Thursday, November 10, 2011

Nature



Alright, so post number three. I'm trying to keep this up at the very least in the aims of monetizing it which would be such a blessing in so many different ways. As always, there is a quantity versus quality debate with the nagging question of can you have both? So I'm gonna try to bust out a post, negating the quality but aiming towards becoming more comfortable writing drivel that my two readers will read with a faint glimmer of monetization. Sorry, I've gotten to the point now where I say things and I don't even know if they're meant to be sarcastic. I mean, it would be sort of sell outey if I tried to make a profit of this maybe, but my moral fiber isn't that strong and money is somewhat tight right now and thats what things are about.

I will also add that my blogs will often be negative, dark and stormy (like the drink). This if for me too. But I will try to be proactive and at least plagiarize solutions from others and call them my own to give a postive twist to things.

So I live in a city. Well Boston to be precise. Where I live in Boston I greatly enjoy largely due to the amount of green space that is currently present. Here this will give things away more. Needless to say, I am a few minutes away from a slightly lucious pond, a delightful park, an arboretum, an audubon sanctuary, two green way thingys and a buffet of community gardens. This I find great and I'll elaborate on why this natural presense is crucial and makes me a little bit less dead.
Biophilia is a term brought up by certain researchers. I believe E. O. Wilson came up with this theory. The idea to me is that we have an innate connection to nature (especially diverse nature) as that is the environment we evolved in. Most of our human history has developed in the natural world (with plants and stuff) rather then a world like Central Square in Cambridge. Certain aspect of our behavior, our genetic makeup are still adapted to that world and thus we have this biophilia (any philia term skeeves me out real good to be pretty honest and thus think E.O. Wilson failed us in this). So we have a strong connection to a diverse natural world. Which are you more attracted to actually: this or this! (Or this)

I'll often use the phrase (whever I can really) "from an evolutionary standpoint" after having read a couple books by Steven Pinker who is just great. His big argument in my most favorite book of his (of the two I've read), the Blank Slate, is really defending this idea of a human nature, and stating that it's actually a good thing that we have a set of complex and evolved behaviors. Our evolved  nature has allowed us to develop traits that have aided and still continue to help us survive in many crucial ways. We might find animals neat because they were a source of food (he might not have said this all this is probably me and probably wrong). We find small animals gross and disgusting sometimes because it was risky for our ancestors to eat them as it wasn't much food gained for the potential risk of getting sick. I read the book awhile ago and can't provide too many more examples. Evolutionary psychology and biology is a bit dangerous too as one can get too ahead of themselves in saying things like "From an evolutionary standpoint grilled cheeses are tasty to us because they remind us of our mother's milk..." as I often like to do. Also the methodology has always interested me. How would you gather evidence for backing some idea when the evidence is completely extinct? Anyways, the main point in my sharing of these ideas is that as humans, I certainly buy into the idea that we have "nature" to us, sets of behaviors, physical charactersitcs, traits, adaptations etc. that have evolved over the course of our history which mostly took place in the non-person-made world. Anyways.

Gardner, who championed the idea of multiple intelligences added a naturalistic intelligence that went along with these skills. It invovled the ability to recognize and interpret the natural world around us; to be able to keenly see something that might be camoflauged or hidden or to be able to differntiate between the minutia of two types of plants. So I don't know how this elaborates, but theres another guy who believed in our natural affiliation to nature and I had to learn about him at different points and maybe he's legit. I always think he's neat and stuff.
A lot of us our fat too, and fat is something to be sensitive about and hopefully have a war against as well as we need more wars on different things and it makes it sound like we mean buisness good when we've declared war. This is a horrible transition but a transition none-the-less. Richard Louve writes a book that was intended to alarm america about our disconnect from nature (Nature Deficit Disorder) and that's one of the reasons we're so fat! He argues (and he has a website with a domain name that is his personal name so we know he means buisness!) that the current disconnect is due to obvious ways with things like deforestation, but also partially due to the hypersensitivity of our culture and the need to always protect our kids kind of extremely (which I mocked in an earlier passage but was guilty of probably today and many other days really :-(. We're too scared to let our kids go off. We also have TV. We also sometimes try to overschedule our kids through everything and yea, they don't have time to play, to be kids with the outdoors and each other and that this is really bad. Heres what someone else thought about it or something.

