Nutrition: the Emperor has no clothes

Food pyramids

More than a quarter century ago, in “Perfection Salad,” I wrote: “It now seems ludicrous that science should have much to say about cooking… cooking is slowly recovering from ‘domestic science’.” In the 2014 epilogue, I asked: “Has food recovered from domestic science?”

  • “Domestic science” was rebranded as “nutrition science,” with all the same pathologies. That has yielded zero reliable knowledge.
  • Despite complete ignorance, nutrition “science” issued and enforced confident recommendations that may have been responsible for millions of premature deaths, plus great loss of health and quality of life.
  • Meanwhile, industry has developed considerable genuine science of food—oriented to optimizing commercial ends, rather than health and tastiness.
  • Partial public awareness of these problems has produced a proliferation of pseudoscientific, quasi-religious food subcultures.
  • Passionate belief in mythical meanings of food probably have a evolutionary origin.
  • Recently, some pundits have started to suspect that—as I suggested in 1988—no one knows what makes food healthy. Perhaps now the public can begin to resist all claims to authoritative food-knowledge.

Food, eternalism, scientism, and pseudoscience

Nutrition ideologies rest on the eternalist ploy I call “wistful certainty”:

There must be a correct diet; there must be a rational way to discover it

There’s no reason to believe either of those; indeed, there’s strong evidence against each of them.1 The power of wistful certainty comes from the unspoken alternative: “otherwise, we would have no control over our health, Science would fail, and the world would be hostile and unfair and we might as well just give in to hopeless nihilism.”

This ploy underlies both obviously silly New Age nutrition pseudoscience and authoritative state-endorsed nutrition pseudoscience.

What makes you call nutrition “pseudoscience?” That seems like a wild claim. It’s true that it has failed repeatedly, but isn’t that the way science works? We can’t demand certainty; science can only say what is most likely based on the available evidence. It’s true that a lot of studies have been done badly, but that doesn’t invalidate the best work; it just means we need to insist on better experimental methods.

There is always uncertainty in science, but real science gradually establishes some stable facts; it eventually strongly supports some theories and conclusively dismisses others. It is typical of pseudoscience that it does not progress.

Nutrition has made no progress. It has discovered no stable facts. Everything nutritionists have said, they have said the opposite ten or twenty years later (if not much sooner). They literally know nothing.2 After a century of countless experiments, the most common, most basic problem they’ve addressed—the optimal ratio of fat, protein, and carbohydrate—is completely unsolved. If they can’t figure that out, anything more sophisticated seems hopeless.

Nutrition is now both scientism and pseudoscience. This is a somewhat rare combination; cognitive science is another example, as I pointed out in “Perfection Salad.” Scientism—the eternalistic distortion of science into an authoritative source of meaning—is most harmful when the science is bogus. Pseudoscience is most harmful when it gets the support of the state and other powerful institutions. Food and theories of the mind probably both strongly affect human well-being, so they are particularly bad subjects to have turned into scientism or pseudoscience.

My point is not that nutrition is bad science. Unquestionably, it is bad science; a competent statistician, looking at the design of most experiments, will immediately say “this is meaningless; you can’t learn anything this way.”

It’s worse than just incompetence, in two ways. First, as the “resignation letter” noted, even the best studies have been useless. There seems to be something fundamentally wrong, such that doing the same sort of science better wouldn’t help.

The second, still worse implication is that worthless pseudoscience can get treated as authoritative for a century, and even now. This is partly due to rationalist eternalism, and partly due to institutional imperatives produced by malign social dynamics.

In which “Science” kills a few million people

Just when I wrote “Perfection Salad,” in the mid–80s, nutrition had its greatest breakthrough. “Scientists” “discovered” that fat (especially saturated fat, and doubly especially cholesterol) was the cause of the two biggest causes of death in rich countries: cardiovascular disease and cancer.3 Cardiovascular disease is caused by fat (especially cholesterol) accumulating in blood vessels. So, obviously, eating less fat will prevent cardiovascular disease. Cancer is caused by oxygen free radicals chemically modifying fat into a form that attacks DNA, creating mutations, so obviously if you eat less fat, that happens less.4 Besides, fat has twice as many calories as protein or carbohydrate, so obviously if you eat less fat, you won’t get unhealthily overweight.

