How to lose weight

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I was searching some random information about kilocalories from the internet which brought to my attention the fact that this place is full of instructions and programs on how you can lose weight.

Well, I have accomplished that many times. Most of the information I saw was misleading. So here is how you can do it.

First some background. I am not overweight or obese. The reason I occasionally diet – typically around 5-10kg per session – is due to my bone structure. That bone structure becomes a problem when my exercise levels increase. And thus, if I want to exercise more (say more than 10km per day), I burn weight to make it less painful and more pleasurable overall. Your reasons could be different. In general, though, for most people losing some weight would be a good thing.

The system I use is based on the following principle. Call it the H-principle:

If you want to lose weight, you have to go hungry.

I was surprised that none of the web pages I consulted mentioned the H-principle. Most likely this is because it is not a lucratic thing to say. Nobody is going to pay me for saying it. So I bring it to your attention for free.

The system works as follows. One of your brain’s main functions is to tell when you have consumed too few calories. The specific way your brain tells you this is by generating hunger. Hunger is an experience generated by your brain, a signal that you should do something. It is also a point at which, if you don’t eat, you start to lose weight.

Thus, you don’t have to count calories or think about what you eat. Your brain will do all that for you. What you have to do is to endure hunger.

Also, all dieting programs try to tell you that you can lose weight while eating well. I have never seen this happening in my life. I have plenty of evidence to the contrary. It is not-eating that reduces body mass, whereas eating increases it. That’s my view on what the realities here are.

Not eating is not an easy thing to do. But that’s your part in it. There are a variety of ways to set it up. I use a one meal method, which is that I eat well in the morning and at lunch, and then I eat nothing. I mean nothing. If you try this you will feel very intense desire to eat in the evening. This feeling tells that your daily kcal balance is now below zero. Good news, since now you are losing weight. It is the point at which you start consuming fat. My experience tells me that not eating anything after lunch will reduce my body mass about ~3kg/month. It happens no matter what. In other words, you will lose weight. This method is a winner.

The trade-off is that going hungry is not particularly pleasant. I feel your pain. The equation is pretty hard, especially if you want to lose more. In order to lose significant amount of body mass you will have to go through some unpleasantness. It’s the reverse of all that pleasure you had while eating too much.

Exercise plays a role, but not the role that people usually (seem to) think. Exercise increases your appetite, which leads into overeating. It makes the problem worse. If you are hungry after skipping a dinner, imagine how much harder it is if you also ran 10 km. So no, that’s not what you should do. You can use exercise differently. Say you want to consume an extra portion of delicious ice cream. Most dieting programs tell you not to do that. But you can do it. I calculate that 10km of running/one hour of intensive exercise will burn a Big Mac meal or equivalent. So dieting does not mean eating nothing but veggies or other pathetic stuff that nobody in all honesty likes to eat; quite the contrary. You can eat whatever you want as long as your daily balance is below zero. 10km run = one extra Big Mac meal/day.

I recognize that the H-method has some problems. Once I ate one apple per day and ran 10km on top of it. Every day. My daily balance was -4000kcal, which meant 1kg disappeared from my body in few days. The problem was that these unhealthy and masochistic deficiencies slowly morphed into goals that provided perverse satisfaction and pleasure. I began feeling good when not eating. It’s not supposed to feel good. I believe this mechanism can develop into an anorexia. Also, if the diet is too hard, it consumes both fat and muscles. I have seen my muscles disappearing together with fat, literally. I don’t want to be a skeleton, so I do it more gradually.

I have a couple of further observations. If you are hungry and decide to eat a little, it’s going to be very hard to stop. You will instead observe your hands putting more and more stuff into your mouth while you watch helplessly from the side. In my view, it is better not to touch any food if you don’t want to eat.

