Saturday, May 18, 2013

Living The Future

What does it mean to live in the future? In one sense, the statement is almost tautological, since even Socrates lived in someone's future, just as I live in someone's past.

When I make the claim that we live in the future, I do so from a certain perspective, that of the progressive, whiggish historian. It is, in my view, trivially false to claim that every action taken by every human throughout history has improved the progress of science and enlightenment, but it is overall a true thing that, were we to develop a convincing aggregate of these two quantities, we would find that they have both risen almost ceaselessly in the western world (and then to the westernized world) over the last five hundred years, and exponentially in the last two hundred.

I furthermore attest that this progression is, unambiguously, a good thing. Not only for the benefits to the lives of individuals that have been brought by science and enlightenment, but also because these things are intrinsically good of themselves.

I live this ideal every day by enjoying the fruits of progress and by agitating for increased political liberties both on the blog and in the day job, though imperfectly in the latter case. But I have decided that it is time for me to advance the sciences by using myself as a test subject in a project to increase the efficiency of food consumption. I received a box in the mail yesterday, and will be detailing my preparations in the next post.

From today, Saturday, May 18th, 2013, onward indefinitely into the future, I will be consuming nothing but Soylent.

For those who are having trouble placing the name, perhaps this clip will help:
Now, I am not engaging in cannibalism (yet), but in the film, the notion was that people ate nothing but little cubes, a cube or two a day, that would contain all the nutrients necessary for life. I have assembled a home facsimilie of this, to be detailed in the next post, and will be assembling it into a sort of kool-aid-like mix to be drunk with a glass of water. The goal here is to create and live off a thing which is more efficient than food.

Because food is tremendously inefficient. A half-pound steak is a stew of molecules. A well informed diet-conscious consumer could probably guess how many calories and how much protein is in that steak, but do they know how much potassium, calcium, or sodium is contained within? And what of the countless additional molecules just floating around? I don't mean to contribute to chemophobia, but the reason we can live off steak is because our body has evolved with remarkable tolerances, and the rest is made up for by the desire for a varied diet, under the evolutionary logic that if you eat a hundred different foods a month, one of them is sure to have potassium. But if we start with knowledge of what the body needs and then concoct a mixture that contains only those things in only those quantities, then we can avoid both the Western and African varieties of malnutrition, and hopefully do so at lower cost since we can pursue the cheapest, purest sources of each nutrient.

Because food is tremendously inefficient. This makes sense from an economic standpoint. For years and years way back when, every edible calorie source was necessary to avoid the omnipresent spectre of starvation, and deficiency ailments like scurvy were not the punchlines of pirate-themed jokes, but genuine diseases to which people would lose relatives. If caveman-you finally learns how to make rice, you will still get sick and die in a year because rice alone does not provide your full nutritional needs. But then, once we became rich, we began to improve food. Unfortunately, the most visible metric for food quality is first if you die or not, and then secondly the taste of the food. Having (in some places) solved for the first condition, we have spent the last few thousand years optimizing along the second pathway, which has meant that any progress towards bringing our daily consumption profile into harmony with our daily nutritional needs has been more accidental than anything else. But in this era of unlimited information and inexpensive chemicals, designing a nutrient source that matches the FDA Daily Recommended Intake is a trivial matter that can even be performed by bloggers.

Because food is tremendously inefficient. I am an American, which means that for the most part my time is relatively more scarce than my money. I spend thirty minutes a day wholly devoted to the process of lunch, during which I can at best distractedly skim the internet on my phone. At home I spend another thirty minutes wholly devoted to the process of dinner. The average American spends an hour and fifteen minutes EVERY SINGLE DAY to the task of preparing and consuming food. Plenty of them would not give it up for the world, and I do not begrudge them that time, but I do begrudge it of myself. If I had an extra hour every day, I would use it profitably, probably to play video games, which would increase my overall satisfaction with life.

My next post will detail the beginning of the experimental write-up.

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