The Agricultural Mind

Let me make an argument about individualism, rigid egoic boundaries, and hence Jaynesian consciousness. But I’ll come at it from a less typical angle. I’ve been reading much about diet, nutrition, and health. There are significant links between what we eat and so much else: gut health, hormonal regulation, immune system, and neurocognitive functioning. There are multiple pathways, one of which is direct, connecting the gut and the brain. The gut is sometimes called the second brain, but in evolutionary terms it is the first brain. To demonstrate one example of a connection, many are beginning to refer to Alzheimer’s as type 3 diabetes, and dietary interventions have reversed symptoms in clinical studies. Also, microbes and parasites have been shown to influence our neurocognition and psychology, even altering personality traits and behavior (e.g., toxoplasma gondii).

One possibility to consider is the role of exorphins that are addictive and can be blocked in the same way as opioids. Exorphin, in fact, means external morphine-like substance, in the way that endorphin means indwelling morphine-like substance. Exorphins are found in milk and wheat. Milk, in particular, stands out. Even though exorphins are found in other foods, it’s been argued that they are insignificant because they theoretically can’t pass through the gut barrier, much less the blood-brain barrier. Yet exorphins have been measured elsewhere in the human body. One explanation is gut permeability that can be caused by many factors such as stress but also by milk. The purpose of milk is to get nutrients into the calf and this is done by widening the space in gut surface to allow more nutrients through the protective barrier. Exorphins get in as well and create a pleasurable experience to motivate the calf to drink more. Along with exorphins, grains and dairy also contain dopaminergic peptides, and dopamine is the other major addictive substance. It feels good to consume dairy as with wheat, whether you’re a calf or a human, and so one wants more.

Addiction, of food or drugs or anything else, is a powerful force. And it is complex in what it affects, not only physiologically and psychologically but also on a social level. Johann Hari offers a great analysis in Chasing the Scream. He makes the case that addiction is largely about isolation and that the addict is the ultimate individual. It stands out to me that addiction and addictive substances have increased over civilization. Growing of poppies, sugar, etc came later on in civilization, as did the production of beer and wine (by the way, alcohol releases endorphins, sugar causes a serotonin high, and both activate the hedonic pathway). Also, grain and dairy were slow to catch on, as a large part of the diet. Until recent centuries, most populations remained dependent on animal foods, including wild game. Americans, for example, ate large amounts of meat, butter, and lard from the colonial era through the 19th century (see Nina Teicholz, The Big Fat Surprise; passage quoted in full at Malnourished Americans). In 1900, Americans on average were only getting 10% of carbs as part of their diet and sugar was minimal.

Something else to consider is that low-carb diets can alter how the body and brain functions. That is even more true if combined with intermittent fasting and restricted eating times that would have been more common in the past. Taken together, earlier humans would have spent more time in ketosis (fat-burning mode, as opposed to glucose-burning) which dramatically affects human biology. The further one goes back in history the greater amount of time people probably spent in ketosis. One difference with ketosis is cravings and food addictions disappear. It’s a non-addictive or maybe even anti-addictive state of mind. (For more discussion of this topic, see previous posts: Fasting, Calorie Restriction, and Ketosis, Ketogenic Diet and Neurocognitive Health, & Is Ketosis Normal?, “Is keto safe for kids?”.) Many hunter-gatherer tribes can go days without eating and it doesn’t appear to bother them, such as Daniel Everett’s account of the Piraha, and that is typical of ketosis. This was also observed of Mongol warriors who could ride and fight for days on end without tiring or needing to stop for food. What is also different about hunter-gatherers and similar traditional societies is how communal they are or were and how more expansive their identities in belonging to a group. Anthropological research shows how hunter-gatherers often have a sense of personal space that extends into the environment around them. What if that isn’t merely cultural but something to do with how their bodies and brains operate? Maybe diet even plays a role. Hold that thought for a moment.

Now go back to the two staples of the modern diet, grains and dairy. Besides exorphins and dopaminergic substances, they also have high levels of glutamate, as part of gluten and casein respectively. Dr. Katherine Reid is a biochemist whose daughter was diagnosed with autism and it was severe. She went into research mode and experimented with supplementation and then diet. Many things seemed to help, but the greatest result came from restriction of glutamate, a difficult challenge as it is a common food additive (see her TED talk here and another talk here or, for a short and informal video, look here). This requires going on a largely whole foods diet, that is to say eliminating processed foods. But when dealing with a serious issue, it is worth the effort. Dr. Reid’s daughter showed immense improvement to such a degree that she was kicked out of the special needs school. After being on this diet for a while, she socialized and communicated normally like any other child, something she was previously incapable of. Keep in mind that glutamate is necessary as a foundational neurotransmitter in modulating communication between the gut and brain. But typically we only get small amounts of it, as opposed to the large doses found in the modern diet. In response to the TED Talk given by Reid, Georgia Ede commented that it’s, “Unclear if glutamate is main culprit, b/c a) little glutamate crosses blood-brain barrier; b) anything that triggers inflammation/oxidation (i.e. refined carbs) spikes brain glutamate production.” Either way, glutamate plays a powerful role in brain functioning. And no matter the exact line of causation, industrially processed foods in the modern diet would be involved.

Glutamate is also implicated in schizophrenia: “The most intriguing evidence came when the researchers gave germ-free mice fecal transplants from the schizophrenic patients. They found that “the mice behaved in a way that is reminiscent of the behavior of people with schizophrenia,” said Julio Licinio, who co-led the new work with Wong, his research partner and spouse. Mice given fecal transplants from healthy controls behaved normally. “The brains of the animals given microbes from patients with schizophrenia also showed changes in glutamate, a neurotransmitter that is thought to be dysregulated in schizophrenia,” he added. The discovery shows how altering the gut can influence an animals behavior” (Roni Dengler, Researchers Find Further Evidence That Schizophrenia is Connected to Our Guts; reporting on Peng Zheng et al, The gut microbiome from patients with schizophrenia modulates the glutamate-glutamine-GABA cycle and schizophrenia-relevant behaviors in mice, Science Advances journal). And glutamate is involved in other conditions as well, such as in relation to GABA: “But how do microbes in the gut affect [epileptic] seizures that occur in the brain? Researchers found that the microbe-mediated effects of the Ketogenic Diet decreased levels of enzymes required to produce the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. In turn, this increased the relative abundance of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA. Taken together, these results show that the microbe-mediated effects of the Ketogenic Diet have a direct effect on neural activity, further strengthening support for the emerging concept of the ‘gut-brain’ axis.” (Jason Bush, Important Ketogenic Diet Benefit is Dependent on the Gut Microbiome). Glutamate is one neurotransmitter among many that can be affected in a similar manner; e.g., serotonin is also produced in the gut.

