Nature vs. Technology

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For those who dismiss advocates of the “natural” as ignorant of science and deluded by the logical fallacy that natural = best, Nathanael Johnson’s new book is an eye-opener: All Natural: A Skeptic’s Quest to Discover if the Natural Approach to Diet, Childbirth, Healing, and the Environment Really Keeps Us Healthier and Happier. If nothing else, it is a testament to the ability of the human mind to overcome childhood indoctrination in a belief system, to think independently, and to embrace science and reason.

Nathanael Johnson was brought up by hippie parents who subscribed to every “natural” belief and fad. His mother nearly died of a postpartum hemorrhage when he was born at home (he weighed 11 pounds!). His parents didn’t report his birth, and he didn’t have a birth certificate. He co-slept with his parents, never wore diapers (imagine the clean-up!), was allowed to play in the dirt and chew on the snails he found there, was fed a Paleolithic diet, was never allowed any form of sugar, didn’t know there was such a thing as an Oreo cookie, was home-schooled, and did not know that public nudity was taboo until he and his brother shocked the folks at a church picnic by stripping naked to go swimming in the lake. Nudity was customary in his home, and he was encouraged to “let his balls breathe.”

As he grew up, he started to question some of the dogmas he had learned from his parents. He had been taught that good health resulted from forming connections with nature, but he found that nature “generally wanted to eat me.” Now an adult and a journalist, he understands science and how to do research. He tried to read the scientific literature with an unbiased mindset, asking questions about the subjects in his book’s title rather than looking for evidence to support any prior beliefs, and he arrived at pretty much the same conclusions we science-based medicine folks did. But he still appreciates that a natural approach has value, and he seeks to reconcile nature with technology. He calls his book a comfortable refuge from people who are driven to extremes.

When his wife was pregnant, he interviewed home birth advocate Ina May Gaskin, visited birthing centers, looked up statistics about C-sections and fetal monitoring, and decided what he wanted was “No Nonsense Evidence-Based Midwifery.” He and his wife found exactly that in a hospital where nurse-midwives delivered the babies and high-tech care was immediately available for emergencies. All went well, but throughout his wife’s labor and delivery he worried about whether they had made the right choice. Afterwards, he realized that more worry was in store: no matter how he tried to protect his newborn daughter, she would, in the course of her life, be hurt, would suffer, and would eventually die. A nurse told him “Whenever there’s uncertainty or discomfort, people tend to want to fix it. We have absolutely no tools in this culture for simply accepting, but that’s what you have to do sometimes.” These are wise words that patients might do well to consider before seeking the false certainties offered by alternative medicine.

He investigates food and identifies three faulty assumptions:

  1. Molecules Matter, Food is Irrelevant. He says he stopped reading labels because the same type of food molecules may have different consequences if they arrive in a slice of coconut, a steak, or a scoop of gelato.
  2. Everyone Is the Same. No, some of us can digest lactose and others can’t; and we are difference in many other ways. Evolution has molded humans to eat diets as diverse as humanity itself.
  3. Institutions, Not Individuals, Should Be in Charge of Diet. We learn food preferences and food traditions through our culture. Adjusting nutrients at a national level reduced the risks of goiter and neural tube defects and eradicated vitamin deficiency diseases like pellagra, beriberi, and rickets, but obesity became a problem. “In attacking the nutrient-efficiency problems we created a super-sufficiency problem.”

He decides that eating scientifically is impossible because no diet advice is well-supported by science. Both science-based diets and natural diets go beyond the evidence and produce gurus who claim certainty where there is complexity. They are like two sides of the same coin. He argues for rediscovering the pleasure of food rather than just eating to satisfy hunger or to eat the “right” number of calories of the “right” foods. At the same time, he realizes that telling people to eat what they enjoy would be catastrophic for those with metabolic disorders and laughable for those who can’t afford it.

He describes his brief and disastrous experimentation with a raw food/live food diet. He discovers that when he thought he was avoiding toxins, he was just ingesting different toxins, plant toxins. He says yes, there is probably something out there trying to make us sick or eat our brains, but there is very little certainty about which toxins are harmful to the human body in what doses over a lifetime. It would be a worthy goal for science to identify all toxins and remove them from our diet, but “I can’t wait that long for dinner.”

Written By: Harriet Hall
continue to source article at sciencebasedmedicine.org

11 COMMENTS

    • In reply to #1 by aquilacane:

      technology is natural or we wouldn’t have it. There is no versus, just which natural approach is better.

