“It Hurts my Brain” — Wrong! Thinking is Not Hard, Thinking is Beautiful

Can we all please get beyond the myth that “thinking is hard”! This guy from Veritasium means well, but regurgitates the myth: How Should We Teach Science? (2veritasium, March 2017) Thinking is not hard because of the brain energy it takes. That is utter crap. What is likely more realistic psychologically is that people do not take time and quiet space to reflect and meditate. Deep thinking is more like meditation, and it is energizing and relaxing. So this old myth needs replacing I think. Thinking deeply while distracting yourself with trivia is really hard, because of the cognitive load on working memory. It seems hard because when your working memory gets overloaded you cannot retain ideas, and it appears like you get stupid and this leads to frustration and anxiety, and that does have physiological effects that mimic a type of mental pain.

But humans have invented ways to get around this. One is called WRITING. You sit down meditate, allow thoughts to flood your working memory, and when you get an insight or an overload you write them down, then later review, organize and structure your thoughts. In this way deep thinking is easy and enjoyable. Making thinking hard so that it seems to hurt your brain is a choice. You have chosen to buy into the myth when you try to concentrate on deep thinking while allowing yourself to be distracted by life’s trivia and absurdities. Unfortunately, few schools teach the proper art of thinking.


Psychic Energy Concepts − Learning Your Superpowers for Real Dude!

Knowing how you work and learn best is really useful knowledge. It’s even more useful if you have some way to apply this knowledge. This, and the dubious concept of psychic energy is what this article is mainly about.


Elizabeth Braddock (Psylocke) uses psychic energy to fight evil. But what is this “energy” really?

If you are like me, you do not enjoy reading about vague and ill-defined concepts, especially if they are presented as authoritative and “scientific”. One such area of annoyance is the use of the word “Energy” in psychology. I came across this most recently when reading about MBTI. The previous post was an introduction to MBTI and related personality typology frameworks, which are routinely used to great practical benefit in life. It was jut the first half of this article. This is the second half.

The thing is, just because personality types are useful and productive does not mean people thoroughly understand them. And in particular, I wanted a better understanding of the role of the concept of psychic energy, or what Carl Jung referred to as Libido.

The Use of the Concept of Energy in Psychology

First, let’s be clear that energy is properly a technical term in the science of physics. It has many forms, one of which is potential energy (energy locked away in the position of a mass in relation to some force field), and another is kinetic energy (energy of motion, the faster or more massive a thing the more kinetic energy it possess, quantitatively). The key thing is that energy is numerically measurable, it is quantitative. It is not a vague concept, it has real meaning.

As you can easily imagine, these definitions are not arbitrary. Potential energy can indeed be turned into kinetic energy, that’s the way the world works — I’m not kidding — this is the fundamental fact of physical reality — this interrelation between potential and kinetic energy is literally precisely what makes the universe evolve as it does. In a deep sense there is nothing else to know about the world. What makes the world an interesting and beautiful place is that physics cannot actually perfectly predict what will happen to all the potential energy stored in the positions and motions of matter — and so physics cannot give us a complete account of past and future. All it can do is give us probability measures of how energy might unfold in the future or past motions of matter in spacetime.

This is why we need to supplement physics with higher level sciences like chemistry, biology and economics and even psychology, in order to fully understand the universe and all the life it supports you cannot get by just on Sheldon Cooper’s bank of knowledge.

But clearly the pure physics definition of energy is not what psychology has in mind when studying things like behaviour and temperament in human interrelations. So what exactly does psychology want us to understand when it employs the word “energy” or at least the phrase “psychic energy”?

Energy and Libido

Although this is probably an over-simplification, I will use “Libido” as a synonym for psychic energy. But what is this by definition?

It is not really energy, since energy is … well, … energy is Energy! It’s a concept in physics, not psychology. The brain gets energy from glucose (primarily). And glucose has little directly related to libido. Although, if one lacks glucose then libido plummets no doubt, but so will all other physiological and psychological functions! So the physics concept of energy is not really much to do with psychic libido.

But there is a common intuition we all share about mental energy. You can feel exhausted from certain mental activity, even when your physiology is well fueled up on glucose and other carbohydrates and proteins and other vitamins and food and water. And even when you are short on food and water, there are other mental activities that can energise you and uplift your spirits. So since this is clearly not about physics energy, we have these intuitions about something else. This is what we mean by psychic energy or libido. It’s the mental energy you can feel you have even when you have little physical energy. It is generally fairly independent from physical biochemical energy, although, as just noted above, you always need a little bit of physical energy to function. But given you have just enough physical chemical energy to walk upright and move your muscles, then there is still something else, something that can drain or revive you mentally, and this is the elusive concept of psychic energy or libido.

In MBTI theory psychic energy, or libido, is claimed to be directed inwardly for Introverts and outwardly for Extraverts. But what is this libido really? Is it merely a fictional concept, a nevertheless functionally useful device for talking about psychology, an artifice for usefully conversing about psychology, or is it a real thing, something which can be quantified and measured?

We do Feel Lows and Highs

I’ll take it as a given that everyone knows what one means by an emotional low (or high). These are roughly speaking the mental states of low (resp. high) psychic energy. But they have nothing directly related to physical energy levels, at least not obviously. But there are connections which will be why the word “energy” has a place in psychology. My main aim is to make this precise.