That reminds me of propionate, a short chain fatty acid. It is another substance normally taken in at a low level. Certain foods, including grains and dairy, contain it. The problem is that, as a useful preservative, it has been generously added to the food supply. Research on rodents shows injecting them with propionate causes autistic-like behaviors. And other rodent studies show how this stunts learning ability and causes repetitive behavior (both related to the autistic demand for the familiar), as too much propionate entrenches mental patterns through the mechanism that gut microbes use to communicate to the brain how to return to a needed food source. A recent study shows that propionate not only alters brain functioning but brain development (L.S. Abdelli et al, Propionic Acid Induces Gliosis and Neuro-inflammation through Modulation of PTEN/AKT Pathway in Autism Spectrum Disorder). As reported by Suhtling Wong-Vienneau at University of Central Florida, “when fetal-derived neural stem cells are exposed to high levels of Propionic Acid (PPA), an additive commonly found in processed foods, it decreases neuron development” (Processed Foods May Hold Key to Rise in Autism). This study “is the first to discover the molecular link between elevated levels of PPA, proliferation of glial cells, disturbed neural circuitry and autism.” The impact is profound and permanent — Pedersen offers the details:

“In the lab, the scientists discovered that exposing neural stem cells to excessive PPA damages brain cells in several ways: First, the acid disrupts the natural balance between brain cells by reducing the number of neurons and over-producing glial cells. And although glial cells help develop and protect neuron function, too many glia cells disturb connectivity between neurons. They also cause inflammation, which has been noted in the brains of autistic children. In addition, excessive amounts of the acid shorten and damage pathways that neurons use to communicate with the rest of the body. This combination of reduced neurons and damaged pathways hinder the brain’s ability to communicate, resulting in behaviors that are often found in children with autism, including repetitive behavior, mobility issues and inability to interact with others.”

So, the autistic brain develops according to higher levels of propionate and maybe becomes accustomed to it. A state of dysfunction becomes what feels normal. Propionate causes inflammation and, as Dr. Ede points out, “anything that triggers inflammation/oxidation (i.e. refined carbs) spikes brain glutamate production”. High levels of propionate and glutamate become part of the state of mind the autistic becomes identified with. It all links together. Autistics, along with cravings for for foods containing propionate (and glutamate), tend to have larger populations of a particular gut microbe that produces propionate. In killing microbes, this might be why antibiotics can help with autism. But in the case of depression, gut issues are associated instead with the lack of certain microbes that produce butyrate, another important substance that also is found in certain foods (Mireia Valles-Colomer et al, The neuroactive potential of the human gut microbiota in quality of life and depression). Depending on the specific gut dysbiosis, diverse neurocognitive conditions can result. And in affecting the microbiome, changes in autism can be achieved through a ketogenic diet, reducing the microbiome (similar to an antibiotic) — this presumably takes care of the problematic microbes and readjusts the gut from dysbiosis to a healthier balance. Also, ketosis would reduce the inflammation that is associated with glutamate production.

As with propionate, exorphins injected into rats will likewise elicit autistic-like behaviors. By two different pathways, the body produces exorphins and propionate from the consumption of grains and dairy, the former from the breakdown of proteins and the latter produced by gut bacteria in the breakdown of some grains and refined carbohydrates (combined with the propionate used as a food additive; added to other foods as well and also, at least in rodents, artificial sweeteners increase propionate levels). This is part of the explanation for why many autistics have responded well to low-carb ketosis, specifically paleo diets that restrict both wheat and dairy, but ketones themselves play a role in using the same transporters as propionate and so block their buildup in cells and, of course, ketones offer a different energy source for cells as a replacement for glucose which alters how cells function, specifically neurocognitive functioning and its attendant psychological effects.

There are some other factors to consider as well. With agriculture came a diet high in starchy carbohydrates and sugar. This inevitably leads to increased metabolic syndrome, including diabetes. And diabetes in pregnant women is associated with autism and attention deficit disorder in children. “Maternal diabetes, if not well treated, which means hyperglycemia in utero, that increases uterine inflammation, oxidative stress and hypoxia and may alter gene expression,” explained Anny H. Xiang. “This can disrupt fetal brain development, increasing the risk for neural behavior disorders, such as autism” (Maternal HbA1c influences autism risk in offspring). The increase of diabetes, not mere increase of diagnosis, could explain the greater prevalence of autism over time. Grain surpluses only became available in the 1800s, around the time when refined flour and sugar began to become common. It wasn’t until the following century that carbohydrates finally overtook animal foods as the mainstay of the diet, specifically in terms of what is most regularly eaten throughout the day in both meals and snacks — a constant influx of glucose into the system.

A further contributing factor in modern agriculture is that of pesticides, also associated with autism. Consider DDE, a product of DDT, which has been banned for decades but apparently it is still lingering in the environment. “The odds of autism among children were increased, by 32 percent, in mothers whose DDE levels were high (high was, comparatively, 75th percentile or greater),” one study found (Aditi Vyas & Richa Kalra, Long lingering pesticides may increase risk for autism: Study). “Researchers also found,” the article reports, “that the odds of having children on the autism spectrum who also had an intellectual disability were increased more than two-fold when the mother’s DDE levels were high.” A different study showed a broader effect in terms of 11 pesticides still in use:

“They found a 10 percent or more increase in rates of autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, in children whose mothers lived during pregnancy within about a mile and a quarter of a highly sprayed area. The rates varied depending on the specific pesticide sprayed, and glyphosate was associated with a 16 percent increase. Rates of autism spectrum disorders combined with intellectual disability increased by even more, about 30 percent. Exposure after birth, in the first year of life, showed the most dramatic impact, with rates of ASD with intellectual disability increasing by 50 percent on average for children who lived within the mile-and-a-quarter range. Those who lived near glyphosate spraying showed the most increased risk, at 60 percent” (Nicole Ferox, It’s Personal: Pesticide Exposures Come at a Cost).

So far, my focus has been on what we ingest or are otherwise exposed to because of agriculture and the food system, in general and more specifically in industrialized society with its refined, processed, and adulterated foods, largely from plants. But the other side of the picture is what we are lacking, what we are deficient in. An agricultural diet hasn’t only increased certain foods and substances but simultaneously decreased others. What promoted optimal health throughout human evolution has, in many cases, been displaced or blocked. Agriculture has depleted the nutrient-level in the soil and, along with this, even animals as part of the agricultural system (as opposed to pastured or free-range) are similarly depleted of nutrients. For example, fat-soluble vitamins (true vitamin A as retinol, vitamin D3, vitamin K2 not to be confused with K1, and vitamin E complex) are not found in plant foods and are found in far less concentration with foods from animals from factory-farming or from grazing on poor soil from agriculture, especially the threat of erosion and desertification.

One of the biggest changes with agriculture was the decrease of fatty animal foods that were nutrient-dense and nutrient-bioavailable. It’s in the fat that are found the fat-soluble vitamins, and the fat-soluble vitamins relate to almost everything else such as minerals as calcium and magnesium that also are found in animal foods (Calcium: Nutrient Combination and Ratios); the relationship of seafood with sodium, magnesium, and potassium is central (On Salt: Sodium, Trace Minerals, and Electrolytes). These animal foods used to hold the prized position in the human diet and the earlier hominid diet as well, as part of our evolutionary inheritance from millions of years of adaptation to a world where fatty animals once were abundant (J. Tyler Faith, John Rowan & Andrew Du, Early hominins evolved within non-analog ecosystems). That was definitely true in the paleolithic before the megafauna die-off, but even to this day hunter-gatherers when they have access to traditional territory and prey will seek out the fattest animals available, entirely ignoring lean animals because rabbit sickness is worse than hunger (humans can always fast for many days or weeks, if necessary).