There was virtually no actual evidence for any of this, but it made sense. (“It makes sense!” is the rationalist basis for all pseudoscience.) “Obviously, it’s urgent that Americans be protected from cardiovascular disease and cancer, so waiting for conclusive evidence before sounding the alarm would be irresponsible.”

A massive public “education” campaign followed. Perhaps astonishingly, in response, Americans dutifully drastically decreased their fat intake (especially cholesterol). This followed the pattern I described in 1988:

Domestic scientists assumed that the ratios of protein, carbohydrate, and fat were relevant variables, and based diet plans on theories of the “correct” ratios. “Nutrition scientists” are still doing this, and so far as I can tell they still don’t know what the “correct” ratios are, because every five years they confidently declare that they have discovered with complete certainty that we should have twenty-three percent or thirty-seven percent or seventeen percent protein in our diets, and American eating habits obediently shift accordingly. Most likely there are no “correct” ratios, because lots of other variables are involved.

An epidemic of obesity began just around the time this “education” campaign began. Health outcomes have been awful. It seems likely that low-fat diet advice actually caused the diseases it was supposed to prevent.5 In any case, most studies concluded that dietary cholesterol does not increase blood cholesterol and does not cause cardiovascular disease; and the saturated fat evidence varies between weak, zero, and counter to the low-fat theory.

Some people started pointing this out more than a decade ago,6 and it’s now nearly the mainstream view. However, nutritional authorities aren’t quite ready to admit to killing a few million people with their bad advice.

In the aftermath of failure

As of early 2015, the establishment is trying to figure out how to retract their anti-fat advice, while doing as little damage as possible to their reputation. They are sending up various waffly trial balloons, experimenting with PR strategies.

Saving nutrition’s reputation is a matter of self-interest. Also, many in the field are probably just too stupid to realize the magnitude of their failure, and honestly assume that somehow Science must know something.

However, more sophisticated players seem to be thinking:

Admitting outright that we were wrong could discredit nutrition permanently—or even Science as a whole. Even though we know nothing now, with better Science, we’ll probably discover the truth soon. It’s critical to preserve respect until then, so people will listen when we get it right. Otherwise, they’ll fall prey to New Age woo and commercial quack diet faddery.

You can hear this in the background of the waffling. I think it is too late; the public is already losing trust.

There’s another problem: if the advice is not anti-fat, what can it be? Some in the field seem to be trying to establish a new consensus, organizing to make anti-sugar the new message. This would take us back to the 1960s–70s, when sugar was the Big Bad. Maybe it is. Who knows? I’m reasonably sure nutritionists don’t.

Another PR strategy has been to blame wrong dietary recommendations on corruption, due to industrial influence. Probably corruption has, indeed, been a significant factor. However, this is a typical example of the eternalist strategy of explaining away failure as due to extraneous factors, which preserves the illusion of present and future competence.

Why has nutrition science failed? At this point, we can’t know. I believe that all available nutrition research funding should be redirected to answering that question. In the mean time, I’ll speculate:

  • It may not matter what you eat. For example, Ioannidis has recently argued that reported nutritional effect sizes must be grossly overstated, and diet may not have a significant effect on health after all. On the other hand, the observation that peoples become much less healthy when they start eating Western food does suggest that diet is significant. However, this might be due to simultaneous adoption of some other, as-yet unidentified harmful aspects of the Western lifestyle.
  • It may be that what makes a healthy diet is so different for different people (due to different genetics and/or lifestyles) that experiments done on mixed populations are meaningless. (I think this is relatively unlikely, for evolutionary reasons, but worth pursuing as a possibility.)
  • An intriguing possibility is that what you eat matters, but not for you. Until recently, all nutritional research assumed that dietary effects worked via human metabolism. Recent studies suggest that gut bacteria play an important role in human health, and that diet affects them much more than it affects human cells. If this is right, biochemical studies of diet have been looking at irrelevant factors for the past century. (I hope this is right, because it might lead to rapid progress, and also because it’s funny.)

