First off, a special thanks to Patrik of PaleolithicDiet.com for hooking me up with AHS tickets, and to all of you who pitched in to help schmooze Patrik to hook me up with tickets. Also, thanks to Aaron Blaisdell for his hospitality, and his (and the rest of the AHS team) effort and vision for putting this all together. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t thank U.S. Wellness Meats for feeding us all amazing steaks at the Thursday night pre-AHS extravaganza, and at the even itself.
And just a personal note: I met a zillion amazing people while at AHS – from people I draw information and inspiration from to Evolvify readers. I definitely didn’t get to spend enough time with everyone, and my friends are already tired of me name-dropping y’all, but oh well.
While I had the good fortune to have talked with other attendees about various talks right after seeing them in person, this collection isn’t meant to be some sort of barometer on the consensus of attendees. The list is my subjective list of areas of inquiry in the evolutionary health and fitness realm that I feel have the most room for exploration and application. That isn’t to say that these talks necessarily contained the most important information of the Ancestral Health Symposium. Oh and… this definitely isn’t a pure “Best Of” list because I still haven’t had a chance to watch all the talks.
AHS 2011 Awards
Best Tip of the Economics Iceberg
“Sustainability of paleo diets” by Matt Metzgar, PhD
This topic is so massive that it’s impossible to cover it in a < 50 minute talk. Dr. Metzgar lays out a framework for quantifying and analyzing paleo in terms of sustainability and economics. The talk is both oversimplified in terms of economics and overly detailed in terms of systemization, and will probably lose some people. However, the project is ambitious and important. This should be viewed as what it is: a work in progress that has plenty of room to progress and find broad application by synthetic thinkers.
Extending the Idea
Best Obvious Sounding Title that Applies to Depths of Life You Don’t Yet Realize
“The Lost Art of Play” by Mark Sisson
Yeah, “play more”, it sounds so simple. The implications of play lost to the regimentation and systemization of agriculture and industrialization are many. This isn’t just a touchy feely concept, but something that influences our individual psychology and social interactions in ways nobody fully understands.
Extending the Idea
- Homo Ludens by Johan Huizinga
- Play as a Foundation for Hunter-Gatherer Social Existence [full-text PDF]
Best Primatology Informs Anthropology
“Great Apes and the Evolution of Human Diet” by Craig Stanford, PhD
Since we don’t have video footage from the Paleolithic, sometimes the best we can do is attempt to triangulate truth from whatever data points we do have available. The morphology and behavior of our closest relatives is one of the best avenues to pursue knowledge about our evolutionary past. I would have liked to replace a few of the speakers who talked about sugar/carbs with more applied evolutionary theory and anthropology.
Extending the Idea
Best Stealth Introduction to the Best Academic Field You’ve Never Heard of: Ethology
“Wild animals, zoos, and you: The influence of habitat on health” by John Durant
“Ethology is a combination of laboratory and field science, with a strong relation to certain other disciplines such as neuroanatomy, ecology, and evolution. Ethologists are typically interested in a behavioral process rather than in a particular animal group, and often study one type of behavior (e.g. aggression) in a number of unrelated animals.” –Wikipedia
For anyone who’s into applying evolutionary theory, but happens to be afraid of evolutionary psychology, ethology is a fruitful alternative. For those who are into evolutionary psychology, ethology can help clarify ideas and incite new lines of thought. In other words, ethology is powerful for anyone who desires to level-up their understanding of evolution as it pertains to behavior.
I don’t remember John explicitly mentioning ethology, but it’s an implicit bridge between his talk and Erwan’s “zoo humans” concept. Rats in cages have smaller brains than rats in “enhanced environments” which have smaller brains than rats in the wild. It’s infinitely naive to think our modern environment doesn’t impact us in very real ways (beyond diet) as well.
Extending the Idea
Best Potential to Leverage the Paleo Health & Fitness Message in the Business World
Institutional interfaces with health and fitness practitioners is much more prevalent and has much more impact than many of us realize. Because of the efficiency of paleo concepts, this may be the next level in increasing global health through better engagement with the paleo community.
Best “I Wish I Had Tucker’s Research Notes So I Could Get to the Bottom of the Psychology of This” and Ascertain its Myriad Implications
*Talk starts at 21:35
“From cave to cage: Mixed martial arts in ancestral health” by Tucker Max
One of the emergent properties of modern civilization can loosely be characterized as “status ambiguity”. Hunter-gatherers tended to always know where they stood with respect to individuals in their lives. Our conceptions of self are largely influenced by indirect comparisons to abstracted archetypes of humans at the extreme long-tails of the further abstracted economic spectrum. Further, our “real” interactions are also in relation to a disproportionate number of strangers who also exist in a state of their own status ambiguity. The multiple, nested levels of abstraction result in a reality in which has very intersection of the real as it pertains to what our genes expect. Physical training and combat provide a channel to a different reality than our world tends to provide otherwise.