It wasn’t only fat-soluble vitamins that were lost, though. Humans traditionally ate nose-to-tail and this brought with it a plethora of nutrients, even some thought of as being only sourced from plant foods (in its raw or lightly cooked form, meat has more than enough vitamin C for a low-carb diet; whereas a high-carb diet, since glucose competes with vitamin C, requires higher intake of this nutrient; see Sailors’ Rations, a High-Carb Diet; also consider that prebiotics can be found in animal foods as well and animal-based prebiotics likely feeds a very different kind of microbiome that could shift so much else in the body, such as neurotransmitter production: “I found this list of prebiotic foods that were non-carbohydrate that included cellulose, cartilage, collagen, fructooligosaccharides, glucosamine, rabbit bone, hair, skin, glucose. There’s a bunch of things that are all — there’s also casein. But these tend to be some of the foods that actually have some of the highest prebiotic content,” from Vanessa Spina as quoted in Fiber or Not: Short-Chain Fatty Acids and the Microbiome). Let me briefly mention fat-soluble vitamins again in making a point about other animal-based nutrients. Fat-soluble vitamins, similar to ketosis and autophagy, have a profound effect on human biological functioning, including that of the mind (see the work of Weston A. Price as discussed in Health From Generation To Generation; also see the work of those described in Physical Health, Mental Health). In many ways, they are closer to hormones than mere nutrients, as they orchestrate entire systems in the body and how other nutrients get used, particularly seen with vitamin K2 that Weston A. Price discovered in calling it “Activator X” (only found in animal and fermented foods, not in whole or industrially-processed plant foods). I bring this up because some other animal-based nutrients play a similar important role. Consider glycine that is the main amino acid in collagen. It is available in connective tissues and can be obtained through soups and broths made from bones, skin, ligaments, cartilage, and tendons. Glycine is right up there with the fat-soluble vitamins in being central to numerous systems, processes, and organs.

As I’ve already discussed glutamate at great length, let me further that discussion by pointing out a key link. “Glycine is found in the spinal cord and brainstem where it acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter via its own system of receptors,” writes Afifah Hamilton. “Glycine receptors are ubiquitous throughout the nervous system and play important roles during brain development. [Ito, 2016] Glycine also interacts with the glutaminergic neurotransmission system via NMDA receptors, where both glycine and glutamate are required, again, chiefly exerting inhibitory effects” (10 Reasons To Supplement With Glycine). Hamilton elucidates the dozens of roles played by this master nutrient and the diverse conditions that follow from its deprivation or insufficiency — it’s implicated in obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, and alcohol use disorder, along with much else such as metabolic syndrome. But it’s being essential to glutamate really stands out for this discussion. “Glutathione is synthesised,” Hamilton further explains, “from the amino acids glutamate, cysteine, and glycine, but studies have shown that the rate of synthesis is primarily determined by levels of glycine in the tissue. If there is insufficient glycine available the glutathione precursor molecules are excreted in the urine. Vegetarians excrete 80% more of these precursors than their omnivore counterparts indicating a more limited ability to complete the synthesis process.” Did you catch what she is saying there? Autistics already have too much glutamate and, if they are deficient in glycine, they won’t be able to convert glutamate into the important glutathione. When the body is overwhelmed with unused glutamate, it does what it can to eliminate them, but when constantly flooded with high-glutamate intake it can’t keep up.

The whole mess of the agricultural diet, specifically in its modern industrialized form, has been a constant onslaught taxing our bodies and minds. And the consequences are worsening with each generation. What stands out to me about autism, in particular, is how isolating it is. The repetitive behavior and focus on objects resonates with extreme addiction. As with other conditions influenced by diet (shizophrenia, ADHD, etc), both autism and addiction block normal human relating in creating an obsessive mindset that, in the most most extreme forms, blocks out all else. I wonder if all of us moderns are simply expressing milder varieties of this biological and neurological phenomenon. And this might be the underpinning of our hyper-individualistic society, with the earliest precursors showing up in the Axial Age following what Julian Jaynes hypothesized as the breakdown of the much more other-oriented bicameral mind. What if our egoic consciousness with its rigid psychological boundaries is the result of our food system, as part of the civilizational project of mass agriculture?

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Mongolian Diet and Fasting:

For anyone who is curious to learn more, the original point of interest for me was a quote by Jack Weatherford in his book Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World: “The Chinese noted with surprise and disgust the ability of the Mongol warriors to survive on little food and water for long periods; according to one, the entire army could camp without a single puff of smoke since they needed no fires to cook. Compared to the Jurched soldiers, the Mongols were much healthier and stronger. The Mongols consumed a steady diet of meat, milk, yogurt, and other diary products, and they fought men who lived on gruel made from various grains. The grain diet of the peasant warriors stunted their bones, rotted their teeth, and left them weak and prone to disease. In contrast, the poorest Mongol soldier ate mostly protein, thereby giving him strong teeth and bones. Unlike the Jurched soldiers, who were dependent on a heavy carbohydrate diet, the Mongols could more easily go a day or two without food.” By the way, that biography was written by an anthropologist who lived among and studied the Mongols for years. It is about the historical Mongols, but filtered through the direct experience of still existing Mongol people who have maintained a traditional diet and lifestyle longer than most other populations. It isn’t only that their diet was ketogenic because of being low-carb but also because it involved fasting.

From Mongolia Volume 1 The Tangut Country, and the Solitudes of Northernin (1876), Nikolaĭ Mikhaĭlovich Przhevalʹskiĭ writes in the second note on p. 65 under the section Calendar and Year-Cycle: “On the New Year’s Day, or White Feast of the Mongols, see ‘Marco Polo’, 2nd ed. i. p. 376-378, and ii. p. 543. The monthly fetival days, properly for the Lamas days of fasting and worship, seem to differ locally. See note in same work, i. p. 224, and on the Year-cycle, i. p. 435.” This is alluded to in another text, in describing that such things as fasting were the norm of that time: “It is well known that both medieval European and traditional Mongolian cultures emphasized the importance of eating and drinking. In premodern societies these activities played a much more significant role in social intercourse as well as in religious rituals (e.g., in sacrificing and fasting) than nowadays” (Antti Ruotsala, Europeans and Mongols in the middle of the thirteenth century, 2001). A science journalist trained in biology, Dyna Rochmyaningsih, also mentions this: “As a spiritual practice, fasting has been employed by many religious groups since ancient times. Historically, ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Babylonians, and Mongolians believed that fasting was a healthy ritual that could detoxify the body and purify the mind” (Fasting and the Human Mind).

Mongol shamans and priests fasted, no different than in so many other religions, but so did other Mongols — more from Przhevalʹskiĭ’s 1876 account showing the standard feast and fast cycle of many traditional ketogenic diets: “The gluttony of this people exceeds all description. A Mongol will eat more than ten pounds of meat at one sitting, but some have been known to devour an average-sized sheep in twenty-four hours! On a journey, when provisions are economized, a leg of mutton is the ordinary daily ration for one man, and although he can live for days without food, yet, when once he gets it, he will eat enough for seven” (see more quoted material in Diet of Mongolia). Fasting was also noted of earlier Mongols, such as Genghis Khan: “In the spring of 2011, Jenghis Khan summoned his fighting forces […] For three days he fasted, neither eating nor drinking, but holding converse with the gods. On the fourth day the Khakan emerged from his tent and announced to the exultant multitude that Heaven had bestowed on him the boon of victory” (Michael Prawdin, The Mongol Empire, 1967). Even before he became Khan, this was his practice as was common among the Mongols, such that it became a communal ritual for the warriors:

“When he was still known as Temujin, without tribe and seeking to retake his kidnapped wife, Genghis Khan went to Burkhan Khaldun to pray. He stripped off his weapons, belt, and hat – the symbols of a man’s power and stature – and bowed to the sun, sky, and mountain, first offering thanks for their constancy and for the people and circumstances that sustained his life. Then, he prayed and fasted, contemplating his situation and formulating a strategy. It was only after days in prayer that he descended from the mountain with a clear purpose and plan that would result in his first victory in battle. When he was elected Khan of Khans, he again retreated into the mountains to seek blessing and guidance. Before every campaign against neighboring tribes and kingdoms, he would spend days in Burhkhan Khandun, fasting and praying. By then, the people of his tribe had joined in on his ritual at the foot of the mountain, waiting his return” (Dr. Hyun Jin Preston Moon, Genghis Khan and His Personal Standard of Leadership).