Reverse regulatory capture

Honest nutrition scientists would, as in my satirical “resignation letter,” admit that the field has failed, they know nothing, and they cannot now give any meaningful recommendations. I think this would actually be more likely to preserve public trust, in the long run, than the current attempts at waffling and bluffing and muddling. The field is probably too cowardly for honesty, though. The emperor now realizes he has been seen parading naked, but will pretend not to know, to save face.

Anyway, as the “rejection” reply letter explains, institutional imperatives make it impossible to admit ignorance. There will be nutritional recommendations, even if every nutritionist has to be fired in order to create them. Governments, and the food industry, cannot accept that nothing is known, because they would no longer have any basis for their institutional policies. They do not care much what the policies are; but it is critical that they exist.

Initially “domestic science” captured regulators;7 but then state institutions captured nutritional “science.” Once it was established that there were authoritative facts-of-the-matter about what people should eat, state institutions (schools, prisons, the military) needed stable, simple, crisp guidelines about what they were allowed to feed people. For school administrators, it doesn’t matter what the nutritional theory is, but it is critical that there be an authoritative theory they can demonstrate conformity to, in order to remain blameless. So the power here is mainly in the authority-giving power of rationalistic discourse, not in the institutions (much less individuals).

The processed food revolution

In 1988, most American meals were still cooked from scratch. Now that’s rare. Nearly all American food is the product of intensive industrial engineering systems. These rely on new, genuine food science—about how to reliably extrude optimized food-like products, not about what is healthy or (for the most part) tasty. The capture of food by rationality is therefore essentially complete; but it is rationality optimizing for ends we might not choose.

Since we don’t actually know anything about nutrition, it’s impossible to know whether the new engineered food products are unhealthy. From the food industry’s point of view, uncertainty is good, because nowadays any food can be labelled with multiple supposedly-beneficial qualities, according to assorted competing theories (probably none of which have any relationship to reality).8

The obesity epidemic suggests something has gone badly wrong with the Western diet, in which case it must have something to do with processed food, just because nearly all food is now processed.

One of the trial new messages being tested by the nutrition establishment is “avoid processed food,” which has the big advantage (for their future credibility) that no one is likely to adopt it. Cooking has become an unacceptable hassle.9

Public recognition and resistance

Until recently, public opposition to official food recommendations was mainly religious or “ethical.” The monist counterculture (“New Age”), a quasi-religious movement, has produced a series of opposition diets since the 1970s. Although some of these invoked pseudoscience, and made vague health claims, they were all mainly moralistic. They were anti-scientific and anti-capitalist (as monism typically is). The rise of politically-correct food labelling (“fair trade”) may have been partly in response to increasing public realization of the dubiosity of nutritional claims, but it was mainly explicitly ethical.

An uneasy sense that nutrition recommendations had changed too many times, too quickly, seems to have gradually dawned on the public starting about a decade ago. Up until then, almost everyone simply accepted official pronouncements without question. Early 2000s studies supporting the high-fat Atkins diet seem to have shifted the mood. Intelligent people recognized that nutritional advice is uncertain, and liable to change again soon. So then you have to ask: why bother paying attention to the current guidelines?

There’s been another, dramatic change over the past year (starting late in 2014, I think). Science-savvy members of the commentariat—journalists and bloggers—are finally starting to recognize that there is no there, there: nutrition has no cards to play.10

Meaningful food

It’s extraordinary how certain and passionate everyone is about their nutritional beliefs—mainstream or alternative—despite the lack of any basis for them. Religion and politics are the only other domains that commonly inspire such delusional commitment.

Every human culture gives elaborate meanings to food—to hunting, gathering, growing, harvesting, processing, cooking, sharing, and eating it. Every culture has elaborate ideologies of what you should and should not do with food—most of which seem insane to anyone from a different culture. (These constitute the standard example of the eternalist ploy of purity.)

