Jim Wares: The case for impeachment of my brain
I learned that once upon a time, long, long ago, about an hour, I believed with everything I am in this one unassailable certainty … that I eat so much because I need the strength to cook.
Now, it’s a hard, hard thing for me to realize I have been so very wrong. It’s a painful thing. It’s like a slither of emotional death to be confronted with this undeniable truth that rips asunder the very foundations of my realities. But I must face this truth. The truth is … I eat so much because I need the strength to think about eating.
There! I said it. Let the healing begin.
Back in the fourth century there was this monk and ascetic named Evagrius Ponticus. He came up with this list of eight deadly sins. Today when we think about the deadly sins we most generally think of seven rather than eight but ole Evagrius Ponticus felt there should be eight so he added depression. In the sixth century Pope Gregory the 1st toyed with this list a bit and combined ‘depression’ with ‘sloth’. Which makes sense; when I’m sinning by feeling a bit down in the dumps, I don’t feel much like going out dancing, sort of slothful.
It’s No. 1, gluttony, this is the sin I’m concerned with here. And I must confess, I am a practiced and expert glutton. I will spare you the lurid details about how one pound of hamburger makes only one cheeseburger or how it came to be that I only get two servings out of a box of Wheaties … open a half gallon of ice cream … none of it makes it back to the freezer. There are others like me and … you … know who you are. But, it’s not your fault. (hugs) It’s not your fault. (more hugs) Well, not completely your fault. (handshake) Well, no, it’s your fault but there are mitigating factors. (sympathetic grimace)
Achim Peters, a professor of Internal Medicine and Endocrinology at the University of Luebeck in Germany and his colleagues explain how it is that gluttony is not the problem … it’s greed. Now that’s a sin; a real doozy of one at that. But it’s not that I’m greedy. My brain is. Stupid brain!
Peters’ research paper entitled “The Selfish Brain: Competition for Energy Resources” reads something like this … low energy storage capacity, blah, blah, blah, information from the peripheral blah, blah, regulating its own adenosine triphosphate, blah, blah, blah, neocortex and the limbic-hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal, blah, stimulating glucose uptake across the blood-brain barrier, blah, blah, high affinity mineralocorticoid and low-affinity glucocorticoid receptors, blah. So I just watched his Ted Talk on YouTube.
“Selfish Brain Theory” as it applies to gluttony is something like an otherwise brilliantly functioning economic system trying to operate under the leadership of a deeply disturbed and greedy despot.
The theory goes something like this … my body is a nation … we’ll call it the United Chunks of Jim, or, the UCJ. All the parts of my body, my liver, hands, heart and the like are the hardworking, industrious citizens of the UCJ. Each citizen is both a consumer and producer in the economy of the UCJ. My brain, that’s the deeply disturbed and greedy despot who runs things.
The UCJ functions nicely under the auspices of long established institutions and regulations of a controlled market economy. When UCJ experiences a demand for resources, say … more energy … all my brain needs to do is issue an executive order to increase the supply of energy.
The executive order my brain issues can instruct all the citizens of the UCJ to meet this demand for more energy in one of two ways. The UCJ has vast, huge, enormous, massive, excessive strategic energy reserves held in the currency of what we call … fat. My brain could very easily instruct all the citizens of the UCJ to simply tap into some of these reserves thereby supplying the energy the UCJ needs for physical activities for such things like dancing…or cooking…while at the same time keeping in check the ‘inflationary’ effects and societal burdens placed on the citizens of the UCJ caused by maintaining these excessive energy reserves. This would be the logical thing to do. This should be a no-brainer for my brain but noooooo!
My brain is a deeply disturbed and greedy despot. Even though it makes up only 2 percent of the total population of the UCJ, as measured in mass, it feels it is entitled to use 20 percent of the UCJ’s resources. It’s elitist. Because my brain knows words … the best words … it thinks it’s smart even though it is, in the words of my thyroid, ” …very, very not smart.”
My brain feels using these strategic energy reserves is beneath him. Some of the currency of these reserves has been stored for years and years…and years. The deeply disturbed and greedy despot brain has a taste for fresh, virgin energy; energy of the sort that can only be harvested from the ever so succulent and natural wonder called…the cheeseburger.
So my deeply disturbed and greedy despotic brain issues a different executive order. It instructs one citizen of the UCJ, my stomach, to gurgle and growl. It instructs another citizen, my mouth, to salivate. It instructs all the citizens of the UCJ, against their own self-interest, to hunger…instead of simply and reasonably tapping into the strategic energy reserves so readily available. All this just so my brain can use these fresh and virgin energy resources for the sole purpose of…thinking about eating. And this is the “Selfish Brain Theory” in an economic nutshell.
Now, I would really like to blame the “Selfish Brain Theory” and my deeply disturbed, greedy and despotic brain for my over-eating and resulting obesity. But I can’t. I can refuse to feed my brain cheeseburgers and demand that it grows accustomed to using these strategic energy reserves. I can insist my greedy brain thinks about something other than eating. I can stand up for myself. I can act on the knowledge that there is not a thought my brain could possibly think that isn’t impeachable. This is all I have learned today.
James Wares lives in Marshalltown and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org