By the Numbers
My goal is to make you think and/or make you laugh. Commentaries are welcome. :)
The first lesson is that although pain appears to be a simple, homogeneous experience, it is actually a complex experience comprising sensory-discriminative, emotional-cognitive, and behavioral components. These components are normally linked together, but they can become disconnected and therefore, much to our astonishment, they can exist separately. The second lesson is that pain, once deprived of all its affective, cognitive, and behavioral components, loses all of its representational and motivational force: it is no longer a signal of threat or injury, and it no longer moves one’s mind or body in any way. The third lesson is that pain deprived of its sensory-discriminative components comes to such sensory indeterminacy that it cannot be distinguished from other unpleasant sensations, or sensations of other quality, and loses all informational power with regard to the location, intensity, temporal profile, and nature of harmful stimuli. (p.20)
Generally speaking, it seems that we are allowed to rely on something that is already intelligible to us in order to bestow intelligibility upon something that does not wear that mark or distinction on its sleeve. The intelligibility of the relationship between C-nociceptive fiber firing (as well as A-Delta nociceptive fiber firing) and pain is just such a conferred of second-order intelligibility, established via the first-order or conferring intelligibility of the functional-phenomenal relationship between noxious or potentially noxious stimuli and pain. If the relationship between pain and stimuli as adequate or appropriate stimuli both for pain and for the activity of C- and A-Delta nociceptive fibers will imbue, through conceptual mediation, homogeneity between phenomenal and physiological concepts which are (thus far) normally thought to be inherently heterogeneous. (p.157)Whew! Grahek is making bold claims against various philosophical notions of pain, but I do not have the time nor competence to go into them. Suffice to say that he is arguing that it makes sense that pain and injury are linked and that to keep thinking there is more explanation necessary is sometimes a misstep towards understanding.
Succulent in both content and style, The Omnivore’s Dilemma is a fascinating tour through our food system that reveals facts as interesting as they are startling. Pollan’s goal was to figure out “What should I eat?” and that question soon leads to another: Where does our food come from?
The book explores that query by examining the industrial food system (corn), the pastoral (grass) and the personal hunting and gathering of food. Pollan wisely displays his (prior) ignorance and incompetence which makes the book more accessible to the reader and serves the tactical purpose of leading someone along thought processes and arguments instead of making overt arguments to which readers might be more resistant. Among others, this occurred for the investigation of the “military industrial corn-plex,” the ethics of eating animals, McDonalds, as well as the issues of organic and sustainability.
The book really underscored the idea that there is a cost, usually not factored in, to our food and it is most often paid in environmental damage. There was so much packed into this 400+ page book that it would take far too long to describe all the fascinating things I learned, so below are just several examples.
- How (and why) cheap corn exists and is used in the industrial food system; and thus why it is beneficial for a farmer to produce more corn when prices go down. Most things you eat are a decent percentage of corn, mainly because of the high-fructose corn syrup.
- That most humans can only eat about 1500 pounds of food per year which means the growth rate of the food industry is (basically) limited to the population growth of a nation. Consequently, the goal of the food industry is to get people to spend more for the food they are eating or to get them to eat more than they need to or should. (The idea of business doing business was not new, but the specific numbers of amount and growth were interesting.)
- The pervasiveness of whisky in the early 19th century (the modern coffee break began as a late-morning whisky break!).
- That smaller, local, pastoral farming can actually be more productive and better for the land (because the outputs are used as inputs and the external energy source of the sun allows growth but laws of physics to hold.
- A one-pound box of organic prewashed lettuce (that is shipped across the USA) cost 57 calories of fossil fuel energy (due to the growing, chilling, washing, packaging and transporting) for every calorie of food. 57:1 ratio!
- “Americans today spend less on food, as a percentage of disposable income, than any other industrialized nation, and probably less than any people in the history of the world.” (p. 243)
- “Supermarkets in Denmark have experimented with adding a second bar code to packages of meat that when scanned at a kiosk in the store brings up on a monitor images of the farm where the meat was raised, as well as detailed information on the particular animal’s genetics, feed, medications, slaughter date, etc.” (p. 244)
Additionally, I quite enjoyed the discussion in the “The Ethics of Eating Animals” (chapter 17) as I’ve thought for a couple years now that my meat eating doesn’t have a moral nor ecological leg to stand on (and I enjoy ethical explorations of behaviour). Further, his description of experience of hunting and killing an animal, from the ecstasy to the revulsion, was very well done.
The only part that was less reasoned was his brief discussion of lunar energy and the possibilities surrounding it; this occurred during the Mushroom section – the weakest part of the book in my opinion.
For those seeking a well-written exploration of their food and where it comes from, you could likely do little better than Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.