Food is hugely evolutionarily important, so it is not surprising that humans give it such meanings. It’s rather more surprising that something so evolutionarily important should have such divergent meanings attached. Aren’t most of them maladaptive?

A speculation: Perhaps the urge to give foods meanings is a relic of our former hunter-gatherer lifestyle, when keeping track of the edibility, habits, and best use of thousands of species was important. Mythological narratives (“we are forbidden to eat that berry by Flying-Buffalo-Woman, who was tricked with one by Centipede-God”) were valuable as mnemonics encoding cultural knowledge. Often that could be a matter of life and death.

Nowadays, even though the evolutionary purpose is lost, we can’t help making up myths about food, and still feel compelled into believing and enforcing them.

I will discuss the meanings given food again in two later chapters:

  • The ethics chapter considers the moralization of food. There are legitimate ethical questions, but many claims I find highly dubious: not because they are ethically wrong, but because the issues are not ethical ones at all. I use these as examples of a broader phenomenon: the metastasis of morality into domains where it has no business.
  • In the history of meaningness chapter, I will describe how the meaning of food has changed over the past few decades, as we’ve moved through the systematic, counter-cultural, subcultural, atomized, and fluid modes of relating to meaningness.
  • 1. There are healthy non-Western populations with diets very different from each other’s. Some of those may be somewhat better than others, but there’s no strong reason to believe so. A century of scientific research has failed to discover any nutritional facts. More and better research might; but we can’t be certain of that a priori.
  • 2. For “literally know nothing,” see for example the recent Ioannidis editorial in the BMJ. There are two exceptions. First, they know you should shouldn’t eat poisons. Arsenic and polychlorinated biphenyls are bad for you. Second, there are some chemicals (vitamins, for instance) that you have to get some of, or else you get a deficiency disease. Neither of these facts are relevant to anyone with a vaguely normal diet.
  • 3. The supposed connection with cardiovascular disease goes back to the work of Ancel Keys in the 1950s. However, avoiding saturated fat and cholesterol for cardiovascular reasons only became the mainstream message around 1980. The supposed cancer connection was new in the mid–80s, and gave further credence and urgency to the anti-fat campaign.
  • 4. This led also to the recommendation that you should eat more antioxidants. That message is still common, although most follow-on studies of specific antioxidants found that they are bad for you.
  • 5. Since nothing is actually known about nutrition, we can’t be sure the low-fat diet caused the obesity epidemic. Correlation is not causation; but it’s quite suggestive in this case.
  • 6. The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet is supposed to be a good history. I haven’t read it.
  • 7. I described this in “Perfection Salad.”
  • 8. Ioannidis notes that “Almost every single nutrient imaginable has peer reviewed publications associating it with almost any outcome.”
  • 9. Disclosure: I do avoid processed food, and most of what I eat I cook from scratch. This is not advice.
  • 10. The paleo movement has played a major role in this. Paleo is interesting as a subculture that combines romantic rebellion with scientistic rationalism. That potent combination that has made it the most effective anti-authoritarian diet ideology so far. With difficulty, I’ve resisted writing more about that here; this page is already too long.


perfection Salad

Patrick Jennings's picture

Hi David I would like to reblog this on the Non-Buddhist in relation to a previous post on “critical thinking” to try and distinguish between a rational thought process or methodology and Rationalism as an ideology/philosophical stance. Would that be good from your point of view and if so how do I go about it? Forgive my stupidity! Thanks for the many moments of “enlightenment” you have produced in me and the entertaining way you present the fruits of much deep thought. Can’t imagine the effort it must cost you.

limits of applied science

Kate Gowen's picture

I wonder: is it the case that inquiry into matters as complex as human nutrition can yield no knowledge? (Which is what it sounds to me that you are saying, in very entertaining fashion.)

Or is it the case that any of the popular feints at “scientific” knowledge are painted with such a very broad brush, by VERY interested parties, so as to constitute dogma and propaganda, rather than information?