The Brain Controls Hormones

Hormones are those ubiquitous proteins that drive a lot of our biochemistry, most of it is subconscious stuff, but a few hormones are well-known to affect our moods, our emotions, and so they filter up in conscious level sometimes too the point where they become noticeable conscious irritants. Women have the luck of knowing this acutely when they menstruate. But less well known is the fact that men experience similar yet not nearly so intense psychological mood swings due to the banal effect of these dumb biochemicals, and men have a daily cycle, not monthly.

The point is that psychological and conscious mental states are not purely driven and determined by thoughts and intellectual levels of consciousness. A heck of a lot of our psychological and emotional mental states are crazily influenced by levels of dumb chemical hormones in our brains. But since our brain also is responsible for adjusting levels of hormones, this sets up some equally crazy feedback loops between the ostensibly quite disparate realms of (1) psychological states and (2) neurological chemical balances, or imbalances.

So psychic energy is fairly mundane. It’s not the SciFi power that enables people control of physical objects via thought waves. It’s just the effect of hormones on physiology. You feel “low in psychic energy” because your brain is causing your body to feel physically fatigued because the hormones are lowering your metabolic rates and such-like. This is the biochemical–neurological–psychological feedback loop. Biology does not respect human categorical levels of description though. And the causality can work in reverse. Low psychological esteem can cause the brain to enter loops of subconscious activity which cause our organs and cells to emit the hormones that lower metabolic rates, and thus can make you feel physically exhausted.

You could have high glucose levels and yet still feel exhausted because your metabolism in general is being told to shut down by your brain. And then an hour later with no more food intact you could feel great because someone or something has shifted your brain states into a positive affective condition causing the metabolically enhancing hormones to surge. Your brain does not just monitor blood glucose. It is a powerful entity. It can adjust hormones based upon other complex high-level cognitive states that have no simple biochemical correlates, and rather are correlated best with things we routinely refer to as psychological states.

Low Psychic Energy is Not Always Low Physical Energy

Low Psychic Energy can cause feelings of low physical energy because our brains do not directly perceive low glucose or low metabolic activity as tiredness. Our conscious perception of tiredness is complex mix of low level physiological states and certain neurological patterns of activity in our brains and high level conscious thoughts.

That’s right! Even a sad thought can make you feel tired and “low in energy”. But this is psychic energy, not necessarily physiological or biochemical energy. It’s worth remembering this the next time you feel tired or exhausted. You might want to reflect upon it and think carefully about the true cause. Is it real lowness in glycogen or other physiological chemical energy levels, or is it mostly psychological, or is it a cause in the intermediate level of neurology and hormone imbalances which can be easily corrected with some happier thoughts and some caffeine?

Treating ailments effectively is mainly about figuring out the most proximate and deepest underlying causes and treating these.

The trouble with treating psychic low energy levels, or low libido, is the complex mix of factors, which range all over the field from chemicals up to conscious thoughts. But if you at least try to treat one of the symptoms, because of the complexity of the causal chains, it will probably have a beneficial short-term relieving effect no matter what level you decide to treat. Have a Vitamin B does, a coffee & and cake, a brief but intense exercise, a hot shower, and maybe take a pause to watch an inspiring TED Talk for instance. It may not cure chronic depression, but I bet it will lighten your mood temporarily and give you a positive little burst of psychic energy.

So a Definition of Psychic Energy?

Yes, I think I have one. Psychic energy is not one thing, it is a complex of high level emotional states found only at the psychological level of human thought, mixed with objective neurological patterns in the brain, mixed with dumb biochemical hormonal levels and even raw chemical energy levels in blood glucose and glycogen. But the main referent for the phrase psychic energy or libido is the psychology level of exhaustion/sadness or alertness/happiness that is associated with the aforementioned complex of factors.

Because psychic energy has no single cause it cannot be easily quantified, and there would exist many different methods of plausible semi-quantification of the notion of psychic energy level in an individual. If you wish to do psychology science then choose a metric for measuring psychic energy, define it well and unambiguously, keep it as objective as possible (i.e.., do not make it too dependent upon patient reported “feelings”), and state your particular definition clearly so it is at least reproducible.

Used wisely I think the notion of psychic energy can be very powerful. I can conceive of practical uses in at least the following areas:

  • Daily motivation and humane employee productivity enhancement.
  • Sports performance enhancement.
  • Health professions, complimenting traditional treatment of symptoms of exhaustion.
  • General life satisfaction enhancement and career counselling and relationship psychology.
  • Academic study for the further advancement in understanding of clinical positive psychology.
  • Creativity enhancement in the arts and sciences.

And that’s just a beginning.

Psychic Energy and MBTI

The original reason I wrote this article was to better understand how the word energy can be used and interpreted within the framework of Myers–Briggs Personality Typology.

Here is the key paragraph which is repeated in many of the MBTI practitioner references and MBTI theory sources:

“People who prefer extraversion draw energy from action: they tend to act, then reflect, then act further. If they are inactive, their motivation tends to decline. To rebuild their energy, extraverts need breaks from time spent in reflection. Conversely, those who prefer introversion “expend” energy through action: they prefer to reflect, then act, then reflect again. To rebuild their energy, introverts need quiet time alone, away from activity.”