Best Integration of Applied Evolutionary Health, Fitness, and Science
“Body by science” by Doug McGuff, MD
There are moments at which I think Dr. McGuff is totally wrong, and moments I’m totally wrong about him being wrong. A lot of his stuff makes sense on a level that likely dovetails with the concepts in Tucker’s talk and Mark’s talk (both above). I’m not sure the pieces are fully connected, but my brain can’t help but weave the concepts together.
Extending the Idea
- Body by Science book by Doug McGuff
Miscellaneous Important Ideas
As I said, the above videos don’t necessarily contain all of the important topics. There were a lot of ideas that are much more important to people who aren’t me. For the most part, the talks hammering the fringes and overlap between carbs and obesity and disease are mostly lost on me… as are the general talks about paleo that seek to convince newbies or fence-sitters that all of this is a good idea. As such, I’ve unfairly left out a lot of great talks.
Talk that I Already Pretty Much Agree with and Therefore Wished Was More Philosophical
“MovNat: evolutionarily natural fitness” by Erwan LeCorre
Erwan’s talk is a nice introduction to MovNat. It kind of felt like a promo video for something I’m already sold on. That isn’t meant to be a slight at all. I’m just pretty confident that there’s a lot of interesting conceptual underpinning bouncing around in Erwan’s head that the world (and I, in particular) would appreciate. This reference won’t have the gravity it needs without an explanation deeper than I have time to present here, but there’s value in Simon Sinek’s (TED Talk) “Start With Why” (Book) concept that’s overlooked in the talk. It’s not a matter of quality (there’s plenty), but of resonance.
Talk that I Didn’t Watch Because I Know I Already Pretty Much Agree with It, But Think Is Still Super-Important
“The Trouble with Fructose: a Darwinian Perspective” by Robert Lustig, MD
Much like lactose intolerance, it’s surprising to me that so many people are quick to rubber stamp consumption of fructose. Especially when some regional populations have 14%+ rates of fructose malabsorption. Clearly there are individual differences, and qualifiers such as delivery vehicle. Primates lost the ability to synthesize vitamin C because of excessive fruit intake, it’s possible that populations lost the ability to readily metabolize fructose because of minimal fruit intake… and the biochemistry provides some support for this concern.
Talk Other than Mat Lalonde’s that I’m Most Conflicted About
“Self-experimentation: the best science” by Richard Nikoley
Okay, I’m not really conflicted about Richard’s talk, but I’m conflicted about the concept of self-experimentation and the whole n=1 “meme”. The conflict is simple: It’s a brilliant and important concept, but I don’t think most people are capable of executing it in a meaningful way. I too often see people talking about self-experimentation in terms of how they “feel” after doing something or changing something, or whatever. Unless the measure is objective (time, distance, etc.), it’s likely so influenced by cognitive bias that it’s either totally useless, or counter-productive. This is particularly true when talking about dietary compounds that have a short-term psychoactive effect on the brain (neurotransmitters, etc.), in longer durations that introduce stealth and unexpected confounds, or otherwise decouple inputs from outputs or experience. Poorly executed, then continuously recited, N=1 experimentation is an endless fountain of misleading anecdotes that are assigned more value than they warrant.
In other words, watch the talk and practice self-experimentation. But if, and ONLY IF, you pay close attention to the parts about scientific method, and are religious about using only [more or less] objective measures. Even if you manage that, you’re still exposed to a range of biases and need to temper and discount the reliability of your findings more than you’ll want to.
Example of almost totally useless “objective” measure… weight. Throw away your damned scale. You’re better off with a digital camera.
There are three talks that I really appreciated, but don’t really have much to add to, and are proving hard to categorize along the same metrics as the above videos, so… just watch ’em:
- “Heart Disease and Molecular Degeneration” by Chris Masterjohn
- “Clues from the colon: How this organ illuminates our digestive evolution and microniche” by Melissa McEwen
- “Primal mind: nutrition & mental health—improving the way you feel & function & cultivating an ageless mind” by Nora Gedgaudas
What were your favorite talks? What kind of speakers and topics do you hope to see at AHS 2012 next August at Harvard?
I’m not exactly sure how I’d answer that, but I have a vision of some sort of mega applied evolutionary theory conference. Something between the Ancestral Health Symposium‘s focus on health and fitness, the Human Behavior and Evolution Society conference, and the Applied Evolutionary Psychology Society‘s conference. Since that framework doesn’t exist, I do wonder to what extent the behavioral/psychological research from evolutionary theory would integrate with future AHS events.