The great thing about geeks of any stripe is their delight in getting intimately involved with the numberless particulars– and sometimes that inspires an entirely new and powerful view. I personally am interested in what the metabolism geeks, the microbiome geeks, and the immune system geeks are turning up these days.


Hi Patrick—this site doesn’t run on Wordpress, which is the system that offers the “reblogging” functionality. (Also Tumblr? I don’t use that.) Basically, reblogging is just quoting from the article, isn’t it? So you could copy and paste the parts you want to comment on (or the first few paragraphs if you want to point at the whole thing). I’m entirely happy with that, so long as you include a link to the original!

Nutrition as spiritual entertainment

Interesting comments, Kate!

is it the case that inquiry into matters as complex as human nutrition can yield no knowledge?

Well… So far it seems to have yielded no knowledge, yes. As far as I can tell. I think it would be “wistful certainty” to assert that it must be possible to learn something. (Why must it be possible?)

Or is it the case that any of the popular feints at “scientific” knowledge are painted with such a very broad brush, by VERY interested parties, so as to constitute dogma and propaganda, rather than information?

I’m not sure what you are asking. Certainly nutrition research has been distorted by financial interests. Is that what you were pointing at?

The great thing about geeks of any stripe is their delight in getting intimately involved with the numberless particulars– and sometimes that inspires an entirely new and powerful view. I personally am interested in what the metabolism geeks, the microbiome geeks, and the immune system geeks are turning up these days.

Yes, I’m a somewhat obsessive fan of nutrition research (which is why I was interested enough to write this trilogy of pages on the subject). However, as far as I can tell, there’s still no reliable methodology, so I have to regard everything I read as a form of spiritual entertainment. It probably has no relationship with physical reality, but it provides hope, the illusion of understanding, and similar spiritual junk food.

The microbiome stuff is the most exciting, because it’s a completely new take, and because it’s a lot easier to manipulate bacteria than human cells. I really really hope it works out!

On Nutrition

Matthew's picture

Thank you for yet another stimulating article. About a year ago I came across the Weston A. Price Foundation and have been reading literature and cookbooks that align with their philosophy regarding food, eating and nutrition. It made a lot of sense to me in a similar way that Ken Wilber’s stuff makes a lot of sense. It informs my nutritional choices nowadays. Weston A. Price was a dentist who in the 1920s and 30s studied and apparently visited indigenous cultures (pre-modern, non-industrialized) around the world to learn what and how they ate. He was always keen to note the health of the teeth of individuals in each society that he studied. He found that the teeth of individuals in non-industrialized societies were much healthier in general than the teeth in modern industrial society. He identified a number of common food practices across pre-modern societies. Some of my favorite commonalities that he identified were a preference for organ meats over muscle meats, eating the whole animal from head to toe (every part of it), bone broths, fermented vegetable and dairy products (krauts and kefir), and eating saturated (animal fats) and unsaturated fat (olive oils, avocado, coconut oil, etc). Anethema to this diet is processed modern foods and transfats. So, the Weston A. Price diet draws upon the world’s wisdom traditions related to food and to preparing food. (We buddhists also pay a lot of attention to Buddhist tradition). There is a bit of “purity” and idealism in this movement, but I find it very useful and thought I would share it with you and your readers. I’d be curious to hear what you think.


Kate Gowen's picture

” Or is it the case that any of the popular feints at “scientific” knowledge are painted with such a very broad brush, by VERY interested parties, so as to constitute dogma and propaganda, rather than information?

– I’m not sure what you are asking. Certainly nutrition research has been distorted by financial interests. Is that what you were pointing at?”

The short answer to the (rhetorical) question is that research has been BEYOND distorted by financial interests. In many cases, it doesn’t deserve to be called research; it could more properly be called dogma or propaganda. From working from assumptions that are not proved, to crappy research design, to discarding unwanted results. “Scientific” is one of those words being used to exempt claims from inquiry; like “godly” or “orthodox” in earlier times.