As an interesting side note, the Mongol population have been studied to some extent in one area of relevance. In Down’s Anomaly (1976), Smith et al writes that, “The initial decrease in the fasting blood sugar was greater than that usually considered normal and the return to fasting blood sugar level was slow. The results suggested increased sensitivity to insulin. Benda reported the initial drop in fating blood sugar to be normal but the absolute blood sugar level after 2 hours was lower for mongols than for controls.” That is probably the result of a traditional low-carb diet that had been maintained continuously since before history. For some further context, I noticed some discusion about the Mongolian keto diet (Reddit, r/keto, TIL that Ghenghis Khan and his Mongol Army ate a mostly keto based diet, consisting of lots of milk and cheese. The Mongols were specially adapted genetically to digest the lactase in milk and this made them easier to feed.) that was inspired by the scientific documentary “The Evolution of Us” (presently available on Netflix and elsewhere).

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3/30/19 – An additional comment: I briefly mentioned sugar, that it causes a serotonin high and activates the hedonic pathway. I also noted that it was late in civilization when sources of sugar were cultivated and, I could add, even later when sugar became cheap enough to be common. Even into the 1800s, sugar was minimal and still often considered more as medicine than food.

To extend this thought, it isn’t only sugar in general but specific forms of it. Fructose, in particular, has become widespread because of United States government subsidizing corn agriculture which has created a greater corn yield that humans can consume. So, what doesn’t get fed to animals or turned into ethanol, mostly is made into high fructose corn syrup and then added into almost every processed food and beverage imaginable.

Fructose is not like other sugars. This was important for early hominid survival and so shaped human evolution. It might have played a role in fasting and feasting. In 100 Million Years of Food, Stephen Le writes that, “Many hypotheses regarding the function of uric acid have been proposed. One suggestion is that uric acid helped our primate ancestors store fat, particularly after eating fruit. It’s true that consumption of fructose induces production of uric acid, and uric acid accentuates the fat-accumulating effects of fructose. Our ancestors, when they stumbled on fruiting trees, could gorge until their fat stores were pleasantly plump and then survive for a few weeks until the next bounty of fruit was available” (p. 42).

That makes sense to me, but he goes on to argue against this possible explanation. “The problem with this theory is that it does not explain why only primates have this peculiar trait of triggering fat storage via uric acid. After all, bears, squirrels, and other mammals store fat without using uric acid as a trigger.” This is where Le’s knowledge is lacking for he never discusses ketosis that has been centrally important for humans unlike other animals. If uric acid increases fat production, that would be helpful for fattening up for the next starvation period when the body returned to ketosis. So, it would be a regular switching back and forth between formation of uric acid that stores fat and formation of ketones that burns fat.

That is fine and dandy under natural conditions. Excess fructose, however, is a whole other matter. It has been strongly associated with metabolic syndrome. One pathway of causation is that increased production of uric acid. This can lead to gout but other things as well. It’s a mixed bag. “While it’s true that higher levels of uric acid have been found to protect against brain damage from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis, high uric acid unfortunately increases the risk of brain stroke and poor brain function” (p. 43).

The potential side effects of uric acid overdose are related to other problems I’ve discussed in relation to the agricultural mind. “A recent study also observed that high uric acid levels are associated with greater excitement-seeking and impulsivity, which the researchers noted may be linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)” (p. 43). The problems of sugar go far beyond mere physical disease. It’s one more factor in the drastic transformation of the human mind.

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4/2/19 – More info: There are certain animal fats, the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, that are essential to human health. These were abundant in the hunter-gatherer diet. But over the history of agriculture, they have become less common.

This is associated with psychiatric disorders and general neurocognitive problems, including those already mentioned above in the post. Agriculture and industrialization have replaced these healthy oils with overly processed oils that are high in linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acids. LA interferes with the body’s use of omega-3 fatty acids.

The loss of healthy animal fats in the diet might be directly related to numerous conditions. “Children who lack DHA are more likely to have increased rates of neurological disorders, in particular attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and autism” (Maria Cross, Why babies need animal fat).

“Biggest dietary change in the last 60 years has been avoidance of animal fat. Coincides with a huge uptick in autism incidence. The human brain is 60 percent fat by weight. Much more investigation needed on correspondence between autism and prenatal/child ingestion of dietary fat.”
~ Brad Lemley

The Brain Needs Animal Fat
by Georgia Ede

Maternal Dietary Fat Intake in Association With Autism Spectrum Disorders
by Kristen Lyall et al

“Maternal intake of fish, a key source of fatty acids, has been investigated in association with child neurodevelopmental outcomes in several studies. […]

“Though speculative at this time, the inverse association seen for those in the highest quartiles of intake of ω-6 fatty acids could be due to biological effects of these fatty acids on brain development. PUFAs have been shown to be important in retinal and brain development in utero (37) and to play roles in signal transduction and gene expression and as components of cell membranes (38, 39). Maternal stores of fatty acids in adipose tissue are utilized by the fetus toward the end of pregnancy and are necessary for the first 2 months of life in a crucial period of development (37). The complex effects of fatty acids on inflammatory markers and immune responses could also mediate an association between PUFA and ASD. Activation of the maternal immune system and maternal immune aberrations have been previously associated with autism (5, 40, 41), and findings suggest that increased interleukin-6 could influence fetal brain development and increase risk of autism and other neuropsychiatric conditions (42–44). Although results for effects of ω-6 intake on interleukin-6 levels are inconsistent (45, 46), maternal immune factors potentially could be affected by PUFA intake (47). […]

“Our results provide preliminary evidence that increased maternal intake of ω-6 fatty acids could reduce risk of offspring ASD and that very low intakes of ω-3 fatty acids and linoleic acid could increase risk.”

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6/13/19 – About the bicameral mind, I saw some other evidence for it in relationship to fasting. In the following quote, it is described that after ten days of fasting ancient humans would experience spirits. One thing for certain is that one can be fully in ketosis in three days. This would be true even if it wasn’t total fasting, as the caloric restriction would achieve the same end.

The author, Michael Carr, doesn’t think fasting was the cause of the spirit visions, but he doesn’t explain the reason(s) for his doubt. There is a long history of fasting used to achieve this intended outcome. If fasting was ineffective for this purpose, why has nearly every known traditional society for millennia used such methods? These people knew what they were doing.