He goes on to say, this nature deficit leads to obesity, but also childhood depression and attentional issues. He doesn't have as much research to back this up but has interesting examples and anecdotes (I might be wrong about this but I'm not sure if I care). He goes on to talk about the learning that occurs when kids play in the woods. The guy loves tree-houses and I would learn a lot building one apparently. I can't however. Partially I would somehow set the tree ablaze and mess up the pH of the soil, but there is too much lawsuit potential and legal mumbo jumbo that prohibit kids from doing these types of things now-a-days.

The guy ranted a bit. I was bored at points reading this, but with my attentional deficit that might have been partially caused by a nature deficit, this is logical. I generally buy into this or at least have forgotten and misconstrued what the main points of this were. I do think there is a general disconnect from nature and from one another that has terrible consequences for all of us. Kids can be kind of miserable now but often not always too. There is stuff missing, play is important and I feel outside, self-directed play by kids (esp with peers has decreased). What do I know though. I did babysit for some kids which largely involved being the person that picked them up from afterschool and took them to karate, basketball, chess, dance and piano (all true). We also like to get rid of recess real good sometimes.

There is not quite enough initiative that I see in our behavior any more (Ask a generation Y person to change a lightbulb, see what happens... ok they probably could do that). When we go to college we're called emerging adults. If we had more time, pressure and the opportunity during our development to direct more of our own activty and develop a sense initiative then we would be less worthless sooner as a generation. This ties in to the pervading structurization of our lives and the barriers put up to accessing our world of play, peers and nature as a kid. There is plenty of attentional deficit issues to go around and yea, there is plent of fat and depression.


My point of view is what often counts in life is positive experiences with other people, health, growth, learning new skills, accomplishments/ and or adventures, altruism, a developing understanding and learning of phenomena... This all counts to me (and is vague enough semantically where I can say that everyone aggrees). Nature counts a lot. We can see a patch of woods, even less then an acre, and it's just a patch of woods. However, if we look closer we can notice the differences in some of the plants. We can notice the shape, structure and patterns of one type of plant. We can be curious. Why is the leaf pattern different in these plants? Which plant will live longer?

Ok, I'll admit. I'm bored by the idea of this but do actually enjoy checking out the vegetation. The outdoors can provide an immense amount of joy, comfort and imspiration to all of us. It has done so for thousands of years. The more you get into things the less life sucks and nature is one of the best things to get into. We're damaging ourselves when we create more then needed barriers to us and the natural world (You do need a house, I know).

We should be at the point where we realize that in spite of all of our progress, we are part of the natural world. We are dependent on/ affected by the natural resources of our planet (oil, copper and maybe zinc), it's cycles, it's geography and we have limits that are influenced by it. We do need to ensure that we sustain the natural world which we are dependent on for so many of our needs. We need a healthy planet. For us a species moreso then anyone else. From my view if we establish a connection to the natural world, we'll be happier and in doing so will want to do more to make sure it's still there. The more awareness we have of something (a group of people, a language, or a place) the more of a connection we generally have to it unless it's negative, like you were bitten by a viper or something.

Take this one to the bank... They might charge you for having to hold it as it's so volatile...

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11 comments:

humoshi said...

Sitting here in the dark on this dreary morning, I feel oddly compelled to post a comment.

While I personally agree, from a biophilic standpoint, that everybody should be more interested and engaged in the natural world, is this any different than someone who likes video games thinking everyone would be better off if they played Zelda: Ocarina of Time (answer: they would be)?

I just can't help but feel like a smug douche bag when I try to pretend that my personal preferences for nature should be universally adhered to by all. While I may personally like to spend hours of my time identifying Galinsoga, Siebold's Viburnum, Mock Orange Tree, and Phellinus robinea, a part of me can imagine someone who might not be particularly impressed with how I spend my free time.