I guess human beings have always felt nervous about venturing out of the herd of their peers. That qualm is hard to assuage in the bewilderingly pluralistic global village we inhabit now, I’d guess. Which tribe is “mine?”

It strikes me that your subject matter is better than a Rubik’s cube as a puzzle, or one of those Chinese ball knots with no visible end to start unravelling.

Weston A. Price

Thanks, Matthew! Yes, I do know about the Weston A. Price work, and (as it happens) I do eat roughly that way. It’s sort of embarrassing to admit this after saying “nobody knows anything about nutrition”! On the other hand, you have to eat something, and I find that sort of diet tasty and entertaining. I hope it is also healthy, but I don’t think it has a strong evidential base (any more than any other diet theory has). It’s certainly interesting and fun to geek out about, however!

It also does double duty as Buddhist disgust practice; learning to like lambs’ hearts and buffalo kidneys is an exercise in nonduality!

"Scientific" as a synonym for "sacred"

“Scientific” is one of those words being used to exempt claims from inquiry; like “godly” or “orthodox” in earlier times.

Yes! That’s exactly what I was trying to get across in this post, and in “Perfection Salad.”

Which tribe is “mine” in the bewilderingly pluralistic global village?

Yes, I think that question is the essence of the collapse of the subcultural mode. 25 years ago, we could answer that. Or, at least, many more people could answer it then than could now.

Wistful Eating..

Ronyon's picture

It often surprises me that people who believe in Darwinian evolution often believe in one best way of eating.
The co- evolution of the horse and the grass should be sufficient evidence to the contrary.
The existence of adaptations and maladaptations for the consumption of dairy and alcohol ,should be a clincher.
On the other hand, bad science in this realm, is like bad medicine. The practice of medicine has killed a lot of people, continues to kill more, and ultimately it has a 100% mortality ,yet I would hardly suggest we stop it in its tracks.
There may not be any correct way to eat, but seeking patterns is a human preoccupation with more positive outcomes that negative ones. Gravity makes things fall and fire makes things hot, usually.
The very changes in our society push human evolution around, from favoring increased breast size and decreased pelvis size, to making efficient use of calories maladaptive. Getting it wrong for any reason is no reason to stop looking for answers. And answers that are only a little right still beat no answers at all. Not jumping to conclusions is a different question entirely. If the first stove I touch burns me, I can still learn to use a stove.
If my mother in laws family cuts out lard,switches to corn oil, and eats more salad, on the doctors orders,and every one of them developed obesity, has their gall bladder removed and gets diabetes, I can skip the corn oil part and still eat a salad.
The abolsolutist tenor of this piece is amusing, but not accurate.
Knowlege is ephemeral , but no less useful . Lemons treat scurvy without us knowing about vitamins. I can build a great electrical circuit without knowing anything about electrons.


M Vargas's picture

I have been reading through your Meaningness articles with great interest but your observations on “nutrition science” seem misplaced to me. Your specific point - there’s a lot of junk science out there; people are too gullible or ignorant when it comes to falling for the junk science - is well taken. It’s become an unfortunate and dangerous part of our culture. But what does this have to do with “meaning”?

As you’ve discussed it throughout Meaningness, when you say “meaning”, you are talking about certain a category of human concerns - purpose, ethics, one’s sense of self, ect. What you are describing in these nutrition articles has nothing to do with that as far as I can tell. All I see is people (poorly) trying to figure out the cause of an effect. Something causes bad health. If it looks like clogged arteries caused that heart attack, it’s natural to ask what caused the clogged arteries because something caused them. Maybe it’s fat! Oops, maybe not…. It sucks that the search for that cause is really hard and messy and flawed but I don’t see the relevance to a discussion on “meaning”. I certainly don’t see how the belief that diet can impact our health is somehow eternalist, even if somehow that belief is eventually shown to be totally wrong (which obviously it won’t because obviously it’s true - see “lemons treat scurvy” comment above). Unless you’re saying that the basic, general belief in cause and effect is eternalist? That believing physical problems will have physical causes is “wistful”? I’m pretty sure that’s not what you’re trying to say but it’s the only way I can see that this “nutrition science is bad science” talk has any relevance with the broader discussion of meaning and our stances towards meaning.