      I remember a quote in a long forgotten Private Eye record, released free with the magazine, it must have been about 1968. John Lennon (aka Spiggy Topes) had just bought an island in Galway. He said, “In the evenings we’re going to plug our electric guitars into the North Sea Gas, which is natural…”

  1. The article made a good case for using common sense when confronting health issues. In my experience a dab of aloe vera juice for a minor skin inflammation or rash, is just as effective as a brand-name soothing ointment. I usually look for the simple solution first, before venturing out for the services of a health professional.

    A person of average intelligence should be able to assess the need for appropriate treatment on the spot. If the condition gets worse it’s time to go to someone with more knowledge. Quite often a pharmacist is adequate as the first port-of-call.

    • In reply to #2 by Nitya:

      The article made a good case for using common sense when confronting health issues. In my experience a dab of aloe vera juice for a minor skin inflammation or rash, is just as effective as a brand-name soothing ointment. I usually look for the simple solution first, before venturing out for the services of a health professional.

      My Aloe vera lives in its pot on the window sill until bits are needed, the antiseptic is in the medicine kit. As a kid we used wild docken leaves (Rumex obtusifolius) on wild nettle (Urtica dioica) stings to reduce the pain and rash while out and about.

      @OP – For those who dismiss advocates of the “natural” as ignorant of science and deluded by the logical fallacy that natural = best,

      “Natural”, after it has been tested scientifically is best. “Natural”, before it has been tried and tested is potentially dangerous. “Natural” can also be enhanced by using technology, providing it is enhanced for the benefit of the user, rather than simply for the profit of the producer or sales organisation.

      @OP – He decides that eating scientifically is impossible because no diet advice is well-supported by science. Both science-based diets and natural diets go beyond the evidence and produce gurus who claim certainty where there is complexity.

      This is a misleading sweeping generalisation and a false dichotomy.
      There is good scientific evidence about the basic requirements of diet. (- vitamins, minerals, calories, fresh fruit + veg, balance, and avoiding toxins, infections, and parasites), – although it may be hard for the public to find valid information, in the hyped mass of promoted products.

  2. I need only utter two words here: Velcro, Spitfire.

    Both are examples of technologies which were inspired by and copied from nature.

    I think I’m running the risk of appearing smart arsed by saying that for me this book points out the obvious.

    It’s not nature V technology, it’s both, in appropriate proportion.

  3. I like the concept that this guy needed to break away from his upbringing which appeared ideology based.

    There is a nonsensical idea perpetuated by some people and media that natural = better, whereas natute is indifferent to us. An awful lot of natural elemts are hostile or harmful to us, some elemnts of nature are beneficial to us, but just because something is ‘natural’ doesn’t automatically configure anything in any meaningful way,

    Wearing clothes is using technology, simple technology but technology nonetheless, living in a house isn’t ‘natural’, eating meat raw is.

    There is ultimately only way to test what is beneficial to us and what is detrimental, and that is through testing, researching, comparing and interpreting data. I wonder what we could call that method…

  4. … the Natural Approach to Diet, Childbirth, Healing, and the Environment, …

    Sounds like evolution by natural selection … which has a 98% failure rate for most oranisms that have ever lived.

  5. I have a few relatives who are ex-hippie, nature freak types. They also happen to be science illiterate. Explaining anything to them is like pulling teeth because a) you have to introduce basic concepts of chemistry before you can even begin the explanation per se. b) By the time you’ve done that, however brief you have managed to be, they stopped listening a long time ago.

    For example, my brother-in-law enjoys walking barefoot in the woods. I tell him he could cut himself and get a freaky infection or fungus from some unknown bacteria or toxic mushroom for which there is no remedy. But no. It’s natural so it has to be good right? Man used to walk barefoot in the woods he says…. Sure I say, but most of them died before the age of 30 back then.

    End of conversation, no change. No conceding of any kind. No words like “you may be right” or “you have a valid point” or “I think it’s worth looking more into this”. He already decided a while back he wasn’t going to accept any of my arguments. Familiarity breeds contempt indeed.

  6. BTW,

    he was never allowed any form of sugar

    Is:

    1. demonstrative of the author not understanding basic nutrition and science in general.

    2. Pretty much impossible to actually pull off.

    3. Dangerous to health and well being. He’d pretty much be in perpetual ketoacidosis.

    I realize that the author means candy and processed sugar and such. I also realize that i could be labelled pedantic, here. BUT, our words are extremely important when discussing these types of things. Did the guy ever have an apple? Juice? a cracker? bread? any vegetables at all??? THEN HE HAD SUGAR.

    And, further, cyanide is natural. So is snake venom, botulinum toxin, hydrogen sulfide, acids, bases, hallucinogens, digitalis, asbestos, night shade, arsenic, anthrax, cosmic rays, radiation, uv rays YOU GET THE PICTURE.

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