My Dad’s favourite book of the year is Tim Ferriss’, The 4-Hour Body. At his insistence I had to check out the website where I found a bonus chapter, written by Dr. Seth Roberts, that really sent my mind on a tangent. I’ll explain it from the beginning…
Dr. Roberts is a professor of psychology and a member of the editorial board of the journal, Nutrition. His work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine and The Scientist. He’s legit. The theory that captured my imagination is the basis for what he calls The Shangri-La Diet and springs from Pavlov’s psychological framework of associative learning. The idea is that our brains are hard wired from the days of hunting and gathering to stock up on calories when they detect that there is an abundance of good food. The brain detects that abundance when it registers familiar flavours or smells. The first time we taste something, our brain has not yet made the connection between the associated flavours and the calories that are derived from their consumption. Because no association exists yet, the impulse to stock up on calories is not triggered and we feel satisfied with less. The next time we have that same thing, we subconsciously remember we like it and want more! Essentially, flavours are addictive and make us crave progressively more and more in order to feel that same initial feeling of satisfaction that a new taste experience elicits. The stronger the smell or flavour, the stronger this effect is. This is the same theory that industrial food brands capitalize on by striving to make their products taste identical each time and therefore making us crave their products at the first familiar whiff of grease or sugar.
This theory about appetite seems to me to be a very apt analogy for many human conditions. Particularly, it seems to me that our experience of time is affected very similarly. It is well recognized that as we grow older time seems to speed up. In the beginning of our lives when everything is unfamiliar and new, a few days can seem like an eternity. As we grow older and more familiar with what it is to experience the passage of time and as our daily experiences become well-worn routine, the months seem to fly by before we have the chance to even flip the calendar page and satisfaction doesn’t come as easily. The weekends seem to get shorter and shorter, and vacations are never long enough. We crave more and more time for the things that really nourish our lives but we are restricted to our standard time tables and schedules.
In this context it is logical that humans strive to perpetuate the feeling of satisfaction that a first experience produces. Drugs have been used throughout history as a tool to do this. The desired effect being to alter human perceptions, arguably in order to experience the familiar in a new way and ultimately recreate the initial satisfaction of what was once new and novel.
Another tool we can use to break us out of the monotony of our daily experiences and alter our perceptions of the world is art. Consider how a new song can make a routine commute seem fresh again, or an unexpected piece of public art can transform a familiar city or landscape. Art has the power to make us reassess our surroundings and experience them like new again. It can also be the stimulus that makes us reassess our assumptions and see the familiar in a new light. This is why art is such an essential part of a full life experience. It alters and enriches daily experiences and offers an alternative to monotony. In a Big Mac world Art provides the nourishment that makes your life feel fuller longer.
So, there you have it. That is one insightful diet book. Thanks Dad!