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Saturday, September 17, 2011

I Eat Yogurt, Therefore I Am

In the WSJ today, Jonah Lehrer, who dropped out of his Ph.D. program in neuroscience to make millions writing Barnes and Noble science books like "Proust Was a Neuroscientist", and "How We Decide", wrote a piece in the review section about eating yogurt and its connection to the mind-body problem. The basic idea is that yogurt makes you less anxious, because it contains probiotics, which contain GABA, a neurotransmitter that limits the effects of neurons. This is all true enough, I'm sure, just as its true that eating simple carbohydrates gives one a feeling of energy followed by a "crash". It's no mystery that the types of foods we eat affect how we feel. But it's quite a leap from this sensible factoid to conclusions about the nature of the mind--if it's distinct from the brain, or more generally our physical bodies. In fact Lehrer glosses over the pivotal conceptual conundrum, that all the gastronomic observations he or anyone else adduces in favor of theories about the nature of mind are consistent with theories that correlate mind and body, as well as those that identify them. C'mon Jonah, you surely most know this. Was it that hard to find something to say?

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