By the way, imbibing alcohol after the fast would really knock someone into an altered state. The body becomes even more sensitive to alcohol when in ketogenic state during fasting. Combine this altered state with ritual, setting, cultural expectation, and archaic authorization. I don’t have any doubt that spirit visions could easily be induced.

Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness
ed. by Marcel Kuijsten
Kindle Location 5699-5718

Chapter 13
The Shi ‘Corpse/ Personator’ Ceremony in Early China
by Michael Carr

“”Ritual Fasts and Spirit Visions in the Liji” 37 examined how the “Record of Rites” describes zhai 齋 ‘ritual fasting’ that supposedly resulted in seeing and hearing the dead. This text describes preparations for an ancestral sacrifice that included divination for a suitable day, ablution, contemplation, and a fasting ritual with seven days of sanzhai 散 齋 ‘relaxed fasting; vegetarian diet; abstinence (esp. from sex, meat, or wine)’ followed by three days of zhizhai 致 齋 ‘strict fasting; diet of grains (esp. gruel) and water’.

“Devoted fasting is inside; relaxed fasting is outside. During fast-days, one thinks about their [the ancestor’s] lifestyle, their jokes, their aspirations, their pleasures, and their affections. [After] fasting three days, then one sees those [spirits] for whom one fasted. On the day of the sacrifice, when one enters the temple, apparently one must see them at the spirit-tablet. When one returns to go out the door [after making sacrifices], solemnly one must hear sounds of their appearance. When one goes out the door and listens, emotionally one must hear sounds of their sighing breath. 38

“This context unequivocally uses biyou 必 有 ‘must be/ have; necessarily/ certainly have’ to describe events within the ancestral temple; the faster 必 有 見 “must have sight of, must see” and 必 有 聞 “must have hearing of, must hear” the deceased parent. Did 10 days of ritual fasting and mournful meditation necessarily cause visions or hallucinations? Perhaps the explanation is extreme or total fasting, except that several Liji passages specifically warn against any excessive fasts that could harm the faster’s health or sense perceptions. 39 Perhaps the explanation is inebriation from drinking sacrificial jiu 酒 ‘( millet) wine; alcohol’ after a 10-day fast. Based on measurements of bronze vessels and another Liji passage describing a shi personator drinking nine cups of wine, 40 York University professor of religious studies Jordan Paper   calculates an alcohol equivalence of “between 5 and 8 bar shots of eighty-proof liquor.” 41 On the other hand, perhaps the best explanation is the bicameral hypothesis, which provides a far wider-reaching rationale for Chinese ritual hallucinations and personation of the dead.”

* * *

7/16/19 – One common explanation for autism is the extreme male brain theory. A recent study may have come up with supporting evidence (Christian Jarrett, Autistic boys and girls found to have “hypermasculinised” faces – supporting the Extreme Male Brain theory). Autistics, including females, tend to have hypermasculinised. This might be caused by greater exposure to testosterone in the womb.

This made my mind immediately wonder how this relates. Changes in diets alter hormonal functioning. Endocrinology, the study of hormones, has been a major part of the diet debate going back to European researchers from earlier last century (as discussed by Gary Taubes). Diet affects hormones and hormones in turn affect diet. But I had something more specific in mind.

What about propionate and glutamate? What might their relationship be to testosterone? In a brief search, I couldn’t find anything about propionate. But I did find some studies related to glutamate. There is an impact on the endocrine system, although these studies weren’t looking at the results in terms of autism specifically or neurocognitive development in general. It points to some possibilities, though.

One could extrapolate from one of these studies that increased glutamate in the pregnant mother’s diet could alter what testosterone does to the developing fetus, in that testosterone increases the toxicity of glutamate which might not be a problem under normal conditions of lower glutamate levels. This would be further exacerbated during breastfeeding and later on when the child began eating the same glutamate-rich diet as the mother.

Testosterone increases neurotoxicity of glutamate in vitro and ischemia-reperfusion injury in an animal model
by Shao-Hua Yang et al

Effect of Monosodium Glutamate on Some Endocrine Functions
by Yonetani Shinobu and Matsuzawa Yoshimasa

35 thoughts on “The Agricultural Mind

    • This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while now. I began making some of the connections around a half year ago.

      There is a longer version of this post I’ve been working on for months and I plan on eventually finishing it, but I won’t get back to it right away. In that longer piece, I offer a lot more data along with quotes and references. It’s one of those doozies I occasionally put out when I get into obsessive mode.

      The reason I put out this short summary is because I came across some new info, about glutamates. I decided to give a basic account of the main evidence. It’s a small taste of what I’ll eventually publish.

    • Ron – I added a section to the end. I was in a debate with George T. Everette Jr. at the Julian Jaynes Facebook group where I shared the link to his post. He was being an asshole and so I had to offer a factual beat down. In doing so, I collected some info on the diet and fasting of Mongols. I decided to share it here, in case anyone else doubts my claims on the particular key point of Mongols and ketosis. For others, here is that Facebook discussion in question:

        • I just don’t get why some people apparently just want to be contrarian. It was weird, that whole ‘debate’. George was arguing against what I considered basic knowledge, that ketosis is a normal part of human biology that now and in the past has been used by numerous societies throughout the world by way of low-carb diet, fasting, etc.

          Even ignoring the ketogenic part, he wouldn’t even agree that fasting was a historically common practice, and he based his argument on the claim that he was an expert as an academic historian. If so, his lack of knowledge in his field of expertise is mind-blowing. I can’t believe that he has read much history without coming across numerous past accounts of fasting.

          I didn’t know for absolutely certain that Mongols had a formal practice of fasting. But I had seen references to their ability to go without food for periods of time, which if nothing else would mean an informal fast. In being familiar with not only historical accounts but also anthropological accounts of other societies, I had no reason to doubt these references about the Mongols. But since I was being challenged on it, I went into full research mode and dredged up specific examples.

          It wasn’t even hard to do. I found all that info in less than an hour, although it took a while to get the specific quotes and references and then write it all up. Still, there is nothing I did there that George or anyone else couldn’t have done with the same effort. And I did it without having to visit a university library, but I could have as I live in a college town. I’m sure I could spend weeks to find hundreds of other pieces of evidence about Mongolian dietary habits.

          Well, I’m glad I was able to make my point and substantiate it with solid evidence. But I must admit recent interactions on the Jaynes Facebook group have put a bad taste in my mouth. I’m not experiencing enough open-minded curiosity there to make it satisfying. It surprises me, as I figured that anyone interested in Jaynes would have to be able to think far outside the box. I guess that isn’t always the case.

          I doubt I’ll be posting there anymore. I’ll stick to my blog where I simply filter out those not interested in dialogue.

        • Here is the amusing part. This post was intentionally simplified. In its original form, I left out any specific reference, quote, link, etc. I wanted to offer the theory in its most barebones form, as a summary and a thought experiment — as an offering to those of a curious bent.

          The reason for that simplification is because I’m in the middle of writing a longer version of this post that might end up being based on hundreds of sources. The above little tidbit I added to my post here was the result of brief research. Imagine what I can accomplish when I’m working on a single post for weeks or months. The final post will be a doozy. And it will go far beyond a limited focus on Mongols.

          When I don’t throw a bunch of info at my readers, they should thank me and not dismiss me as making baseless claims. I don’t lack the capacity to bury people in in info overload. I regularly drown myself in information when I go into obsessive research mode. But I try to spare others this most of the time. I was being nice in offering this simple post.

