4, to form along the East Coast when the trough’s southwest winds align along the Atlantic Seaboard. The resulting intense contrast in temperature between the cold land and Gulf Stream-warmed ocean provides the fuel for these ferocious storms.

The big question is whether climate change will make dipole patterns — along with their attendant tendencies to produce extreme weather — more common in the future. The answer is yes and no.

It is widely expected that global warming will produce fewer low-temperature records, a tendency already observed. But it may also be true that cold spells will become more persistent as dipole patterns intensify, a tendency that also seems to be occurring.” ~

IS THERE A PERFECT DIET? (especially during the flu-and-cold season?)

~ "All healthy persons are alike; each unhealthy person is unhealthy in his own way."

If Tolstoy were a diet-and-health blogger, this might be how he would begin.

What differs among the animals is the composition of the digestive tract. Animals have evolved digestive tracts and livers to transform diverse food inputs into the uniform set of nutrients that all need. Herbivores have foregut organs such as rumens or hindgut chambers for fermenting carbohydrates, turning them into fats and volatile acids that can be used to manufacture fats. Carnivores have livers capable of turning protein into glucose and fat.

If diets differ because of digestive tract differences, we should expect the same pattern to recur in humans. All humans have the same nutrient needs, but our optimal food intake may vary if our digestive tracts differ.

In fact there is evidence for variations in digestive tract structure among human populations. The blogger Melissa McEwen has summarized evidence that some populations have slightly larger colons, suggesting a slightly more plant-focused diet, and others have slightly smaller colons, suggesting a more animal-focused diet.

Longer colons allow more fermentation of plant fiber, but they don't dramatically change macronutrient ratios of the diet. Across human populations, the optimal human diet probably doesn't vary in any macronutrient by more than 5% of energy or so.

So there is little support for a "blood type diet" or "metabolic type" with significantly different food needs. All healthy people can and should eat a similar diet - one that approximates to our body's nutrient needs.

Each Unhealthy Person is Unhealthy in his Own Way

People who are malnourished will benefit from getting more of the things they are malnourished in, and perhaps less of others which balance those - as reducing zinc may help someone who is copper deficient, or reducing omega-6 fats may help someone who is omega-3 deficient. People exposed to toxins may benefit from an extra dose of toxin-metabolizing nutrients. People with infections may benefit from diets which starve pathogens of needed nutrients, or which support immune function. People with gut dysbioses may benefit from removing or reducing whole classes of foods - starches, fructose, FODMAPs, fiber, even protein.

Infections can make a big difference in the optimal diet. Ketogenic diets, which starve the brain of glucose but feed it with small molecules derived from fats, are highly effective against bacterial infections of the central nervous system, since bacteria depend on glucose metabolism. But hepatitis B and C viruses can utilize the process of gluconeogenesis—manufacture of glucose from protein—for their own benefit, so people with hepatitis benefit from higher carb diets.

Other pathologies disrupt the ability to handle certain nutrients. Diabetes is characterized by an inability to secrete insulin, and diabetics usually benefit from low-carb diets. Migraines, like epilepsy, may be caused by genetic or other impairments to brain glucose metabolism, and can often be cured by ketogenic diets, as several of our readers have discovered.

With ill health, the optimal diet often changes. Sick people often have to tweak their diet, and the nature of the change varies with the nature of the pathology.

Ketogenic diets are therapeutic for bacterial and viral infections, but can feed protozoa, fungi, and worms (which have mitochondria and can metabolize ketones). Response to a ketogenic diet can help expose the nature of an infectious pathogen.

Because neurons are dependent on glucose or ketones for energy, any pathology which disrupts glucose utilization will cause neuronal starvation, and neurological and psychological distress, which can be relieved by provision of ketones. A well-designed, nourishing ketogenic diet may often ameliorate psychiatric and neurologic disorders.

Dietary tactics can help prevent as well as treat disease. For instance, fasting upregulates autophagy ("self-eating"), the cellular mechanism for recycling damaged or unnecessary components. But autophagy is a central part of the innate immune system; it is how cells destroy invading microbes. Intermittent fasting as a regular practice helps keep the body infection-free, and during intracellular infections refraining from food is often a helpful strategy.

