Inputs and Biological Responses

Michael Allen Smith, who writes entirely too much, recently wrote this about the messy  notion of “Quantified Self.” The link he provides gives you all you need to know about why humans tracking inputs into our biology leaves all sorts to be desired…the margin of error is just too much for any sort of meaningful information to be derived:


We’re not machines; if we were, we could expect a given input to yield a linear, time-consistent response. X volume of powder A yields Y response in Z minutes. But it doesn’t and we don’t. Not only are we not machines, but some of the greatest advances in phlebotomy and proteomics research have come when we get the human element out of the way, mostly for the “unreliable/distractions/kittens” element mentioned above.  Examples:

So just live all Dionysian and  attempt to not control anything? No, but you must understand that the inputs are signals…they are stimuli. The stimuli is directionally accurate and dose-dependent. Further, the dose will have varying outcomes depending on the state of your physiological milieu at the moment of input. You can be sure ingesting protein will lead to new amino acids being available for protein synthesis, but the standard deviation of the response will vary depending on a variety of factors that you can never hope to control.

Further, the body is directionally set by the stimuli…it doesn’t care nearly as much by the context of delivery as much as by the quality of the content. This is especially true in the “paleo” community, with the idea that “Caveman X was on the savanna, therefore only could lift heavy rocks and get thorns in their ass when they screwed. I must mimic this for maximum health!” Here’s the thing:

The body doesn’t care about concepts; it only cares about stimuli.

The SAID principle (specific adaptation to imposed demand) referred to the type, quantity, and frequency of a stimuli. So while our hunter-gatherer ancestors trained their posterior chain by hauling an animal, we might dead lift or use a good lumbar extension. The stimuli is similar, no hauling required. The mismatch was never “We’re not hauling bison out of a ditch and eating mongongo nuts”; it was “we’re never exerting to a sufficient intensity while eating lots of processed garbage.” You mimic the stimuli while reducing the risks.

Coming full circle, once you do that, don’t go looking for a tightly defined output that repeats with the same input. You’ve narrowed the possible conclusions, but you’ve not selected any one of them. Your body will do that arithmetic in a way you can’t rationally understand based on milieu you cannot control. Your stimuli influences the possible outcome, nothing more.  To attempt to track everything and be sure you “found” a definite outcome is akin to reading tea leaves and predicting Harry Potter will die.