Alternative Places to Get Ideas (Also, "In Defense of Food")

by Raemon 2 min read26th Dec 201037 comments


I discovered Less Wrong a few months ago (courtesy of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality), and I am extremely grateful to have such a thoughtful place to have discussions and to learn new things. But one of the more significant hazards I've become aware of is confirmation bias. And since I began coming here a lot, I find that I evaluate new information through a "Less Wrong Lens" which officially means "well researched and thought out" which is perfectly fine but also includes some new or reinforced biases.

I recently realized the extent of the problem while reading "In Defense of Food". The basic premise (or most relevant one) of the book is that while science may one day be able to determine what is healthy on a nutrient-by-nutrient basis and let us craft whatever artificial foods we want, we are not nearly at that point yet. Every few years the prevailing beliefs of the nutritionist and scientific communities change, people scurry to catch up, and regardless, since transition from a "traditional" to "scientific" diet, certain nutrition-related diseases have gotten more prevalent, not less.

His argument is that traditional diets have often had thousands of years to evolve to match the needs and available food sources of populations. So while the variables and interactions may be complex enough that we don't know why, until science DOES figure it out, individual people are better off sticking to the diets of the past. At the same time, corporations that are interested only in marketing as much food as quickly as possible benefit from constantly changing scientific attitudes. (Disclaimer: yes, I'm oversimplifying again, but my point isn't even necessarily about the merits of the book so bear with me).

By the end of the book, I did agree with his basic premises. I'm not sure his solution is the single best one, but it's a large step up from the diet that the average westerner is going to have. It wasn't explicitly anti-science, just attempting to be realistic about what science can realistically accomplish, and what unique pitfalls come from giving science (or more importantly, politicians and corporations on whom scientists are dependent for funding) the position of power that religion and other cultural institutions once had.

But the first half of the book does have a pretty obvious goal, not of discrediting science per se, but "taking the wind out of science's sails". And in the wake of reading "Methods of Rationality" it absolutely rankled me. I could feel my memetic immune system going into overdrive, looking for reasons not to believe whatever the man ended up having to say. I'm currently unsure whether that had to do with the way he was writing, if he did have his own ax to grind, or if it was purely my own biases coloring the words. But whatever his motivations, I'm grateful for having found the book at the time I did, because it taught me a lesson about my own mind. My answer isn't to say "oh, science is just as flawed as everything else now," but I think I'll be able to approach things from a more neutral perspective.

Now, my purpose of posting this is two-fold. One, is I'm simply curious if other people had read the book and had anything to say about it, one way or another. But the other is to ask: do you have any sources you turn to specifically to help broaden your horizon from the prevailing mindset at Less Wrong? Websites that are not "anti-rational" or "anti-science," that you'd still consider trustworthy sources of information, but that help to offset certain biases that you might have accumulated here?