So how can one understand this paragraph in the light of the discussion of psychic energy?

To “draw one’s psychic energy from action” means that positive emotional states which correlate with certain neurological firing patterns in the brain get stimulated by physical activity and conversation and engagement with others for Extravert type personalities. And I would hypothesize that the same neural states and regions of the brain are fired up in Introverts by the opposite sort of activities, namely solitude, peace and quiet time for inwardly directed reflection.

By a positive emotional state one would presumably mean brain states that are correlated with subjectively reported feelings of happiness and objectively measured increases in skilled performance such as efficiently solving basic puzzles and other basic standard psychometric metrics of positive affectations.

To “expend one’s psychic energy” means that negative emotional states which correlate with certain neurological firing patterns in the brain get stimulated by solitude and excessive quiet and lack of engagement and conversation with others for Extravert type personalities. And I would hypothesize that the same negatively correlated neural states and regions of the brain are fired up in Introverts by the opposite sort of activities, namely solitude, peace and quiet time for inwardly directed reflection.

By a negative emotional state one would presumably mean the opposite of the positive affective brain states and their correlations.

If I could conduct an fMRI study on volunteers I would hypothesise brain scans correlated with subjective and objective reports of psychic energy (happiness or sadness) as depicted crudely in the following cartoon.

Extravert vs Introvert brain scans

Schematic hypothetical fMRI scans of two people having the same experiences, one an Extravert, the other an Introvert.

And I’d expect the reverse sort of data when the same volunteers are subjected to peaceful isolating stimuli for extended periods. I’m not sure, but maybe someone has already conducted such research? I can at least have some theoretical fun with this.

A Spot of Amateur Neurology

The prototype experiment then might yield data that looks a bit like the following schematic:

Stimulus functional doimance model.

This is a general hypothesis I’d call the stimulus functional dominance model. It’s saying that maybe the same functional areas of the brain “light up” in the two different people but in inverted activity ways because the same external stimuli are being given, but the emotional patterns of neural activity in this model are opposite.  What makes the Extrovert psychologically happy is what makes the Introvert psychologically sad, and conversely − in this model.

Or maybe the hypothesis should be that the dominant brain regions will be those that are responding to the stimuli, in which case the maps might instead look like this model:Response functional doimance model.

I’d call this the the response functional dominance model.  It’s saying that different regions “light up” because of the way the different personalities process the external stimuli, but the neurological correlates of emotional states are similar when subjectively reported.

What would be your guess?

Mine would be neither of these models should be dominant because we are dealing with a mix of stimulus and response. So I’d expect the fMRI maps to look quite different. They’d be a mixture of both models. But the stimulus aspects would be similar, not necessarily inverted in the activity of the regions, since stimulus is stimulus, it’ll light up the same areas in both brains. It’s only the response that should differ.

But then, Introverts process stimulus differently according to MBTI theory, so once more the fMRI maps could be weirder than a simple overlapping of social stimulus + exhaustion functional dominance in Introverts and social stimulus + happiness functional dominance in Extraverts, and conversely for the prolonged solitude stimulus.

This is all just some theoretical fun you understand.  Please don’t take it as a neuro–psychology science lesson!

Hormone Level Correlations

I’d go further of course and speculate about the correlations in hormones between Extraverts and Introverts.  Suppose we ask how adrenalin (the excitement hormone) and serotonin and norepinephrin (happiness hormones) change over time is response to either intense social stimulus or the opposite stimulus os prolonged solitary environment?

What would you hypothesise?  Go on!    Go ahead and giver it some thought

Here are two guesses about how hormone levels might fluctuate.    The first cartoon is for prolonged social stimulus.


Here I’m imaging studying two people at exactly the same party or in the laboratory stimulus environment, or whatever. Preferrably both together in real time. The only difference in the charts is supposed to be the two individuals.

The second cartoon is my guess for prolonged solitude.


Obviously the trends might not last.  Even Introverts can get bored with themselves. And even Extraverts can get overloaded with social stimulants.

This is just speculation again.  But imagine some actual data and the fun you could have telling psychological level stories about the data.  Could be a really interesting PhD topic huh?    Say you saw the above data, you might observe that some social stimulus spiked adrenaline in both the Extravert and the Introvert, but the spike is greater in the Introvert and leads to a decline in the pleasure hormones. They getoverstimulated too easily. The extravert has more tolerance and gets the buzz of adrenal excitement, but not the overdose whihc might lead to decline in pleasure.

If anyone knows of prior research on these topics then please write a comment.

These speculations touch only on the one dimension of MBTI, the E/I dimension.  So I expect a lot more interesting science could be done to test MBTI theory against neurology and other biophysical data which correlate with reported mood and other psychological states.

* * *

In summary, the Psychic Energy referred to by MBTI theory is not strongly linked to biophysical energy. It is rather the complex of factors which, at a very low and marginal level do include chemical energy levels but also, more importantly are the factors associated with positive affective states in our brains, which correlate with subjective feelings of happiness and well-being independently of physically measurable biochemical energy indicators.

Knowing Your Superpowers

Yeah, well knowing your personality type is not a superpower, but it can be a bit like having one. When you know yourself better you will be able to actively avoid shit which brings you down,  and moreover, if you’re an Introvert you will know not to listen to lame friends who advocate extreme social interaction to perk you up, and if you are an extravert you will be able to cheerfully dismiss a concerned friend who advocate spending some decompression time alone, because you really know what you might need is some good company.