Also, with regard to obesity, I suggest you read Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes, or at least read free articles and blogs at his website http://garytaubes.com/.

The entire premise is that the obesity research community has been stuck in an erroneous paradigm for 30 odd years, and this has greatly hindered there ability to explain and treat obesity, as well as its correlates such as hypertension, coronary heart disease, and diabetes.

The paradigm they are stuck in is the calories-in-calories-out= change in weight, i.e., you gain weight because you are gluttonous and slothful. The corollary to this is that the only way to lose weight is move around a little more and eat a little less. Despite millions of dollars spend trying to prove this to be true, the evidence is remarkably in the negative that obese people need to just move around a little more and eat a little less.

So here's the reason the calories equation is wrong: it doesn't have an arrow of causality built into it. For example, as you grew from a baby to an adult, you probably doubled your weight 4 times, putting on around 160 pounds. During these formative years, you were taking in more calories than you were expending; is it therefore reasonable to conclude that you grew because you had a perverse appetite and a proclivity to sit around on your ass all day? Of course not, you grew because growth hormones dictated that energy be allocated to your bones and muscles and you ate and rested more to compensate.

If this is true for vertical growth, then why not for the horizontal growth of the adipose tissue?

Also, do you know what evidence Gardner gives to support his "Natural Intelligence?" Also, did you hear about his new discovery of "Existential Intelligence?" Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight...

-Justin Collinger

DefEnjoyment said...

Thanks for the post Justin and I'll attempt to offer some coherent retort. But I am thankful for this second comment and something that nicely picks apart lots of crap I rant about incoherently. Let me see if I can prop anything back up.

Well as for being smug and doushy... I am constantly guilty of thinking my personal preferences are universal. Like you (in our succulent field of outdoor ed) I have a proclivity to the outside world. I am not as delirious about my mushroom I.D., but I do enjoy differentiating between various amphibians at a vernal pool.
So I don't think most people "should" necessarily do what we do in terms of our engagement with the outdoors and Biophilia. But I think there is enough evidence out there that people get some natural enjoyment and health benefits from exposure to nature. It could be a short walks in the woods, an office space that overlooks a scenic plot or vista, dogs and their ability to improve depression and/or continuous authors who've espoused that the natural world around them has served as a source of "inspiration". Access and exposure to nature helps us.

DefEnjoyment said...

Look here I guess:
http://www.childrenandnature.org/news/detail/study_finds_access_to_nature_increases_longevity
http://www.portlandonline.com/shared/cfm/image.cfm?id=112733
In terms of your Zelda, it's a bit of similarity. Not everyone would say they would enjoy playing Zelda, but I bet most people would enjoy playing Zelda more than paying their taxes. I bet gamers would like Zelda more then an original mario, just as most people would enjoy ice cream over broccoli, there are aspects of our human nature that makes certain activities fairly enjoyable across most of our species. However, there are certainly significant differences but I don't think as drastically as we think. This isn't to say that most of the human world would like the same things mostly, but there are certain categorical similarities that are put through a lens of culture, place, personality and brought out in certain ways. This is ostentatious to say and flawed.

Most people would enjoy some form of psychological health benefits to some level of exposure to the outdoors and I think it would be in our interest to ensure that the opportunity for this exposure is supported.
I read a little bit of that Taubs cat and its definitely interesting and something that makes sense. I would argue that when I used the term "people are fat", i misspoke a little bit. People can have more physical weight and that's  not necessarily the main problem. The problems is the decline in overall health that is generally associated with that weight gain (but not always as there are contingents of overweight individuals that are in very good health in other ways).

I can totally get that exercise is not as souped up to be in the loss of weight as it's espoused to be. I do, however, think that exercise improves your health when done properly. In terms of cardiovascular productions, in terms of sweating out certain fluids, and in terms of a buildup (in a sustainable way) of muscle tissue that allows more work to be done, exercise has a lot of measurable health benefits that can increase your longevity.