The brain is also quite clever in trying to find ways around your willpower. I just typed another post about my experiences in fighting coffee addiction. One of my brain’s ways of trying to lure me into drinking was to present me the proposition that we could perhaps drink coffee “by mistake”. Don’t fall into these traps. You should stay away from any situation in which you could consume food “by mistake,” or whatever trick you brain might come up with. The brain is a very clever internal organ that concocts convincing theories on why you should do this or that, and nothing but your sheer willpower will stand on its way. It is better to avoid situations in which this narration mode comes into play.

I have also failed a few times. It happens. Sometimes external conditions are such that it is impossible. There could be too many things going on, too many worries. Put the project aside and just again later. Eventually it succeeds.

Three months without coffee

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I have been drinking coffee in huge quantities for more than twenty-five years. Then I decided to stop. This post is about my journey into darkness and back to light.

First though I want to share my reasons for giving up the addiction. It was a combination of three things. The first thing is that here in Italy people drink espresso, which is a particularly good and tasty form of coffee. So we have an espresso machine at home that generates gorgeous coffee and does so in an instant. The second thing is that most of my working day was (and is) consumed by programming. My brain though is not in the same shape as it was twenty years ago. So the combination of instant coffee + programming + old tortured brain = consumption out of control.

First three days I had headaches and sever other ailments, which was expected. You probably know what I am talking about. I had to take medication to survive. Then, the next week I had enormous cravings. A craving is an irresistible desire. I wanted to drink coffee very badly. There was nothing else to it, no deeper philosophical explanation. I resisted that phase too. I could imagine that if you try this experiment at home this could be the hardest part. You need to find some other pleasurable activity to do while experiencing these cravings — don’t stay where there is coffee available. You won’t resist it. I did a lot of outdoor exercise.

What happened next is the interesting part, and the reason I am writing this.

I entered a profoundly demotivational state. I did absolutely nothing, and in few occasions just stayed in the bed for the whole day, just looking around. There was no motivation to do anything.

I knew, intuitively, that one cup of coffee would have fixed that problem.

If you have ever had clinical depression, you might know the feeling of emptiness that prevents you from activating yourself in the morning, from accomplishing even simple things. This state was similar, there was strange emptiness, except that it did not have any associated emotional emptiness or “numbness” in it, and I was able to do simple things as long as they were simple enough. I could go to shop. I could drive the car. I could write an email. I was not depressed, sad or emotionally flat. What happened, instead, is that I lost all interest in accomplishing long-term projects. And since everything I regularly do is involved in such long-term projects, I suddenly had absolutely nothing to do. Everything came to halt. (What I mean by long-term projects are things like writing a book, composing an album of music, doing a research project, writing a piece of software all by yourself, and so on.)

I could imagine going to work in the morning, doing something relatively simple, coming home, watching TV, reading detailed technical reviews of whether to buy a QLED or OLED TV, watching sports, things like that. I have never in my life have contemplated doing such things. But the difference is that this lifestyle does not involve any long-term projects; its one day at a time, periods of work intervened by relaxation and life’s little pleasures. Coffee starvation just killed all long-term motivation.

But why?

I did some googling and found a possible culprit: dopamine. Caffeine (the most psychoactive ingredient in coffee) regulates the way our brain is affected by dopamine, a neurotransmitter that in turn affects the way how your brain circuits process information. Neuroscientific and behavioural studies in humans and nonhuman animals show that dopamine is involved in motivation. When I ceased to consume coffee, my brain’s dopamine levels crashed.

And that’s why I think I suddenly lost all motivation to do anything.

It was interesting. I could, for the first time in my life, understand people who are satisfied by just going to “do some work” and then relaxing at home. With all motivation to accomplish any long-term projects gone, that was what was left in me. I would not say it was a bad thing. I could live like that. It had simplicity in it that I liked. Plus, I could be more useful to others, since many (of my) long-term projects never come into anything useful, due to lack of talent or whatever it is.