Insufficient context

Yes, this page is lacking the context that would help make it make sense. Sorry about that; it’s a pervasive problem in writing a gigantic book gradually online.

The point here is that nutrition is an example of a misplaced, quasi-religious (eternalist) faith in Science as delivering answers to all questions. The (currently-implicit) claim is that if it weren’t for that, pseudoscience of all sorts would have a much harder time convincing people to do dumb things.

RE: Insufficient context

M Vargas's picture

Hmm, I still see a bit of a disconnect on this topic even given the admittedly “quasi-religious faith in Science” some people can have. There is the odd moralizing aspect that some people can give to food, and that can fit into the ethics portion of the search for “meaning”. But that seems like a minor part of what’s going on here with the junk- & pseudo-science stuff. I’m contending that this nutrition stuff (and the general ignorant attitudes about science) is mostly a search for explanations/solutions to “real world” phenomena, which is different from a search for “meaning”. Trying to figure out how a machine works (even a machine as insanely complicated as a human body) seems to me a very different thing then trying to figure out “the meaning of life”. Would you disagree?

Or perhaps you would say I am betraying an eternalist faith in science. :) But I do think that every physical phenomena (as opposed to psychological/spiritual ones, I guess?) has a cause and that the scientific method, properly applied, is a trustworthy way to learn those causes. Even if in practice some of these causes are extremely difficult to find - like almost any involving humans (which is the case for most of the subjects you called out as bad “Sciences” - Domestic, Political, Cognitive, ect) - I see no reason to think that they can’t be found with time and effort.

we are just getting started

Ted Wells's picture

A professor recently told me that in the 1950s, everything that we knew about the eye fit on ONE page in the medical journals.

Computer scientists at that time thought they would be able to create a human-like robot within 5 years. In the 1960s - they thought it would take 10 years, in the 1970s they though it would take 20 years …and so on. The problem wasn’t that science was “wrong” but that we had underestimated the complexity of the human body.

We never even looked at a human embryo under a microscope until the 1920s.

The point is - it is no wonder that we had gotten so many things wrong (especially early on). The instruments of measure needed had not even been invented. Human beings at the time considered themselves at the height of modern understanding. They didn’t know how much they didn’t know.

I completely agree that we must not fall into the same trap of hubris and certitude (while there is so much that has yet to be confirmed). Yet, just because we have not mastered a field of knowledge does not mean that answers do not exist. (Isaac Newton said gravity only reached Jupiter and after that the planets remained in place because they were held in the hands of God - because his calculations did not work past Jupiter.) We are learning a lot because of new technologies and molecular biology- and in the future may be able to personalize our nutritional needs and medicines in ways that will optimally support our specific genes and state of being at any given moment.

In the meantime, common sense and skepticism is a good idea - as long as a person doesn’t read your article and think it means that eating empty calories and/or junk food is a sensible way to stay healthy …and that we “literally” know “nothing” about nutrition.

Morality and Food

Sasha's picture

Of course morality does play a role in food.
It’s a moral decision whether to eat other animals, including humans, for example.

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This page is in the section Rationalist ideologies as eternalism,
      which is in Non-theistic eternalism,
      which is in Eternalism: the fixation of meaning,
      which is in Meaning and meaninglessness,
      which is in Doing meaning better.

The next page in this section is ⚒ A malign modern myth of meaningness: cognitive “science”.

The previous page is Nutrition offers its resignation. And the reply.

This page’s topics are Eternalism and Systems.

General explanation: Meaningness is a hypertext book (in progress), plus a “metablog” that comments on it. The book begins with an appetizer. Alternatively, you might like to look at its table of contents, or some other starting points. Classification of pages by topics supplements the book and metablog structures. Terms with dotted underlining (example: meaningness) show a definition if you click on them. Pages marked with ⚒ are still under construction. Copyright ©2010–2020 David Chapman. Some links are part of Amazon Affiliate Program.