Back in May I described the five steps in the self-experimentation process:
- Decide on your objective/desired result;
- Collect base-line data;
- Imagine hypotheses/theories about what might lead to your objective/desired result;
- Test hypotheses by changing one variable at a time and collecting immediate feedback;
- If a hypothesis pans out, institutionalize the behaviour and make it part of your regular practice.
I then challenged your imagination to develop hypotheses — unconventional theories — that might explain these puzzling facts:
- Our Most Creative Times: When people are quizzed about their creativity, they claim it is highest (a) when they’re in or near water, (b) when they’re in motion, and (c) just before falling asleep or just before/after awakening. Why would this be?
- Why We’re Happy Being Tired: Seth Roberts’ work refers to extensive research (and some personal experimentation) that suggest that sleep deprivation elevates mood and may alleviate depression. Why would this be?
- The Cause of Natural Addictions: We appear to become easily addicted to substances that are healthy or even essential in moderation but unhealthy in excess, and when we get addicted we tend to need more and more to get the same ‘high’. A recent experiment indicated that birds in captivity can get quickly addicted to sugar-water, craving more and more to the detriment of their health. Why would this be?
- Not Too Smart to Put Things Off: There is some evidence that very intelligent people are the ones most prone to procrastinate, and to fail to keep New Years’ resolutions. Why would this be?
- Fewer Babies Having Babies: Here’s an article that reports on a dramatic drop in teenage pregnancy and teenage abortions in the US. Conservatives claim this is due to effective ‘family-values’ abstinence programs. Liberals claim it’s due to better information about and use of contraception. But there’s lots of evidence that neither of these is the case. The author of the article ascribes it to lower sperm counts, but, as we all know, it only takes one. Is there a better Unconventional Theory?
- The Cause of Tar Sands Syndrome: Here’s an article that reports an epidemic of rare cancers and even rarer auto-immune diseases in the small community of Fort Chipewyan, Alberta. Residents blame water, air and soil pollution due to pulp and paper effluents, uranium and other mining, and now the disastrous Tar Sands development nearby. Business interests say the water has been exhaustively tested and is fine, and blame the poor diet in the remote community, exacerbated by the prohibitive cost of trucking in fresh fruits and vegetables. What’s your Unconventional Theory?
- Non-Viral Cause for Auto-Immune Diseases?: You probably know that Harper’s magazine and others have been providing increased publicity to the groups who insist HIV is not the cause of most auto-immune deficiency diseases, and that there must be another cause, probably not viral or microbial, to account for so many people dying of auto-immune related diseases who do not have HIV in their bodies. Many of the diseases on a sharp upswing (e.g. severe allergies, asthma, autism, and ADD/ADHD) also do not appear to have ‘natural’ causes. While some blame human behaviours, or chemical residues (mercury etc.) there are some reasonably compelling studies that refute viral, microbial, behavioural and toxic chemical causes for the dramatic increase in these illnesses, while others assert (less convincingly) that it’s all due to ‘increased awareness and reporting’ of them. Is there another possible cause for one or more of these illnesses (no one Unconventional Theory is likely to explain all of them) that we’re overlooking?
I promised to provide my Unconventional Theories for these facts and events. Here they are:
- Heat Opens the Mind: When I’m exercising, I’m not thinking about anything but getting through it. After exercising I often take a cool shower, and it doesn’t work either — exhilarating but not idea-provoking. But I find the hot tub, or a hot shower or bath very creative. In fact, I can come up with ideas just thinking about going into the hot tub. My theory is that it is all about heat and its effect relaxing the muscles. Relax the muscles, relax the mind. Of course, if you’re already sweltering that doesn’t work. Perhaps that’s why Northern countries seem to be more creative.