I also learned something about dopamine and its function in the brain, at least in my brain. I realized that it was this chemical that allowed me get motivated by long-term goals that are possibly accomplished only in distant future, and often without much rewards (such as money, social rewards, career). What I am talking here are projects that can last years before anything concrete comes out, before anybody else sees anything. There is some strange manner in which ‘having a long-term goal in mind’ gives satisfaction while you are moving towards it, even if it might be accomplished only in the far future, if at all. That component was no longer there; all such activity felt pointless. I believe that this is what dopamine does. It regulates behavior towards satisfaction of goals that do not provide immediate reward.

I tried a few times to continue my old projects, but nothing came out of it. It all felt pointless. Not because the projects themselves were silly or doomed to fail, or completely unreasonable or irrational, but simply because why bother?

This motivational catatonic state lasted about two weeks, after which I began a gradual journey back to my true self. Eventually my brain realized that no more caffeine was coming. It had to rely on home-grown production. It was gradual. I still occasionally enter the same vegetative state. But instead of fixing it with chemicals, I recognize what is going on and just let it pass.

Perhaps you are one of those people who are happy with accomplishing one day at a time. Perhaps if I could inject my dopamine levels into your brain you could experience the reverse trip, going from being content with short-term goals and relatively immediate rewards into a mad drive towards accomplishing life-long projects. Some people do experience them episodically. Mania, for example, is a clinical condition in which this type of thinking goes into overdrive: the long-term goals concocted by persons suffering from this condition just become too irrational. This is why the line between creativity and insanity is so hard to draw.

Do I want to go back to my old habit? The espress machine is still there. So far, I don’t.

Elements of Finnish Syntax (Chapters 1-2)

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I recently finished a book manuscript on Finnish syntax that reviews and evaluates everything I know about the topic. It’s currently running 400 pages. I post the first two chapters here which contain an overview.

The purpose of this work was to put all or at the very least most of the existing research, which currently lives in independent and partially isolated papers, published over several decades, into a context. It tries to see the forest, not only the trees.

I also tried to write the book in such a way that empirical justification, if not always complete, is nevertheless provided for virtually every claim. Well-established results are separated from more controversial analyses and issues. The reader can therefore judge the force of the argument by herself or himself, and does not have to take my word for anything.

The work is written in the natural scientific framework. It presents hypotheses and evaluates them against empirical observation. It is not a descriptive grammar.

Language as a natural phenomenon, censored

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A philosophical journal in Finland (Niin & Näin) invited me to write a brief opinion article concerning my perspective on language, which I accepted. The editors, however, rejected my contribution as too “controversial,” so I will post it here (unfortunately it is written in Finnish).

But there is nothing controversial in it. The article considers the possibility that we study Finnish language – any language, in fact – as a natural phenomenon, thus by using the 17th century natural scientific method instead of the earlier, Aristotelian system. It then elaborates some of the hypotheses in that field that I find supported by empirical fact. According to one such hypothesis, explained in the article, the human brain has a biological-structural computational ability to combine words and phrases recursively together. This is the assumption I, like many others, use in all my scientific papers. I then consider, briefly, some neurobiological theories of that ability and other related issues. I also cite certain linguistic phenomena (wh-islands) that are attested in every language and which are, therefore, likely to be biological in origin.

Yet, these ideas are still under strict censorship regimen in Finland, and too controversial to be published. They have been for the last 50 years. Such things cannot be mentioned even in an opinion article, not even if the contribution was invited and not submitted; not even if the author has published research in the stated framework for twenty years; and not even if they represent a mainstream view within the internal research community.

Silence must prevail.

The editors presented many objections. One was that my view of natural science as wrong, or perhaps too simple, but the method I introduce is lifted directly from Galileo, Newton, Einstein, Descartes, and Richard Feynman, among others, the latter whose lecture on the topic you can be find here. That method is taught to all 17-year olds in the Finnish high school who, like me, study chemistry or physics, or any nature science, and they all use it in their professional endeavours and are not allowed to use anything else. You cannot pass the national exam (“ylioppilastutkinto”) in physics if you can’t calculate an observation from a theory. Or if you try doing anything else. It is, furthermore, used by doctors, biologists, engineers, computer scientists. Doctors cannot prescribe medicine or an operation before a diagnostic hypothesis is supported by symptoms. Engineers must follow the same rigour when building bridges.