That’s just the beginning of using the science of psychology to discover your superpowers.  As a further next step I’d recommend taking the Signature Strengths Test over at www.sas.upenn.edu/authentichappiness/

It’s fun, but note that it’s not much more than fun unless you do the reading and take action to turn your known strengths into use for your benefit. This is one of the key messages emerging from the  comparatively recent and young field of positive psychology:  focus on enhancing your strengths, because this positive focus leads to greater happiness in general than focusing on correcting your weaknesses.  Leave your weaknesses aside, they will improve automatically if you just focus on enhancing your strengths.  Why?  (You might well ask.)  No one really knows, but my guess is that enhancing your strengths is just more fun than toiling on trying to overcome your weaknesses.  It’s a version of the old adage: “find work or an occupation that you enjoy, then your job and career will be your pleasure and not your misery.”

Psychic power to you all!

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Answers to Other Questions

Just answering my own questions here.

  • Is Psychology a Science? — Yes, it is now. See the TED Talk by Martin Seligman: The New Era of Positive Psychology.
  • Why do thinking and feeling have to be thought of as rational, and sensing and intuition as the irrational? — in the previous post I wrote that they do not need to be taken this way. The thinking of some people can appear quite irrational to others at times. And how people use intuition or sensation can appear quite understandable. How you perceive someone’s modes of behaviour can depend not only on their personality type but on your own type as well. What I think Jung meant was merely that Thinking & Feeling can be understood more generally as rational than Sensing & Intuition. Why? Because in Jungian typology Thinking & Feeling lead to outward decisions, whereas Sensing & Intuition yield internal mental changes which are not public.
  • Do Extraverts and Introverts have the same neurological active regions when stimulted by their different dominant prefered activities? — That is, do outward directed activities (talking with others, being bubbly and sociable) for Extravets fire about the same pleasure centeres in their brains as does inward thought and peaceful quiet excite in the brains of Introverts? And equally, do the activities which dampen Extravert emotions (solitude, isolation, excessive peace and quiet) fire the same neurological patterns and regions as in the brains of Introverts who are placed in loud buzzy social environments with forced excess engagements with others? I do not know of any research which answers this set of questions. So consider it an open topic, maybe you will be the researcher who first publishes an answer backed up by data.

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Entropy and Minty Fresh Breath

Have you ever fallen into the clutches of the minty fresh breath quest obsession?

If yes, then you know what I’m writing about. If not then there’s little point in you reading this article. This one is for all fellow mild obsessives and borderline autistics or just plain old folks who want to give out only fresh scented kisses on demand.


Image courtesy of: http://www.shoeboxblog.com/

The fresh minty breath quest obsession has little to do with wanting to have fresh breath when talking to others, although that’s how the obsession might begin. Once fully developed however, it becomes a personal matter. Having fresh breath and a clean taste in your moth becomes important to you alone, regardless of anyone else. It becomes a personal quest, and you may even begin to feel acutely annoyed hours before the sour taste of stale food, and the microorganisms built-up during sleep in your mouth, reach their highest tolerable concentrations.

You want it, but you cannot have it.

The reason is you are fighting against a law of nature. Your body is one large complex machine for producing rot and decay. But it does a reasonable job of expelling a lot of the decay products. But why?

The thing is, to live and work and be fantastic your brain needs energy, and in a human this energy has to come from food. But food is corpulent horrid stuff, and what your body has to do to food to extract useful nutrient and energy from it is burn it (slowly at low temperature, chemically). But no biological organism has yet evolved with a perfectly efficient food burning metabolism, and none is likely ever to evolve. The reason is the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics is a mathematical result which comes from applying precise statistics to the fundamental laws of physics. The curious thing is that the fundamental laws of physics allow for the possibility of a perfect food burning organism. The Second Law of Thermodynamics tells us rigorously that a perfect food burning metabolism would require either extremely hot body parts or extremely cold body parts, and these extremes are biologically incompatible with life on Earth. Although, admittedly, some bacteria come close to being clean waste emitters, and without vast temperature extremes. They do not scale up to human size though. The larger the organism the harder it’ll become to produce clean waste from food.

The reason is because the Second Law of Thermodynamics is a statistical result about the maximum possible efficiency of any energy transformation process. Eating food is such a process which our brain requires. So it has a maximum theoretical efficiency, and the Second Law of Thermodynamics works out that this efficiency is dictated by the coldest and hottest temperatures at which our body consumes and excretes it’s energy. Food is the incoming, and our breath, and heat radiated from our skin, and our poop and pee are the out-flow. Their temperature differences are not great. Hence the efficiency of human biochemical energy use cannot ever be close to perfect. One price for this imperfection is the nastiness of the chemical waste products. And the bacteria which have co-evolved in symbiosis with us which break down a lot of the left-over remnants of food in our bodies which we do not usefully use-up.

The funny (and frustrating) thing is that it doesn’t have to be this way!

Why is Natural Breath so Nasty?