          It shouldn’t have been taken as a sign of intellectual weakness, like blood in the water. George seems to have thought he was taking on easy prey that he could toy with. It reminds me of a cat I used to have (the ‘Marmalade’ this blog is named after) who, in being a terror in the bunny world, got too cocky. He got seriously messed up one day when he decided to tangle with another variety of small furry cute creature, a squirrel. It turns out that, unlike bunnies, squirrels fight back and they have a hell of a bite.

          Life is full of lessons to be learned.

      • At the Facebook discussion, George finally responded to my intellectual takedown of his argument:

        “Ben, the truth needs few words. A lie needs many. So my answer is short. My original statement was, ” The Mongol warrior did not starve himself on campaign.” Key words, “on campaign.” Some of the Mongols, especially later, were Moslem and it is their religious custom to fast in some parts of the year. But then and now soldiers do not fast while on campaign. This is true of Catholics, who fast, and all other warriors and soldiers. It is a major objective to cut an enemy off from his source of sustenance. Common sense… no research necessary.”

        Here is my response:

        Basically, you’re saying you won’t admit you were wrong, even when the facts contradict your claims. Okay. I’m glad we cleared that up.

        If truth needs few words, why did you use so many words in so many comments? Yes, your argument did include that “the Mongol warrior did not starve himself on campaign.” But this was only one part of multiple claims you made as generalized absolutes about all Mongols and, in one comment, about all “nomadic people”.

        You not only made claims about never fasting “on campaign” which I proved false (since, scientifically speaking, all humans regularly fast) but also more broadly “before, during and […] after their military campaigns”. To state it more strongly, you declared that, “no nomadic people who control adequate grazing land ever is”. Most significantly, you directly made statements that fully conflated fasting, ketosis, and starvation.

        Taken together, this argument is clearly false on several levels. I showed this to be the case with the available evidence in my comments responding to yours. Furthermore, you even contradicted yourself in denying the Mongols ever were in ketosis and then later stating that you “never took issue with the word Ketosis.”

        You didn’t take issue with that word, really? That was a central part of your argument, as you used fasting, ketosis and starvation interchangeably and directly called fasting “mini-starvation” which is scientifically incorrect as I explained that fasting requires no starvation since the body in its healthy state maintains fat and nutrient reserves as part of the evolutionary adaptation to periods without food. I pointed to the historical and anthropological records in support of this, using direct quotes and cited my sources.

        After making the above assertions, you decided to qualify your argument by saying “the Mongols did not fast as long as their horse herds had fodder”, but your original argument made no qualifications. Even going by that added qualification, there had to be times before, during, and after military campaigns when the Mongol’s horses didn’t have fodder, considering they covered diverse territory that wasn’t limited to good grazing land.

        Even so, none of that has anything to do with fasting, ketosis, or starvation. Many traditional people abstain from food even when it is available (from rationing dwindling reserves to following religious fasting or, as with the Piraha, sometimes for no particular reason at all other than maybe demonstrating one’s willpower, strength and masculinity). Besides, ketosis is possible even when large amounts of food are eaten, as long as carbs are limited (Mongols didn’t have their horses pull wagons full of grains, potatoes, or rice).

        Whether or not you make consistent statements, whether or not you stand by your own words, the only debate I could have with you is in going by what you actually wrote in the entire argument you made through all of your comments. I’m simply quoting your own words. Here are the key relevant statements you made across multiple comments:

        “The Mongols were not in ketosis when they were at war.”

        “This is not a slow burn of calories, but high intake. The Mongols were not in ketosis when they were at war. […] They were not in ketosis and no nomadic people who control adequate grazing land ever is.”

        “I never took issue with the word Ketosis, but did with the word “fasting” which is a mini starvation. My military and historical experience tells me that the Mongols did not fast, but eat and drank plentifully while on campaign as long as their horses had fodder and water. […] The Mongols did not “fast” before, during and certainly not after their military campaigns.”

        “My argument was on a narrow point, that the Mongols warriors did not fast.”

        “My challenge remains, the Mongols did not fast as long as their horse herds had fodder.”

        Did you really think you could bluster your way through your argument? Did you not realize I was capable of reading your words and quoting them back to you? Did you assume I would be intimidated by your appeals to your own authority? Did you hope that I couldn’t or wouldn’t be able to do basic research to support all my claims and disprove yours? If so, you were wrong.

    • I noticed that there are more people beginning to think along these lines. I’m seeing it in the Jaynes group as well. And that make me happy. Someone just posted there a link to an article about the connection between the gut and schizophrenia. That is particularly relevant, considering Jaynes discusses schizophrenia. As with autism, also linked to gut conditions, schizophrenia shows alteration in language use.

      It makes me wonder about what were the changes in the food system, diet, microbiome, etc from the late Bronze Age to the Axial Age. One thing that developed was a shift from the small-scale subsistence farming of tiny city-states to the large-scale agriculture with high surplus yields of the vast colonial empires. It was around this time that there are the first recorded accounts of white bread, i.e., refined carbs. Also, this was when alcohol production really took off and became more central to the human diet (alcohol is a way of storing and transporting grains without worry of spoilage). Beyond that, there was a simultaneous cultivation of plant drugs such as poppies, along with sugar cane.

      It really gets you thinking when you consider the possibilities. And recent research is supporting this area of thought. In case you didn’t notice it, here is that recent posting:

  1. The argument in this post is part of a larger argument I’ve been formulating. A key component of it is Julian Jaynes’ linking the rise of authoritarianism with the rise of individualism. Only individuals need or make possible an authoritarian leader to enforce social control. There are other factors as well.

    The first permanent structures and later settlements weren’t built by agriculturalists. Civilization, at this basic level, preceded what we would later come to identify with civilization. Those early hunter-gatherers began settling down out of convenience, such as a plethora of local food sources. The development of agriculture came somewhat by accident, the result of staying in one place long enough. But once it took hold, the population in question eventually became dependent on this new food, although that dependence took millennia to come to our present state of extreme dependence. This happens through what is called path dependence where initial conditions are compounded and so, over time, it becomes ever more difficult to change course.

    What cemented this new agricultural order more than anything was when grain became more central. There is a reason all the greatest empires were built on grain fields, not built on potato patches, fruit groves or cattle ranching. As James C. Scott points out in Against the Grain, there is something unique about grains. They are grown in large fields that are impossible to hide from officials or move to a new location, easy to measure for purposes of legibility, and hence useful for accounting and taxation. These are the characteristics needed for maintaining and funding large, centralized governments. It also might not be accidental that mass agriculture came to focus so much on the foods I describe that have such a powerful impact on neurocognition, psychology, and social relations. Isolated individuals are necessary in this kind of society, but once these individuals are socially constructed it becomes impossible to imagine anything else and, because of path dependence, any attempts at change become almost inevitably doomed to failure.

    The food system tells us a lot about a society. So much comes down to what we eat and how it effects us. It is unsurprising, in a society like ours, to see plutocrats, technocrats, and bureaucrats who wish to impose their views from above. And it is particularly unsurprising that one of their main focuses of social control is by way of controlling the food system, often by controlling the ideological rhetoric of dietary recommendations and edicts (from Food Pyramid to EAT-Lancet). This is how we end up with corporatism/corporatocracy.