Yet, it cannot be used, or even mentioned, if you are interested in human language. In this, Finland is truly exceptional. What a stroke of luck that I don’t have to live there anymore.

Collective consciousness

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Do you have the same feeling that we have nudged one step closer to the end?

Let’s recapitulate some things that have changed.

At this point nobody will have any illusions that there will be an economic recovery from the money printing bazooka. General perception of our situation has changed. The collective consciousness has internalized the fact that we are in a very bad and chaotic place. Trillions of dollars and euros are printed and distributed willy-nilly.

Of course you and I knew that, but our opinions do not matter; what matters is the state of the collective mind, what people can assume everybody to know. That has an effect.

Remember when the money printing experiment began it was claimed that once the economy gets going the operation will be reversed. But it was not going to get reversed. It will only accelerate and accelerate it did.

So here we are today. At this point, everybody recognizes that something’s wrong. Illusions have vanished. In some very remote places like Finland illusions of prosperity and superiority still live on as if nothing has happened, but really not much anywhere else. Perhaps this experiment will end up, not with hyperinflaction or deflation, but with total chaos.

Printing money for free and distributing it by arbitrary political decision will kill any remaining incentives to do any real, productive work. There is no point in working or paying taxes. This is the system in communist, socialist nations. My prediction has been that we are heading towards on the long run is a communist system via eventual nationalization of all economic activity. We will not call it communism, but “mega stimulus”, “super-bonus for everybody” or perhaps “universal basic income”, but what it really means is that the central authority takes command of the whole economy.

How did it come to this? That’s a topic of another post. But if there are any big trends I have witnessed in my whole lifetime, being born in the 1970s, it is the slow downward spiral of the West and the ascension of China. Somebody decided it will be in our interest to ship our productive capacities to China.

But let’s move on.

America experienced an awakening as a consequence of the public execution of George Floyd, amplified by the poverty and hopelessness of those who languish in that sad oligarchy.

The image of USA changed permanently, most notably due to the disturbing images of police brutality. It was well understood that USA is a violent and oppressive oligarchy, especially in the countless nations USA has bombed and destroyed, but from this point on this image will be part of the collective consciousness. There’s no going back to the fraudulent “democracy”, “freedom” or “our values” mantra. That fraud is over, one era has come to an end.

Those notions, perfectly epitomized by Obama, have been replaced with “black lives matter”, “wokeness”, “#metoo” and other similar slogans, all perhaps unified by the hatred towards the heterosexual white male.

(I live in a remote village in Italy where these things have absolutely no meaning. I have long since given up trying to understand what that is all about. Perhaps I’m also too old to get it. If you are concerned with what pronouns to use when addressing me, please use “Your Majesty”, that can’t go wrong.)

There seem to be two meaningful forces at play here.

The Democratic Party establishment and the old ruling elite (including much of the legacy media and big tech) wants to use these mantras as empty slogans to get in power while diverting people’s attention and energy into pseudo-issues.

I don’t mean that black lives matter is a pseudo-issue; what I mean is that the oligarchy wants to direct it into one, towards empty slogans and totems, while the looting and destruction by the ruling elite can continue without interruption.

Noam Chomsky once pointed out that one of the most important functions of the propaganda apparatus is to direct and narrow down the topics that can be discussed. The establishment will try to co-opt the movement and direct it into something that has no real meaning, so that the oligarchy can continue its rampage. They do publicity stunts, kneeling here and there, worship this and that totems; there will be black lives matter mega concerts and declarations by corporations and celebrities, and many other things, but only as long as they do not change anything that has any real meaning.