Waste chemicals do not have to be nasty. Look at plants. What is their main waste product (while they are alive)? It’s oxygen. Oxygen is actually a nasty substance, it combusts easily emitting lot of nasty heat, and it is toxic to life, and yet animals need oxygen to breathe. Oxygen is useful for animals because it is toxic. It is ununstable molecule and yet just stable enough to be a viable breatheable gas. But it is useable because it locks a lot of energy away in it’s chemical bonds. If a process breaks those bonds then a lot of energy is released, and free energy is what drives machines and life.

Free energy allows a system (in principle) to produce order, or in more specific terms, it allow living things to, well, live! Living is a process of turning useless stuff into useful stuff, and this violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics. How?

The Second Law of Thermodynamics is a statistical law of nature. It is true on average. Which means any particular system can violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics provided somewhere else the Second Law of Thermodynamics is anti-violated. What does anti-violation mean, you might ask?

To answer we need a numerical statement of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This involves the concept of entropy. Entropy is a measure of the amount of information in a system. The more information the higher the entropy. Perhaps paradoxically (or psychologically bemusing more like) increasing entropy creates more randomness and chaos. Why? Well, think of the reserve.

Imagine a box of identical balls, except for colour. Each ball can be either black or white only. Then you can “encode” a message using the balls, say by spelling out words in Morse code, or writing literal alphabet letters using geometric arrangements of the balls like ink jet printer dots. When would such an information carrying box have low entropy — Answer: when it cannot carry much information. Zero entropy would be a system that cannot carry any information. This would be like a box of all white balls, jam packed so they could not be spread out to spell out any message. Lowering information thus corresponds to maximising order in a system. Too much order means no information can be conveyed, in fact perfect order (maximal order) is completely useless for transmitting information. So the converse is that maximum disorder corresponds to the most information content. In fact a random arrangement of the black and while balls would be a high amount of information. It might be totally incomprehensible, but it is the most useful. Think of it like this: although writing Shakespeare’s play Hamlet in black and white ball lettering would look random to some alien observers who have never seen English, to us it would carry a lot of information. But that would not be maximal information.

Imagine now rearranging the manuscript for Hamlet into a compressed code, like the LZA algorithm used to compress computer files. All the information in Hamlet is still there, but we’ve used a more efficient code, and probably will have lots of un-used black and white balls, with which we could encode Hamlet and The Tempest, say. But then even to our eyes, the black and white ball array would now look totally messed up and random. We just know it’s not, because we can use reverse LZA to decompress it whenever we want to read it by sight.

There is a mathematical definition of information measurement, known as Boltzmann’s entropy. Actually, there are many useful ways to measure information, and any one of them could be chosen as a definition of entropy. The point is that entropy=disorder can be rigorously defined and hence mathematically–physically measured.

So that’s entropy and information in a nutshell. What’s it got to do with Minty Fresh Breath Quests?

It’s about the Second Law of Thermodynamics which seems to imply nastiness for our breathe, because our breath is a waste product of living. You see, a quantitative way of expressing the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and inf act the best way, because it comes directly from the statistical analysis of the fundamental laws of physics, is that The Second Law says that the entropy of an isolated system can only ever increase or stay the same in a time-averaged measure.

Notice the loop-hole for life? Time-averaged. Which means for small intervals of time, even an isolated system could lower it’s entropy. The Second Law tells us that with high probability (and one can calculate the probability if given the amount of lowering of entropy) no system can remain in a lowered entropy state for very long.

But there’s an even bigger loop-hole for life. Can you see what it is?

It’s the “isolate system” condition. Living things tend to interact with the world around them, they take in stuff and excrete stuff out. Which means, considered as a closed system they are not isolated. So the Second Law of Thermodynamics does not apply to the interacting organisms. It can lower it’s entropy in order to maintain it’s cellular structure and brain memory or photosynthetic machinery or whatever it needs, by expelling positive entropy to the surrounding environment. In a general sense this is what all life must do, otherwise it will die and decay into high entropy random mess. Decaying is what decomposing bodies do, they massively increase in entropy. There’s a lot of information in a dead body, but it’s not much use, not as much as the ordered lower information in a living brain’s memory.

So life is entropy lowering. Death is entropy increasing. And the Second Law of Thermodynamics says that in order t live a system must emit net positive entropy to it’s environment, to keep the whole universe in a state of increasing entropy. Life is relative order, low information, and peace. Death is disorder, maximum information and chaos.

Is there a limit to this? Yes. but there is so much information in the atoms and photons of our universe that it will take a very, very, very long time for entropy to max-out. Stars will have extinguished by then. So this horrible sounding relentless increase in energy and chaos is actually going to be a rather slow cold silent and extraordinarily peaceful death to the universe.

The thing about life is it’s balance. Life also ceases when there is too much order and not enough information and too low entropy. Life arises in genesis from lower entropy conditions. But to get life of any kind you need a little bit of information. So lowering entropy too much also kills life, but in a different way to increasing entropy too much. Increasing entropy is like heating stuff up, so it causes chaos and life cannot gain any stable structure. Lowering entropy is like freezing everything to a stand-still and then life cannot get going and has no Life needs stability (low entropy) but it also needs information (high entropy). Life is one of those cool things. It sits in a special region between low and high entropy. Like a diplomat or counsellor mediating between two antagonists. life is awesome. I think it was the computer scientist Chris Langton who said, “Life exists at the edge of chaos.” Or, more reasonably, one might say, “life exists somewhere between the border of too much order and too much chaos.” Whoever first said that, they were right! Profoundly right.