  2. Maybe I should mention that, as often is the case, this post has a tinge of the personal to it. I was diagnosed with learning disability as a child, in that my brain didn’t work in the way did the brains of ‘normal’ kids. I knew I wasn’t normal and it also related to behavioral issues. It was frustrating, to say the least, and the adult figures in my life were less than helpful, despite their good intentions.

    This caused major problems in school and early on I developed depression as well, although depression wasn’t diagnosed until after a suicide attempt later on. Since I’ve gained knowledge and perspective with age, I suspect I’m also somewhat on the autism spectrum and so that would have been another undiagnosed issue in childhood, as it was largely unknown back then. It occurs to me now that all of these neurocognitive and behavioral issues might be related, in fact might be symptoms of the same underlying cause of set of contributing factors.

    It isn’t hard for me to make the connection to diet. My mother tried to feed us well, according to what was deemed healthy at the time, but knowledge wasn’t that great. She gave us skim milk, whole wheat bread, and there was a vegetable every night at dinner. Also, she didn’t buy a lot of sugary foods and snack foods, although the house nonetheless was filled with high-carb processed foods, and as I had my own money from a paper route I regularly bought candy and junk food. Looking back, it is obvious I was addicted to carbs and sugar, remaining addicted until finally beginning my struggle with it in my 30s which is long after my brain, nervous system, etc was fully developed.

    Since changing my diet, there has been clear changes in how I feel and my mind functions. It isn’t dramatic but it is undeniable. I just feel better in a general sense. My energy and stamina is greater. My mood is improved without the low periods I used to get. Others have made similar observations about changes with a diet that is some combination of low-carb, wheat-free, dairy-free, and additive-free. In some cases, serious autoimmune and neurocognitive conditions were reversed. This anecdotal evidence appears supported by the scientific evidence going back almost a century. Here is a study done on ketosis back in 1925:

    The Ketogenic Diet In Epilepsy by M. G. Peterman, M.D.

    “The mental development has been normal in all patients, and exceptionally good in seven of the twenty who are now free from attacks. In all the children treated with the ketogenic diet there was a marked change in character, concomitant with the ketosis, a decrease in irritability, and an increased interest and alertness; the children slept better and were more easily disciplined. This action of the diet warrants further study.”

    After drugs were discovered to treat epilepsy and diabetes, almost all research into ketosis ended. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that it regained the attention of scientists.

    • There are other things I could add. In infancy, I had a milk allergy. In kindergarten, I had trouble in school. In 1st grade, I was diagnosed with a learning disability. And in third grade, I wasn’t doing homework also around the time, with my own paper route money to buy my own junk food and candy, that my carb and sugar addiction began. In 5th grade, I got glasses.

      Then in 7th grade, I was severely frustrated and lonely, played hooky for the first time, began seeing a school therapist who blamed me rather than helped me (saw me as an undisciplined recalcitrant bad kid), still wasn’t doing homework that almost led me to flunking out, and was constantly lying (all combined being the first obvious signs of depression). In 11th grade, my art teacher asked if I was depressed, but I said I wasn’t because I didn’t know what depression was. And then a year after high school, I attempted suicide and finally was diagnosed with depression.

      During all that time, starting in childhood, I was always socially oblivious and often content to be by myself. I now suspect mild autism. It would also relate to the learning and school issues. But what if it was also related to diet?

      Even when my mother tried to feed us well, she still gave us a lot high-carb processed foods: commercial wheat breads, instant potatoes, cereal, skim milk (pasteurized, homogenized, depleted of fat-soluble vitamins that can’t be used without fat), etc. As best as my mom tried in her limited knowledge based on bad expert advice and official recommendations, it was a truly horrible diet. Combined with what I was buying as snacks, it would be shocking if I didn’t have major neurocognitive and behavioral issues.

      Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that rates of childhood depression, suicide, and criminality shot up with my generation. And maybe it wasn’t only because lead toxicity had worsened during our childhoods.

  3. I tried to comment on someone’s post elsewhere. But for some reason it wouldn’t work, as there was some problem in the connection to the website — stating that, “This site can’t be reached. The connection was reset.” Obviously, my computer connection is reaching the website, considering the page opened for me and I was able to read it. That is a bit annoying. So, I’ll drop the comment here for the moment and maybe try again later:

    I noticed you linked to my blog. And I’m glad I came over for a visit. This is a thorough piece of writing. I’m impressed and that comes from someone who is fond of writing lengthy posts, often with lots of quotes and references. Theory of mind is a fun topic. But I hadn’t thought about it in terms of recursion. I skimmed through all the parts in this series. I already knew about the recursion issue, largely though not entirely because of the debate between Chomsky and Everett. I must admit that I still struggle with what recursion means and, going by your views, I can see that it goes deep with your bringing in Jaynes.

    About theory of mind, I was amused by your comment on “people-people” (avoiding people who self-identify as such), as opposed to “things-people”. I’m definitely not a things-person, although neither a people-person in the sense you’re using it, but I’m strongly inclined toward empathy and obsession with understanding what makes people tick. I don’t only see and interact with people for I have a tendency to feel people and imaginatively enter into their minds, worldviews, and experience. I may deceive myself about actually understanding others, but at times it can feel like peering into someone’s soul.

    I wasn’t always that way. When younger, I was socially oblivious and maybe mildly autistic, that is to say I had plenty of affective empathy but not so much cognitive empathy. I just didn’t understand people while being quite emotional in reaction, and interestingly I was often asking deep questions about God and such. My mother has this same cognitive empathy deficit. But my mother took a psychology class in college and it left its mark. From childhood on, my mother and I would constantly analyze the minds and motivations of family members. I ended up over-compensating with a highly developed theory of mind that has more than a few levels of recursion. So, I had early intervention, even though I never got an official diagnosis or professional help for autism (as has my niece).

    I know you’ve been to my blog at least on two occasions, since you’ve twice linked to my blog. I presume because of our shared interests you’ve likely read other posts of mine. I have written about theory of mind on many occasions. I’ll link to a couple of posts that bring up a point that has interested me, that theory of mind involves relationship and that would touch upon recursion, as our forming a theory of mind of others loops back into forming a theory of mind about ourselves, and this looping can continue to form ever more complex varieties of theory of mind:

    “Our experience is social at the most fundamental level, a social phenomenon within each person’s body and social connection to the bodies of others. Our embodied selves are shifting realities with blurred boundaries, out of which forms patterns of social order and social identities. As others have argued, we develop a theory of mind within ourselves by first sussing out a theory of mind about others. So, our sense of self is built on our sense of others, which is to say we understand the relationships between experiences within own embodied minds as an inseparable understanding of our relationships with the larger world.”

    “Based on these observations, one provocative claim about the relationships between self-awareness and one’s ability to represent the mental states of other agents (“theory of mind”, as it is called) is thus that theory of mind comes first, as the philosopher Peter Caruthers has defended. That is, it is in virtue of my learning to correctly anticipate the consequences of the actions that dIirect towards other agents that I end up developing models of the internal states of such agents, and it is in virtue of the existence of such models that I become able to gain insight about myself (more specifically: about my self). Thus, by this view, self-awareness, and perhaps subjective experience itself, is a consequence of theory of mind as it develops over extended periods of social intercourse.”