I could see exercise not being that important for weight loss directly. You might lose a bunch through dieting and hitting the gym, but I think, and Taubs might say that you generally gain it back (I don't know if this would be do to some homeostatic principle or just).

 We have become a fatter nation however, I do think there is general evidence outt here for that. I could totally agree that not just the amount, but the type of food is more of a culprit, but I don't think this rules out the need to increase activity (not always specific exercise) in our society. Gyms can be ridiculous. I saw a gym that was marketed for tots once and wanted to vomit my kidney out in disgust. Gyms can involve very boring and pointless activities that aren't fun. But anyways,  I would argue that the sedentarness of our behavior has increased (with the influx of tv, video games, more car reliance) and this is a big factor to weight gain, partially just because it's hard to eat when you are being active and physically moving your body. It's very easy to eat when you're being sedentary. I don't remember if this even begins to connect with what you were saying.

Taubs sounds cool though (though I picture him as being real evil for no valid reason). I the current exercise model is flawed in our country where physical activity can be prescribed and not that sustainable. I totally could see it being the nature of what we eat, and not how much that is the major problem for obesity, but also the general decrease of general physical movement (such as walking, or putting something on a shelf). I do think nature is good for us, but it can be enjoyed in a swath of different ways, unique to each person. What do you think Steven Pinker would say about your query?

humoshi said...

The first study from the Lancet is very weak, and the conclusion definitely doesn't follow from the data. First off, this is a cross-sectional study, which means it is also a correlational study. Correlation does not equal causation; all it can do is suggest the hypothesis that exposure to nature will have measurable health effects. It could equally be that those people who are more active and healthy tend to live near greener spaces. Secondly, as the authors note in the discussion, there are probably a lot of confounding variables which need to be addressed before this correlation can be taken seriously. I wonder sometimes, why do epidemiological studies like this get done in the first place? Who funds them, and who pays for them? Why are authors, supposed scientists, so quick to draw conclusions from such data? Shouldn't the bar be set a little high for a scientific truth claim?

I guess my question is: are the beneficial affects of taking up a nature-oriented hobby better than taking up any sort of hobby? I'm sure most people would enjoy nature if they gave it a try, but I think the same could be said about mostly anything, e.g., sushi, videogames, sports, alcohol, teetotaling, poetry readings, wiring up a house, S&M, etc.

I think I may agree that exercise in general is good for the health, but I think it is misguided when it is recommended as an obesity intervention. For the obese, the biggest problem is their weight; if they can get their weight reduced that will have much greater affects on their health than running everyday. With that in mind, weight reduction should be the primary desire of any intervention. Exercise alone seems to have no affect on weight loss: http://www.cmaj.ca/content/180/7/719.full (note, even though correlation does not equal causation, lack of correlation almost certainly does mean lack of causation. If x then y, no y, then no x. It may even be antagonistic to weight loss when done in conjunction with dieting http://www.nature.com/ijo/journal/v32/n12/full/ijo2008158a.html.

And yes, I can see why some would see Taubes as a bit evil. That said, you must read this article http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/16/magazine/16epidemiology-t.html even though it is quite long. Ever since I started reading Taubes all I can see if junk science and over-extrapolation of data everywhere I look. It's scary.

DefEnjoyment said...

Will comment shortly on your fine retort.

DefEnjoyment said...

So just to reply a bit, the first study you find from the Canadian Medical Association Journal is interesting but doesn't help too much in our debate.

First off: They absolutely say that they is ample evidence to show a link between exercise and overall improved health:

"From a public health perspective, school-based physical activity is important, because of the significant health benefits that have been demonstrated. These include reducing blood pressure,69 increasing lean muscle mass,43 increasing bone mineral density,36,43,44 increasing aerobic capacity41,52 and improving flexibility.52 It is therefore important to promote school-based physical activity for its demonstrated health benefits, even though there is currently no evidence that it is an effective method to reverse the trend of increasing BMI in children. "

The study is also looking at school based interventions. Based on the time and frequency of these intervention I would absolutely be suspect of them reducing my obesity if I were to have it. If I were significantly obese, I would really not want to just rely on my high school gym class as it might only meet a couple times a week for 50 minutes. Probably that 50 minutes would lose 20 - 25 minutes of actual time spent exercising due to instruction, transition, and disruptions. It's important to note that this study emphasizes the roles of exercise.