Living is an entropy lowering process because for life you need a bit of biochemical order. Sure, cells and muscles and brains and lungs etc., all seem to be remarkably complex things. But if they were graphically compressed by LZA then our body would need a very sophisticated processor to function, and frankly that’d be next to impossible. Imagine how slow it would make us, and life on Earth is precarious at the best of times, so speed in life is good, or at least highly useful. So evolutionary it makes sense that bacteria, plant and animal organisms have to have a high amount of order and coherent structure.

It seems a bit weird doesn’t it? Life is low in information content! Low in entropy. Thus violating the Second Law of Thermodynamics is what life seems to do. Only it doesn’t. Life trades in entropy. It takes in low entropy food and expels higher entropy waste, and it gains in the process a little bit of negative entropy, which it uses to maintain it’s stability. Biologists call this homeostasis. Overall the entropy of the universe increases a little bit because of the existence of life. But while we are alive we greedily lower entropy inside ourselves, and expel high entropy waste.

And that’s the Law of Minty Fresh Breath.

You can gain minty fresh breath only if you expend a lot of energy to emit positive entropy elsewhere. It does take effort to brush your teeth.

But why is “bad breath” so nasty in the first place?

Earlier I wrote it doesn’t have to be this way but I have not fully explained why.

The Future of Minty Fresh Evolution

The Second Law of Thermodynamics means we must excrete high entropy waste. But high entropy does not make things nasty. It is not Second Law of Thermodynamics that makes poop smell bad or morning breath smell so rank.

It’s the bacteria in our poop and other bacteria in our mouths. They are what’s responsible for the rank odours. But why? The thing is, there is no such thing as a “bad odour”. Odours are just odours, they are not moral concepts. Good and bad are psychological terms. What makes a particular odour “bad” is the effect it’s molecule has on our olfactory sensors and the way our brain is wired to respond. To strong smells we are evolutionarily conditioned to respond with revulsion (for stinks) or delight (for sweet perfumes).

It is easy (although ethically dubious) to switch around these brain-wired responses. One technique is called behavioural reconditioning. If you expose a human to a really “bad” smell and reward them each time with some nutritious tasty food or a nice buzz from a drug, then over a short interval of time, perhaps a week or less, they will no longer be revolted by the odour. You will have completely turned a “bad” smell into a “good” smell. But only for that person. You haven’t changed any chemistry. You’ve just re-wired their brain.

That is the reason why poop and vomit smell so bad to us. To a dog they might smell quite savoury, who knows?

Why again? Because natural evolution design an animal to avoid it’s own waste products. We need low entropy to survive. So doping ourselves with our high entropy waste is, … well, … wasteful! I mean, things tend to die if they accumulate high entropy. So it is an adaptive survival advantage to stay away from one’s own waste. However, your waste could be some other organisms low entropy source of nourishment. There’s a scale of high to low entropy within which various life forms can survive and prosper. But no life form will prosper if surrounded by entropy higher than what it naturally excretes.

The lucky bacteria who get to feed on human waste produce their own waste chemicals. These can have odours of course, and our noses, or rather our brains, are evolved to be extra sensitive to such chemicals, specifically we have evolved rapid repulsion responses to such smells. You might have had no idea of the science reasons for this, you thought that bad smells were just plain bad and unfortunate. But they’re not, I hope you now realise! They are only bad to you and me, because they signal our own type of waste, which we must avoid in order to live healthy and long.

The only accidental bad smells (for us) are those that are not human wastes but which happen, by pure chance, to have molecular structure and vibrational resonances that are close to our body waste products. Such accidental molecules will smell “bad” to us. But only by accident, because they happen to mimic our bodily waste smells.

And there are some people who have had brain damage or genetic mutations who cannot smell odours. They can live reasonable lives, but their ability to avoid hazardous substances is greatly reduced. So they are said to be not as well adapted for survival as someone with a fully functioning sense of smell. Niece smells play other important roles in life as well.

Perfume is a signal that someone is interested in making friends. Perfumes come in turn from odours that occur naturally which signal good low entropy, like nutritious plants (their flowers) or nicely cooked meals, the smell of a clean warm cuddly baby, or clean ocean water, and so on. Minty fresh breath is a good signature of someone who takes care and who is clean, for instance, and therefore a safe person to be around, since they are less likely to carry diseases.

And that’s the guts of it. That’s the original evolutionary reason why you might get captured by the Minty Fresh Breath Quest obsession. It’s built into the genes that wire-up your brain. It’s part of your nurturing as well. Smelly people tend to be bad dates and tend to pass on diseases. Not always, but statistically it is so.

But, you see, although chemicals cannot change without messing up their function for life, smells can change. Smells are brain responses, and brains’ are flexible and adaptive systems. So people can be behaviourally altered to enjoy and even love the smell of bad morning breath and stale tooth-pasteless breath. Trouble is, their dental health will probably suffer severely!

So what can be done about this?

Well, now that science has evolved we (humans that is) no longer need to be alerted by our nose to the dangers of bad smells. So there should be a scientific fix for the Minty Fresh Breath Quest.  And there is, in principle, a really good fix. Perhaps more than one.