There is no one diet that is perfect for everyone, but that is mainly because not everyone is healthy.” ~


I suspect that clearing out infections is only part of the story. Clearing out incipient cancer cells may be even more important. The improvement in my health when I severely reduced carbs was astonishing. (Warning: you can gain weight on an excessively high-protein diet because it’s child’s play for the liver to convert protein to glucose. Atkins didn’t seem sufficiently aware of it, though he did recommend mostly fats for those who were “weight-loss resistant”.)

Re: dysbioses (think: “irritable bowel” or “leaky gut”). From Dr. Steven Gundry I learned why whole grains used to make me so sick — lectins! Most of them can be destroyed by pressure-cooking, but not the most dangerous lectins, which are found in whole grains (have you ever wondered why Asians thrive on WHITE rice? Lectins are concentrated in the husk). NSAIDs such as ibuprofen also damage the intestines — you will not see a warning anywhere on the label.

Feeding your resistant starch-loving microbiome is ultimately more tricky than feeding yourself.

By the way, ketogenic diet is an opportunity to experience the benefits of “good fats” — olive oil, avocado (a great source of potassium, by the way), fatty fish. Eliminate all sweet fruit — it can make a very nice difference in how fast your health will improve and how much weight you’ll lose (if your main goal is weight loss). 

Finally, the older you get, the more your blood sugar and insulin tend to rise — even if you are not diabetic. Ketogenic diet simulates fasting and calorie restriction — two ancient practices that have been vindicated in modern times as effective for maintaining good health and sharp mind well into old age. 


Yes, we were warned for so long to avoid all fats, esp. the bad ones in meat, milk, eggs, butter. When Joe had his bypass surgery I changed our diet in the recommended ways — he was never overweight but his arteries were very badly occluded. Now the prescriptions have been set on their heads again. I tend to be as skeptical of dietary claims as I am of new pharmaceuticals. In both cases I tend not to accept anything drastic, or anything that claims to be an ultimate solution to a complex problem. Last year's new miracle drugs  too often become this year's lawsuits.


Your caution is certainly understandable: everything we were told was bad for us is now supposedly good for us, including butter — in moderation, of course, and preferably from grass-fed cows — then it’s a health food, providing intestine-nourishing short-chain fatty acids and muscle-developing CLA (those interested, please google). I try to be skeptical as well, having been badly burned by my miserable vegetarian experience. How I wish I simply tried to stick to the way my grandmother ate! The wisdom of tradition.

(By the way, on my first trip back to Poland I was struck by the fresh, rosy skin of my butter-eating relatives, even those in their seventies. Alas, at the time they were being heavily propagandized to switch to margarine — that was before the findings about the increased rates of heart disease and cancer in margarine eaters. Need I mention fresh-from-the-farm eggs, cream, and sour cream? Or the home-made pickles and sauerkraut? I don’t think those days are ever coming back again — except that small towns have not abandoned their little gardens and those wonderful pickling jars on the windowsills.)

But there are some very interesting studies of the ketogenic diet (we have to recognize that there is the “bad keto” (heavy on bacon) and the “good keto” (heavy on avocado, olives, and olive oil).  The discovery about keto and epilepsy goes back to 1921, and that’s pretty startling right there . . . though of course humans knew for thousands of years that fasting (or intermittent fasting) — and keto basically imitates the physiology of fasting — cured or controlled all kinds of conditions. Now we’re just beginning to understand why.

But as with everything, we have to watch out against going to crazy extremes and listen to our bodies.

avocado flower opening

ending on beauty:


No longer prefect, this isn’t home anymore.
I planted day lilies and cassia for nothing.

Cassia renowned for enticing us to stay on,
day-lilies never making it sorrow forgotten:

they are a far cry from this riverside moon,
come lingering out farewell step after after.

~ Po Chu-i, tr David Hinton

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