DefEnjoyment said...

The main important thing to do if very obese to lose weight, but how do we do that? I would love your thoughts. But I don't see how a recommendation for that obese individual to walk 45 minutes for everyday would not yield some significant gains in weight reduction. Obviously there are probably more important variables like the quantity and type of food eaten but walking is great from you from everything I know.

http://www.peecworks.org/PEEC/PEEC_Research/01798C0C-001D0211.1/NEEF%20Childrens%20Health%20FactSheet.pdf

This article has some general recommendations by no means is a home-run for my nature stuff. Note section titled: The Mental and Physical Health Outcomes of ‘Green Exercise’ as it cites a study showing a link in the reduction of blood pressure when viewing an aesthetically pleasing sign which might be one piece of the causality between improved health and exposure to nature.

Anyways, I read the Taubes, and his overall message to be more skeptical is certainly crucial. I liked his recommendations at the end but expected more. What more should we do to improve the quality of public policy and the validity of the evidence it relies on? Research is enormously complex and at certain point one realizes that we will never have a truth shown to us with the utmost metaphysical certainty. We can never be 100% sure of anything in science. The term 'fact' is terrible to be thrown around as there are no pure facts, merely ideas and theories that can be backed up with varying levels of evidence.

Improving the scientific literacy and the level of skepticism has always been an important goal I've heard of in the role of science education. I liked being exposed to the thinking and the critiques Taubes shows but I don't know what to do in the end. Where should we get out information? How should we make all the decisions we need to make during our day to day basis when good research takes so long to do that we can't not do things until we know things are completely empirically sound.

I generally feel that once you build your understanding of the physical, biological and social world around us that you're able to transfer your ideas and knowledge of concepts to knew domains and base decision making on a hunch. I know that bacteria is living, that if I want to kill a lot of it that might be on my shower curtain I can hanging it outside to dry and that process of drying will at least kill a lot of the bacteria and fungus that was on my shower curtain. I do that a lot, extrapolating things. But humans can't wait around for experts to tell us what's safe and unsafe to do in our world and I thus don't know what Taubes would have us do despite all of his insightful critiques. We need to rely on hunches and how do we not rely on evidence that isn't up to par?

humoshi said...

To continue this discussion...

The logic behind exercising to lose weight, which wasn't considered conventional wisdom until the mid twentieth century, is that you will "burn" more calories. The idea is that a person is in conscious control over their body's energy balance and can manipulate by simply moving around a little more. What the CMAJ article showed is that this doesn't work with regard to school-based obesity interventions. That is, they were moving around more than the controls, but there was no significant difference in BMI over time. Now, one could say they weren't moving around enough, but that is an ad hoc assumption, i.e., the logic behind exercising to lose weight does not say there is a minimum amount necessary. The same effect can be seen in other studies, as the recent time article highlights: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1914974,00.html

I'm not claiming that exercise doesn't have some good health benefits. What I am saying is that if you are obese, then obesity is the primary and most important health problem; all other problems are secondary and are probably resulting from whatever is causing the obesity in the first place. Blood pressure, bone mineral density, lean muscle, and flexibility will all improve significantly if the person is able to lose the excess weight. Any intervention that is ineffective or inhibitory with regard to weight loss shouldn't be implemented.

humoshi said...

What to do in a world of incomplete information? Well, that's really up to the individual. I would emphasize that since many of these epidemiological studies are ambiguous and can be used to support many different competing theories, they cannot be used as evidence for any one of them, i.e., they are next to useless when trying to hone in on the "truth" of the matter.