Here is one plausible fix.

Genetically engineer the bacteria in our mouths to produce minty smelling chemical waste. But also genetically engineer a gene switch in the bacteria that shifts back to disgusting smelling bacterial waste excretions when the population of bacteria (concentration of them) exceeds the dental hygiene recommendation, but pre-morning breath concentrations. This way we will still have to protective evolutionary mechanism built-in to our brains which repels us from folks who do not take care of their teeth and who have disgusting eating habits. But normal folks will enjoy a nice kiss in the morning with minty freshness.

I wouldn’t be fussed about doing the same for poop, i.e., intestinal bacteria. Poop is so bad, it has nasty heavy metals and other shit in it, haha! So being repulsed by poop is good, why mess with that end? Unless you enjoy kissing your partner down there?

Such genetic engineering will be regarded as “cosmetic” and thus out of reach from most people for a long time. Plus, it is truly difficult to make good gene switches for waste product engineering. But the harder science is to engineer waste to have a minty odour. That could be very hard. But not impossible. It would require finding a new mint flavoured molecule that has higher entropy than the usual bacteria waste chemicals made from sulphur or nitrogen or phosphorous.

BTW, sulphur is a very common element of bad smells for humans — why do you you think? Rotten eggs is the answer. We are adapted to be revolted by rotten eggs wince a rotten egg caries some nasty, nasty bacteria which can kill a human. The smell doesn’t kill us, it is merely a signal, and we’ve adapted to be highly sensitive to that signal smell, for such life-preserving reasons.

Bacteria have no use for mint chemicals, so in principle, provided the mint molecules have higher entropy than the normal bacterial waste, then this sort of genetic engineering of waste odours is plausible. The vectors for such GE could even be embedded in toothpaste. Wouldn’t it be so much nicer to have your mouth bacteria excrete mint, rather than having to paint it on your teeth and tongue with toothpaste whenever you feel stale? I know it’d free up my time and allow my entropy to be spent in wiser ways! All good science fiction should be close to future science fact. At least I think so. The Minty fresh Breath Quest does have some science fact future I believe. But no one is actively working on such research. So before this genetic engineering revolution arrives in full, what can you do about the quest?

Hey, I just thought “The ultimate” was somehow mandatory for a didactic article like this! But I’m not going to defend it in court, right!

You find that brushing your teeth is not sufficient, and you run through dental floss at a higher than average rate, and you may even discover the optimum teeth cleaning cycle, which is this:

  • Brush with a vibrating tooth-brush. Using small circular motions and keep pressure light to avoid hurting gums.
  • Then brush your tongue fairly firmly.
  • Rinse thoroughly with water.
  • Floss thoroughly.
  • Rinse thoroughly with water.
  • Brush again with a rotating tooth-brush.
  • Spit out most of the toothpaste foam but do not rinse.
  • Gargle a minty mouthwash, or if you have none then leave the toothpaste as is, do not rinse, just wipe your lips clear.
  • Optionally apply a small amount of lip gloss so the toothpaste does not dry out your lips.
  • Optionally, use chewing gum. Sugar-free can do weird things but is ok in moderation. Sugar-sweetened gum is not bad, there is less sugar than in a biscuit. Or you can go organic and chew mint leaves or similar herbs.

You might be amazed at how fresh your breath is in the morning. It will still offend you if you have the minty fresh breath quest obsession, but you will still be delighted at the effectiveness of that cleaning cycle. Particularly if you repeat it during the night if you wake up to use the bathroom.

And yet repeating this cycle up to four times a day might still not seem sufficient in your quest. There has to be more, right?

And there is. Diet becomes important, since a lot of what you eat effects your breath. You may discover that sugars are the enemy. Carbohydrates less so. Proteins somewhat. Water is a friend. Mint tea is a friend. But here are some other smaller secrets. Avoid dairy and soy milk. Use rice milk instead, it is remarkably fresh and clean.

Funnily, hard cheeses are good, but not soft cheese. And the less fermented the cheese the better, so use cheddar, smoked is ok, but not blue-vein or heavily aged cheese.

If you crave ice-cream, buy the expensive coconut-milk ice-cream. Firstly, it is expensive so you will not indulge too much, and secondly it has no bad aftertaste, it is a very, very clean dessert, and delicious. (It’s not horrid, not like the terrible chocolate substitute called carob.)

Chocolate is ok, but only if 60% cocoa or higher, and reasonably low percentage of sugar. Purchase the lowest sugar content chocolate brand. In New Zealand this is usually Whittakers, unless you find some boutique chocolate maker, which is unlikely to be distributed in all supermarkets.

Bad news is garlic and onions are out, even if well-roasted. I love roasted garlic and onions, but the after taste is not worth cooking them up. Have them when you are in a good mood, or when you cannot avoid them, such as when dining at a restaurant. Similarly, other rich and sweet foods have to be part of off-days when your quest for fresh minty breath is on an hiatus. I guess if you wish to remain sane, or resemble a state of relative sanity, then you should schedule a few off-quest days. Make good use of them, by not over-eating, but by eating a moderate and satisfying amount of the most delicious items on the menu. That night you will of course institute the tooth-brushing cycle, which will ensure you feel fine in the morning.