    As with myself, everyone who has theory of mind had to learn it at some point. But people can get along just fine without cognitive empathy. It isn’t a requirement for being human. And one does have to wonder if entire societies could have existed without it this ability. In a small tribe of close kin living a simple existence, I’m not sure that having a complex model of psychology would have immense advantages, maybe instead having disadvantages. Even the early city-states weren’t that far beyond tribes. I don’t have a lot of thoughts about this at the moment, but I enjoyed reading your perspective.

    I was also happy to see you mention, in relation to Jaynes, the dietary angle and specifically bring up ketosis. I’ve written about this in relationship to what I called the “agricultural mind”. The specific period of late Bronze Age and into the Axial Age saw immense changes in larger scale agriculture and increased amount of agricultural foods. In a post, I discuss this along with autism, schizophrenia, and much else:

    “What stands out to me about autism is how isolating it is. The repetitive behavior and focus on objects resonates with extreme addiction. Both conditions block normal human relating and create an obsessive mindset that, in the most most extreme forms, blocks out all else. I wonder if all of us moderns are simply expressing milder varieties of this biological and neurological phenomenon. And this might be the underpinning of our hyper-individualistic society, with the earliest precursors showing up in the Axial Age following what Julian Jaynes hypothesized as the breakdown of the much more other-oriented bicameral mind. What if our egoic individuality is the result of our food system, as part of the civilizational project of mass agriculture?”

  4. Here is another comment I posted elsewhere. I couldn’t tell if it actually posted or not. WordPress is notorious for making comments disappear, sometimes into the trash or spam but sometimes they can’t be found anywhere. Once again, I’ll just leave it here for the time being.

    The simple answer is that bad behavior, like most problems in our society, are not inevitable. Political failure isn’t inevitable. The extremes of poverty aren’t inevitable. Mass incarceration isn’t inevitable. Racism isn’t inevitable.

    As for issues directly to do with education, there are many factors involved, of course. No one doubts that there are behavioral issues aplenty. Why? Some of it could be social or cultural changes, but it is highly unlikely that is most of the explanation. We are living at a time of mass economic and political failure with looming climate crisis. Data shows that nearly half of deaths worldwide are caused by pollution, deaths related to the rapid rise in malnourishment and disease susceptibility.

    All of society, global and local, is under stress. Still, this is is worse in some countries than others. Here is one well-researched area of stress. Increasing inequality has been associated with a wide variety of negative results, from health to behavior. Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson have written about this in a number of books, but the best book on the topic probably is The Broken Ladder by Keith Payne.

    Basically, high inequality creates stress, as it isn’t only inequality of wealth but more importantly inequality of everything: healthcare, political representation, resources, opportunities, incarceration, etc. But as Payne notes, it also creates conditions that feel like poverty, even for those who aren’t poor. The wealthy in high inequality societies also show signs of worsening health and higher mortality than the wealthy in low inequality societies.

    Another factor to consider is diet. The American diet has worsened over time and not because Americans weren’t mostly following official dietary recommendations, as most Americans have been doing what they were told to do: increasing intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and vegetable oils while decreasing intake of red meat and saturated fat. But this has translated to a diet high in cabs and added sugar, it being irrelevant if the grains are called whole, etc.

    There was a study I saw from the early 1900s. They were treating children for diabetes, as I recall. They used a low-carb diet, maybe ketogenic, and it was effective for that purpose. But the researchers noted that an unintended side effect was that the children began behaving better and were more willing to follow directions. This kind of change in psychology has been confirmed in more recent research. Low-carb and ketogenic diets have been used to treat numerous psychiatric and neurocognitive disorders.

    Other research also indicates other factors of the standard American diet (SAD) to be related to psychological and behavioral issues: autism, ADHD, depression, etc. Food additives appear to play a large role. Combined with the problems of a diet high in carbs and sugar, the impact on the human body and mind can be profound.

    A diversity of diseases, physical and mental, have been increasing over the past century or so — actually, the connection of civilization and disease was observed as far back as the 1800s. This includes things like autoimmune disorders and metabolic syndrome (obesity, heart disease, and diabetes) with type 1 diabetes, some having though to have been genetic, now increasing faster than type 2 diabetes. By the way, type 1 diabetes used to be considered adult onset diabetes, but is now increasingly found among children and young adults. Rates of serious conditions like personality disorders and schizophrenia are also on the rise, especially in urban areas for reasons not known, likely related to either stress or toxins (or maybe both).

    Something is going on that touches every aspect of our society. It isn’t only children. and it is far from being limited to mere behavioral issues. The whole of society is under stress from multiple directions. Stress rarely brings out the best in people. In fact, as Keith Payne argues, the data shows it to bring out aggressive and unusual behavior as strange beliefs and short-term thinking becomes predominant.

    The Broken Ladder
    by Keith Payne
    pp. 2-4 (see earlier post)

    “As they discovered, the odds of an air rage incident were almost four times higher in the coach section of a plane with a first-class cabin than in a plane that did not have one. Other factors mattered, too, like flight delays. But the presence of a first-class section raised the chances of a disturbance by the same amount as a nine-and-a-half-hour delay.

    “To test the idea another way, the researchers looked at how the boarding process highlights status differences. Most planes with a first-class cabin board at the front, which forces the coach passengers to trudge down the aisle, dragging their baggage past the well-heeled and the already comfortably seated. But about 15 percent of flights board in the middle or at the back of the plane, which spares the coach passengers this gauntlet. As predicted, air rage was about twice as likely on flights that boarded at the front, raising the chances of an incident by the same amount as waiting out a six-hour delay.

    “This air rage study is revealing, but not just because it illustrates how inequality drives wedges between the haves and the have-nots. What makes it fascinating to me is that incidents of rage take place even when there are no true have-nots on a flight. Since an average economy-class ticket costs several hundred dollars, few genuinely poor people can afford to travel on a modern commercial airplane. Yet even relative differences among the respectable middle-class people flying coach can create conflict and chaos. In fact, the chaos is not limited to coach: First-class flyers in the study were several times more likely to erupt in air rage when they were brought up close and personal with the rabble on front-loading planes. As Ivana Trump’s behavior can attest, when the level of inequality becomes too large to ignore, everyone starts acting strange.

    “But they do not act strange in just any old way. Inequality affects our actions and our feelings in the same systematic, predictable fashion again and again. It makes us shortsighted and prone to risky behavior, willing to sacrifice a secure future for immediate gratification. It makes us more inclined to make self-defeating decisions. It makes us believe weird things, superstitiously clinging to the world as we want it to be rather than as it is. Inequality divides us, cleaving us into camps not only of income but also of ideology and race, eroding our trust in one another. It generates stress and makes us all less healthy and less happy.

    “Picture a neighborhood full of people like the ones I’ve described above: shortsighted, irresponsible people making bad choices; mistrustful people segregated by race and by ideology; superstitious people who won’t listen to reason; people who turn to self-destructive habits as they cope with the stress and anxieties of their daily lives. These are the classic tropes of poverty and could serve as a stereotypical description of the population of any poor inner-city neighborhood or depressed rural trailer park. But as we will see in the chapters ahead, inequality can produce these tendencies even among the middle class and wealthy individuals.

    “What is also notable about the air rage study is that it illustrates that inequality is not the same as poverty, although it can feel an awful lot like it. That phenomenon is the subject of this book. Inequality makes people feel poor and act poor, even when they’re not. Inequality so mimics poverty in our minds that the United States of America, the richest and most unequal of countries, has a lot of features that better resemble a developing nation than a superpower.”

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