This empty “hope and change” worked during the Obama era, but it seems to me that it no longer works. The “moderate rebels” or “democratic freedom fighters” in the USA, to use the terms Americans use of violent anarchist and looters in other nations, will not go away, and I have the feeling – looking this from the outside, however – that the establishment will not be able to get away from this with empty slogans. There will come a point at which the sleeping giant wakes up, when things are so bad that empty slogans will not be sufficient. Perhaps we have reached that point.

This brings up the second issue, real grievances of people, especially young people, living under oppressive conditions in an oligarchy, with no future, no real prospects of decent life, no job, only debt. For them, these notions are unifying elements, components of the collective consciousness that allow them to fight against injustice as a collective force. A rebellion or insurrection needs common goals and ideals.

In Afghanistan, in a nation Americans bombed for twenty years, people were united by their hatred towards the invaders, and such was the power of the collective consciousness there that it allowed the freedom fighters to resist the violent empire, which now stands defeated and humiliated.

The same collective force could accomplish the same in America, to defeat the empire. It has happened; Bolsheviks did it in Russia, and they were a minority group. The problem, though, is that visceral hatred towards one group, whether based on skin colour, gender, communism, sexual orientation, or Jewish background, will, if such a force gets into power, result in a human catastrophe of epic proportions.

What America needs, in my view, is their own version of Vladimir Putin. When Putin came into power, Russia was humiliated, destroyed and looted by Yeltsin, the West and its oligarchs. It was very near collapsing completely. Today, it stands on its own feet and has improved by almost all measurements (GDP, life expectancy, health care, geopolitical power). The old oligarchs no longer reign. While we destroy and bomb everybody and anywhere, Russians remain calm and rational, patiently repeating the proposition that we should perhaps follow some norms of international law? To no avail.

But the moral of this story is that the defeat of the oligarchy and its empire and a violent collapse need not occur together.

Deflationary death spiral continues

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The figure illustrates the number of unemployment claims in the US. It shows that we are still inside a deflanatory collapse. The situation here in Europe is not any better, although the problem surfaces in another form.

Deflation means that money does not change hands and/or is used to pay down debts. It disappears.

Produces and sellers (hotels, factories, shops) no longer have customers, hence no work, hence the unemployment. People and businesses can no longer service their debts, which leads into bankruptcies: cancellation of both debts and assets.

Later, governments are starved of tax revenues, which will spread the contagion to the fixed income sector (public administration, pensions, universities) that still live inside an oasis of illusion.

And that’s it, the end.

While the market forces want to deflate massively and desperately, central banks and governments try to maintain the status quo by printing money. That explains what is going on today. The idea is that money printing would substitute for the money that disappears. It does not have that effect. It sadly goes into the creation of isolated asset bubbles, as it always did.

Money printing is not an evil plan to take possession of the world, but an attempt to keep the status quo. There are two ways out of the current predicament: deflation or inflation. Deflation means “debt cancellation by bankruptcy,” and it favours savers at the expense of those who have debt. Suddenly those who have cash can buy everything for pennies, while the debtors lose everything. Inflation means “debt cancellation by destruction of money,” which favours those who have debts and destroys all savers, rendering their savings worthless.

This explains why the nations in the EU cannot come to a common agreement on monetary policy: northern saver nations have different interests than the southern debtor nations. As long as the interests do not align status quo will remain and nothing happens. Once they align, however, things will move forward quickly.

The situation here in Europe is also different due to the enormous and illusory welfare systems, “free” health care, and so on. When the private sector crumbles, the public sector kick in to arrest the collapse. Here in Italy unemployed live with their parents receiving unnaturally generous pensions. All this will come to a sad end, however. The public sector cannot sustain its operations unless there is a private sector that can be taxed. How this dilemma is sorted out determines what will happen to us.

“Smart work” for Italian medieval villages

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I was 25 when the Nokia boom landed into the Finnish universities. All experts of any academic discipline, whether they were computer scientists or musicologists or biologists or nurses or farmers turned overnight into world class experts on mobile phones and ubiquitous computing. Billions were moved from one set of hands into others. The results, as we now know, were a disaster. Most of Nokia was destroyed in a few years.  Read More