A Recipe for Heart and Mind with Six Packs

A friend asked me how I achieved a “six pack”.  So I wrote her this post as my reply in an email.  If you read carefully you can glean a bit of my philosophy too, it’s not hidden, just obscured by the physics.  haha!


(Yoga.  Illustration courtesy of Kiran Shahid. http://tribune.com.pk/story/535869/yoga-is-about-the-mind-body-and-soul/ )

All you need is around fifteen to thirty minutes a day and a healthy appetite for pain and discomfort.  The theory is to work your muscles all over your body to maximum power.  This way you burn loads of energy, but will not feel exhausted an hour later, in fact you might feel sleepy but fairly relaxed and happy.

The Intellectual Beginnings

To feel really good, begin your exercise routine by FIRST doing some thinking work, e.g., write a few paragraphs for a novel, solve a brain-teaser puzzle, or whatever you enjoy for mental exercise.  For me, the brain needs exercise as much as the body, and this sort of pre-physical exercise routine makes a wonderfully holistic exercise experience.   Of course, if you’ve had a hard day at work then you can count that as your mind exercise if you like.

Also, to feel good about exercise you should know your bodies limits.  If the goal is aesthetic that’s fine, you should not feel vain.  Looking your best is a spiritual thing provided you do not expect it of others and know that deep down it is becaue you enjoy beauty.  It’s really about inner beuaty, wanting to be your best.  Having “six pack abs” is only the shallow result of this deeper aesthetic sensibility.  Some people exercise only to look like a supermodel, and that is not so healthy for your soul.

Also, there are genetics to consider.  In particular, the only thing I can reliably comment upon, are genetic components  (1) metabolic differences, and (2) gender differences.  These are intrinsic factors you cannot escape.  Some people have “slow metabolism” which is scientifically definable, if you have such genes you probably get obese very quickly, and have a huge appetite for food.  Your body does not burn food as efficiently as other people.  You will struggle to get six-pack abs, and the battle will be more mental than physical.  You’d need to battle hard to overcome your biochemical urges for dietary satiation.  In other words, you have to exercise a lot more will power to eat only what you need, not what you think you need.  It’s tough.  One of my brothers has such a  metabolism.

The other main comment is for women.  Women have an extra layer of fat cells than men.  Now fat cells only looks fat when they have plenty of energy stored in them.  Women need lots of energy for childbirth, since their metabolism is feeding two people for about nine moths.  That’s why women have evolved extra fat cells.  But even if a woman exercises like a dude, they will find it hard to look “ripped” even though they might have superior muscle tone to the equivalent man.  It’s because even with minimal fat storage their fat cells will still be present.  Fat cells cannot be created or destroyed much after adolescence, you are stuck with them, unless you resort to liposuction (not recommended).

So women have extra fat cell layers and this acts like a blanket, hiding their muscle tissue, and giving them smoother looking skin.

My advice to women is not to worry about this.  Smooth skin on a woman is beautiful.  Ripped prominent muscle tissue close to the skin is not as sexy on women as on men.  If your boyfriend likes the ripped muscle look then ditch him, because he is probably verging on sheer vanity and Narcissism, he likes you to look like him!  That’s not good for a relationship.  And one thing this article is about is philosophy of exercise and beauty.  True beauty starts from within.  So women, please enjoy and love your smooth beautiful healthy bodies.

The Physical Bits

Eat an orange or watermelon rind (soothes sore muscles, citrulline malate) or tangerines I think have higher levels of citrulline malate, grapes are also good for citrulline. Eat chocolate (muscle power, cocoa) and nuts (protein for muscle building).  Drink water (cleanses the body).

Then use very heavy weights.  Almost as much as you can lift.  Do a variety of exercises lifting weights, e.g., bench press, curls, laterals.  Work any muscle groups that you’d like to tone.

Do some “power sit ups” too, these are the hardest sit-ups you can manage, hands behind head, knees up, lift through stomach not legs, legs should be relaxed and not propped against anything.  But it doesn’t matter how you do the sit-ups so much, the critical thing is to do them as fast and as tough as possible, make it hurt real bad as quickly as possible.

If you don’t have barbells, then for your legs just do power squats (squat down crouched so you can touch the ground with a straight back, then spring up jumping as high as possible keeping your back straight, repeat fast for about a minute or until you cannot possibly jump one more time).  For lateral and bicep strength do pull-ups if you don’t have dumbells.  (It only costs a few dollars to attach a pull-up bar to a wall.)

Do this with all exercises: do them so fast and with such heavy loads that you quickly reach your body limit and can do no more.  It should really hurt your muscles.  This should only take about 30 seconds each exercise, because you should be doing them fast and flat-out.  Don’t forget you have to breath and recover for a minute after each exercise.

After doing abut a dozen different exercises you are finished for the day.  Maybe, for great results, do once after breakfast and then again after dinner.  Each exercise session takes only about 20 minutes.

The Spiritual Completion

The complete health routine is best finished with spiritual exercise.  This can be anything you find helpful to feel at peace with the universe.  Meditation is good.  Reading a good book.  Prayer.  A walk in the park.  Cooking a nice dinner.  Helping a friend or neighbour or stranger (e.g., go online and answer one of the un-answered questions on Answers.com or any other well-read forum, or contribute your expertise to Wikipedia).

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