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Review: The Science of Fate by Hannah Critchlow

The Science Of Fate book Cover

The Science of Fate book cover

I’m always wary of books that address the concept of free will. Many people assert that we don’t have free will due to the deterministic nature of the physical universe, or due to evidence from experiments that shows our subconscious brain makes ‘decisions’ before our conscious mind performs an action. Such as flicking a light switch. It’s still our brains making a choice though. Our subconscious is part of us. The deterministic universe arguments against free will just annoy me. There is plenty of space in the layers of reality above the quantum realm for emergent behaviour that includes our ability to act as agents that can choose. We have free will in that sense.

So I went into the audiobook edition of Hannah’s book with some trepidation. Would it be another book advocating that we don’t have free will? Thankfully my fears were unfounded. This is a book about how our biology shapes our behaviour via biochemistry, neurobiology, and psychology. It’s an excellent survey of how behaviours have been shaped and honed by natural selection and evolution. It’s undoubtedly a fact that there are many behaviours that humans (and other animals) exhibit that are predetermined by our biology and environment. The level of this predeterminism varies depending on what is being discussed. Most humans (without medical or psychological problems) can override the higher level impulses that our biology shapes. My take after reading this book is that humanity in the round does have free will with respect to the higher level activities such as “will I eat this apple or throw it over the fence into my neighbours garden.” Our free will emerges with the complexity in the underlying biology, which in turn arises from chemistry and physics.

On a technical note: the audiobook is excellently read by the author who is experienced in audio delivery from many science podcasts and other media activities.

I highly recommend this book. In whatever format you like the best.

Free Will?

There is a lot of discussion about free will and whether humans have it. I don’t pretend to understand all the arguments. I want to learn a lot more in future.

One of the arguments that is made by advocates of the position that humans don’t have free will is based on brain scan results from when people are asked to perform a simple task. For example when someone is asked to move their index finger. Brain scan results show that our brains unconsciously decide to make the finger movement several seconds before we have conscious awareness of the decision. Similar results have been shown for other brain processes. I don’t think the fact that our brains make some decisions in our subconscious, before the conscious brain is aware of them, is in doubt.

Some people posit that this means we don’t have free will. If our subconscious brain is making decisions then how are we making informed conscious decisions is the argument. I don’t agree with this position. Our subconscious is still part of our brains. We don’t fully understand how brains work. Even if we didn’t have the option not to perform the action that is decided in our subconscious (we do have that option), then the decision in the subconscious is still ours.

Human Universe

Just finished watching the last episode of BBC Human Universe. It was a fabulous advertisement for rationalism, Humanism and Enlightenment values. Professor Brian Cox is a great host for these types of programmes. I’ve seen comments saying that he isn’t as good as predecessors such as Carl Sagan or James Burke. I disagree. I watched both of those presenters back in the day. They were great. So is Brian Cox. He is as good as them. He’s also operating in a world were there are a lot more channels competing for peoples attention. So the presentation has to grab people. It’s well worth watching Human Universe on iPlayer if you missed it. 

Fast Diet Update 2 #fastdiet

Quick update on my fast diet progress. See the original post for more details, and fist update

Weight: 82.5 Kg. (down 5.3 Kg).

BMI: 23.3. (down 1.5).

Waist: 99 cm. (No change).

Surprised that my waist hasn’t reduced even though I’ve lost 5.3 Kg. Must be losing internal fat. Which is good if true. Want to get waist down to about 88 cm. Onwards.

Summing an arithmetic sequence

This post is to test how Latex output from Mathematica appears via MathJax. It also shows a handy way to sum up a sequence of numbers that have the same difference between them.

Suppose you have a series of numbers that start with a number we call a. If the next number, and the ones after it, in the sequence differ by the same value, then the formula given below can be used to calculate the number of items in the sequence: 

\(n=frac{L-a}{d}+1\)

where a = the first term in the sequence, L = the last term in the sequence, and d = difference between the terms in the sequence. d has to be non-zero and the same between each set of terms in the sequence.

Once you know the number of terms in an arithmetic sequence you can sum the terms using the formula: \(S=frac{1}{2} n (2 a+ (n-1)d)\), where a = the first term in the sequence, n= the number of terms in the sequence, and d = difference between the terms in the sequence.

The embedded equations above show that the latex from Mathematica does work. Happy days. That’s both Mathematica and MathType I can use as required.

Fast diet update #fastdiet

I started The Fast Diet about two weeks ago. As outlined in the first post my weight was:

Weight: 87.8 Kg.

Height: 188 cm.

BMI: 24.8.

What are the changes after about 2 weeks and 5 fasting days? Stats on Sunday morning:

Weight: 85 Kg.

BMI: 24.0

Waist: 99 cm. I started recording this today after buying a proper measuring tape.

A decrease of just under 3 Kg. That’ll do for a start. As outlined in the previous post it’s the blood biochemistry changes that are the real prize. Weight loss and waist measurements are just easy an tracking method that can be done at home.

I got my blood checked for cholesterol, triglycerides and glucose last week. These were non-fasting numbers but will do as a benchmark for checking again in 6 months. The numbers:

Total cholesterol: 5.63 mmol/L. This should be below 4.0 mmol/L for me.

LDL cholesterol: 3.45 mmol/L. This should be below 2.0 mmol/L for me.

Triglycerides: 2.18 mmol/L. The target for me for this is 2.26 mmol/L. Okay on this one.

Glucose: 8.4. This was non fasting measurement. Will get a fasting one done in 6 months.

My current podcast subscription list

I recently pruned the number of podcasts I subscribe to in Downcast. I was deleting too many episodes without ever listing to them. Here is a list of what podcasts survived the cull, with links to the feeds to subscribe to them.

Started the Fast Diet

There is a new lifestyle and diet scheme in town. It’s called the 5:2 Fast Diet. Fast as in fasting, not as in speedy. Unlike most (all?) other diet regimens, this one does seem to have some science and data to back it up. The 5:2 bit of the name equates to the fact that you can eat normally for 5 days a week, and then on 2 days you restrict yourself to 600 calories. Thats for men. It’s 500 for women.

Extreme fasting, and its sibling prolonged calorie restriction, have been studied for a while. Current research is showing that the gentler, and more easily doable 5:2 Fast Diet can provide many of the benefits that extreme fasting does. 

Grab the book by Dr. Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer to get more info. Only a few quid in paperback and Kindle formats on Amazon UK. They also have a web site.

I’m making Monday and Thursday my fasting days. Starting today. Will fast from breakfast until dinner then until breakfast next day on those days. With the 600 calories allowed split between breakfast and dinner. That’s the same as what Michael Mosley does. Seems sensible. 

My current weight stats are:

Height: 188 cm.

Weight: 87.8 Kg.

BMI: 24.8.

Not overweight, but BMI close to entering 25+ danger zone. I know from when I was playing cricket regularly that I feel better when my weight is about 79 Kg. So I’ll make that my target.

Weight Target: 79 Kg.

BMI Target: 22.4.

It’s the biochemical changes, as outlined in the Fast Diet book that are the real prize though. 

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