- Fatigue Signals Stress Exhaustion, and Hence Precipitates Endorphin Production: Old people tend to sleep less, claiming their bodies don’t ‘need’ as much sleep. When animals are being hunted, their bodies produce high levels of adrenaline (to run or fight) but also high levels of endorphins (so if they lose it is less stressful and painful, and to fend off shock). My theory is that nature ‘reads’ sleep deprivation as a symptom of high stress or old age and hence increased likelihood of trauma, and therefore produces endorphins to ‘prepare’ the victim.
- Bad Habits are Learned from Parents, Then Encouraged and Satisfied by the Food Industry: Baby animals smell their parents’ breath to determine what is safe to eat. Nature would selectively endow them with a ‘craving’ for such foods. In very young animals, the caloric needs are such that there is also apparently a ‘natural’ (unlearned) addiction to sugars. Unfortunately when we ‘smell our parents’ breath’ we are likely to smell sodium, alcohols, nicotine, oils and sugars, and emulate that diet. In nature, these substances don’t occur in dangerous concentrations sufficient to entrench those addictions, but in our homes and supermarkets they do.
- We Do What’s Urgent, Then What’s Easy, Then What’s Fun: These three priority-setting ‘rules’ by which we decide subconsciously what to do next suited us very well in gatherer-hunter society, but not so well in civilized society. We now have so much to do that is urgent, we have only a bit of time left for what’s easy and none for what’s fun, and we stall off the urgent stuff until the last minute to leave room for stuff that comes up that is even more urgent.
- More Oral Sex, Fear of AIDS, and the Boredom of Fidelity: Several of you, like me, immediately though an increase in oral sex was the culprit, and I think that’s a big part of it. I think another part is fear of AIDS, which I think is a big motivator for abstention, oral sex, and protected sex. It interests me that in teenagers’ talk shows about sex, one of the first questions from the phone-in audience always seems to be about the risk of AIDS from oral sex. The third part, which has nothing to do with sex at all, is reduced number of sexual partners, which I think stems from a growing shyness and general distrust of strangers (this trend crosses all income levels and races), exacerbated by news sensationalism and by Hollywood and music video violence. I suspect a lot of unprotected sex is spontaneous, and having only one sexual partner reduces spontaneity.
- Modern Malnutrition Prevents Our Bodies from Learning Immune Responses, and Depression, Stress and Addiction Lower Resistance: It’s interesting that I posed this question (and formulated my theory, which I’ve talked about a lot in the intervening period) just a month before I came down with ulcerative colitis. I understand that babies exposed to pet dander and peanuts at an early age are twenty times less likely to develop allergies to these things when they get older. Foods, water and homes are drenched in antibiotics today, meaning our bodies are exposed to fewer biological substances, and hence have no opportunity to build up ‘natural’ immunity to them. There’s also evidence that the variety of basic foods we eat (despite their use in much more varied recipes) is much narrower with each successive generation — e.g. there are fifty times fewer types of apples available now than there were 50 years ago. So I think the cause for defective immune systems is that we don’t allow immune systems to develop properly in the first place — they don’t get enough exercise so they atrophy, and then when they have to face a real threat, they can’t handle it. The native peoples in Fort Chepewyan once were self-sufficient, eating the wide variety of foods, with all their ‘natural’ contaminants, their bodies had been accustomed to for centuries. Now they eat a very narrow range of plastic wrapped, antibiotic-laced foods trucked in from far away. And they have lost their livelihood, their way of living, so like many displaced peoples they are prone to depression and addiction, which also lowers disease resistance.
- Modern Malnutrition, plus Environmental Toxins, plus Musculo-Skeletal Distress: Since colitis is an auto-immune disease, as soon as I contracted it I formulated this three-factor theory. So far my self-experimentation has supported it.
There are some things I am at a total loss to understand. The popularity of reality TV, for example, even the more skillful amateur shows with the obnoxious judges and blathering MCs cut out. Why would you want to watch amateurswhen you can put on a DVD and watch much better professionals? Or the popularity of Jackass Two? Anyone have a theory for that?