When Science Trumps Grok

Who is Grok?

Or, more accurately – what does Grok represent?

He’s no messiah. He’s not a real historical figure. He doesn’t sit on my shoulder at night, whispering post topics into my ear as I sleep.

Grok is simply a starting point for the discussion of human health. His dietary habits, his physical behaviors, his proclivities, his sleep patterns are not technically “his,” because there is no literal him. Grok is just an artifact of our big brains’ propensity to arrange data. We process information by compartmentalizing it, by sticking bits of data together with other bits of data for efficiency’s sake. Mental file cabinets. This makes thinking easier, and it allows higher levels of thought and innovation. The Grok concept is an easy reference point – a figurehead. Everything we know about the course of human evolution, all the fossil records and anthropological literature, is effectively represented by the Grok name. A four letter name that just happens to be easy to remember and easy to type. And you have to admit, it’s a cool visual.

It necessarily follows that the activities we ascribe to Grok (and to our ancestors) are also just starting points for our exploration of optimum modern health and fitness. They form a basic framework of acceptable evolutionary precedents that are innocent until proven guilty by modern science. Our job, as Primal enthusiasts, is to examine evolutionary biology and apply rigorous standards to those precedents to determine whether they are indeed optimal and useful. This is Grok logic – taking “what would Grok do” and looking sideways at it to ensure it passes muster.

We refer to Grok logic for two reasons, here at MDA:

First, it’s a helpful analogy, especially for beginners, to whom I try to attract and cater. If I want to give the quick and dirty blessing to a particular food, exercise, or other helpful concept, I use the analogy. People intuitively get the “what would Grok do” line of thought – the evolutionary angle is the thing that grabs a newbie’s attention right away and provides the light bulb moment where a person goes, “Huh, you know, I never thought about grains like that, but it makes total sense!” The light bulb moment is powerful, and, though the ancestral rhetoric doesn’t trump science where the two conflict, utilizing that power to effect change in people’s health right away is worth it. I may inadvertently create one or two roadkill-eating, neighbor’s cat-hunting, honey-gorging newbies convinced that anything Paleolithic is beneficial, but that’s why I’m writing this post, and why I’ve written others in the past. It’s far simpler to turn a neat phrase that’s generally accurate and clarify afterwards.

Second, it’s useful, and usually quite accurate. Grok logic is just a starting point, as I’ve pointed out, but it’s a damn good one that gets things right most of the time, especially with regards to diet and exercise. It makes intuitive sense that things we’ve been eating for the longest time are also foods to which we are highly adapted. It makes intuitive sense that movements we’ve been performing for the longest time are also movements which our bodies perform best and which elicit the most favorable hormonal responses or gene expression. It makes intuitive sense that our bodies have come to expect a certain amount of sleep, a certain amount of light exposure, based on multiple millennia of certain environmental pressures.

The Primal Blueprint might sound like the classically flawed appeal to nature, at least upon first glance. All this talk of Grok, the Paleolithic, hunting, nature, gathering, unprocessed wild foods, and the limitations and failures of agriculture and modern nutrition often gets the eyes rolling. Throw in a few references to raw meat, bug eating, and loin cloths, and you’ve a recipe for summary dismissal of the whole shebang, especially among skeptics and others with an immense personal stake (career, education, physician relative) in upholding Conventional Wisdom.

But the PB (and other content in the paleosphere) does not commit the naturalistic fallacy, which states that all that is natural is good, and all that is unnatural is bad. That’s far too simplistic, far too dogmatic. Life is made of gray, not stark black and white dualities. Context is everything. We may start with the “natural,” but we discard anything that isn’t also buttressed by science. It’s actually the most rational way to go about things, and the most opportunistic. Humans are classic capitalists (small “c”) – we literally capitalize on opportunities and seize control of a situation where it benefits us – and the Primal Blueprint is all about cherry picking the good stuff from Grok logic and discarding the bad stuff. That which proves beneficial under the glare of science wins out in the end, even if it’s a product of agriculture-enabled civilization. If there’s a proven shortcut to health or fitness here (or a convenience or a hedonistic treat with little downside), I’m taking it.

Take dairy fat, for example. Is butter paleo? Was heavy cream available fifty thousand years ago? Does it matter?

I often discuss the importance of considering the totality of a food, rather than its constituent parts (walnuts aren’t just bags of linoleic acid, etc), but it’s also helpful to understand what makes certain foods acceptable. Why do we prefer tallow, leaf lard, and coconut oil as cooking fats? Is it because they’re paleo? No. Because Grok ate them? Sort of, but not exactly. We prefer highly saturated animal and vegetable fats because saturated fat is what the human animal has been eating for hundreds of thousands of years, making it the fuel source to which we’re best adapted; because our own body preferentially stores excess energy as saturated body fat to be used later for self-sustenance; and (most importantly) because modern science has shown (despite the lipophobes’ best attempts) it to be a supremely healthful source of food energy. Butter (and ghee, and other dairy fats), being basically pure animal fat, a majority of which is saturated, is simply a fantastic way to introduce large amounts of delicious, healthy energy into the diet. Plus, you don’t have to hunt and kill a fat-backed, ornery caribou to get it.

Modern convenience is undoubtedly a good thing, too, even though it isn’t paleo. Buying a stick of Kerrygold butter down at Trader Joe’s takes, what, fifteen minutes and a couple bucks? Compare that to the energy it’d require for Grok to obtain a half pound of pure animal fat.

You might argue that the getting is what made us who we are, that the hunting, the gathering, and the physical labor required for living in the wild was what made humans such remarkable, adaptive creatures. I won’t argue with that. In fact, I’ll readily accept that. I’ll gladly reap the benefits of Grok’s intensely physical existence by choosing a few of the specific movements that science proves generate the most benefit with the least time, pain, suffering or sacrifice. A few hundred thousand years of hard-scrabble living has resulted in a hardy, capable species of hominid, and I’m happy to enjoy the resultant genetics. In the end, that’s what the Primal Blueprint is all about: navigating the modern world with these ancient corporeal vessels, using modern science to chart our progress. It’s important that we all note the genetic realities of our evolutionary heritage, but we can’t stop there. It’s not good enough. If we truly want to live well and live long (longer and better than Grok and your average modern health nut), we have to optimize the application of our anthropological knowledge to the realities, opportunities, and advantages of civilization.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending more than three decades educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates flavorful and delicious kitchen staples crafted with premium ingredients like avocado oil. With over 70 condiments, sauces, oils, and dressings in their lineup, Primal Kitchen makes it easy to prep mouthwatering meals that fit into your lifestyle.

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