Eventually, though, you have to make a decision on this incomplete information, but how you do that is very personal and subjective, e.g. what evidence do you find compelling? There is no algorithm for drawing conclusions from incomplete data. My objection is when institutions, such as the USDA, AMA, or the NIH for example, try to authoritatively say that their interpretation is the correct one.

I just don't find these nature studies compelling. Many seem methodologically flawed, and the ones that do show improvements seem minor. I guess it just doesn't fit into my worldview or paradigm at this moment, so my mind actively seeks to find faults and reject the information (a good thing in my estimation). For instance, even though blood pressure is reduced in the treadmill study, high blood pressure just one symptom of an underlying metabolic disorder, i.e., glucose intolerance, hyperinsulinemia, insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, etc. I don't think reducing blood pressure is that important if you don't address what caused it in the first place.

I won't go on, but I'd recommend a low carbohydrate diet, specifically sugar and refined carbohydrates. Stanford ATOZ study compared four popular diets and the Atkins one hands down in terms of weight loss and increasing the cardiovascular profile.

Article:
http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/297/9/969.full
Video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eREuZEdMAVo

DefEnjoyment said...

Sorry about the lateness in the reply. I'll do my best to offer a coherent retort, we might have exhausted this issue, but I'll need to think more carefully about your education comment as that one study threw me off some. No worries though.

This is a summary of a number of general health benefits. The main paper doesn't go as much into methodology as you may like, but you can find the studies in the abstract. Regardless, there is a general sense of the restorative benefits to those exposed to nature, whether they are recovering from an injury and are able to view a natural scene, or restoring from mental fatigue, or a receiving treatment for attention deficit issues: http://www.johnvdavis.com/ep/benefits.htm#rel

I think I'm generally in agreement with you in terms of exercise and obesity in some ways. I don't think intense physical exercise is the most effective way to lose weight (though I still, and you still believe in it's benefits for health). I would argue, (as the Time article does somewhat) that continuous low intense exercise is effective for weight loss and that it is extremely important for health. I question a couple of conclusions mentioned in the Times Article.

I could definitely see how exercise stimulates hunger and how your "self-control" can't continuously be exerted. However, there are so many other variables that affect human behavior and ultimately the functioning of our hormones, glands and chemicals that often determine that behavior. I think there would be a number of ways not to "force it" and fight against your hunger, but rather, trick your hunger level. I think there has been research that the volume of food you eat has an impact on your hunger level, somewhat free of caloric intake. So, if you had a lot of light snacks such as those stupid rice cakes and carrots that you could eat, after you went to the gym that would be able to satiate hunger and provide you with needed sustenance. The time of day is important, if you exercise in the morning, I do believe there are metabolic affects that carry over for other meals and I often forget that I've exercised when I work out pretty early which also may affect my hunger.

To sum this up. Exercise does burn calories. That's just physics. You have a hunger response which under many conditions can result, but I think is also affected by many other internal and external variables which have the potential to mediate it's impact. I believe generally that every action has a reaction, there is the opponent process theory that states that most internal states that we feel are accompanied by an opposite state (coming down from a drug crash), but these states can be modified. I generally think the conventional gyms are stupid, but I think when you're exercising in a way that's fun, it does not tax on your self control as much, which the time article didn't get into.

DefEnjoyment said...

I might have mentioned this earlier, but generally as we have all these studies that could be flawed, be able to understand different phenomena to the point where we can transfer information is what is incredibly for us to be able to make informed decisions. We have to be able to think for ourselves and use some "common sense" but that sense is based on forms of principles and experiences that we've ingrained.

Oh lastly, too, if we're thinking of our weight level in some terms of homeostasis, what if we look at it from the other end? If we exercise too much, we'll compensate by eating more, but what if we eat too much for the amount we exercise (which is what I think is very possible). Our world can be very sedentary and we might naturally become hungry when we overexert at the gym, but I don't think we always have an innate urge to move around more when we sit around all day and consume 2800 calories. My guess is this is how a lot of obesity is caused. Definitely the types of food we eat is important, but the general lack of getting or base level of physical movement is important. Some of your studies might have shown enough evidence against this, however.