Waterlogged Book Review

by Tim Noakes
Human Kinetics, 2012
$24.95; 430 pages
ISBN 9780450424974

I received this book for free from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers Program.

In the early 2000s, I was talking with a park ranger at the Grand Canyon. He told me he never really had to help anyone with serious dehydration in the Park. Too much water, leading to a salt deficit, was more common in his experience. Ten years later, I got a copy of this book for free. Timothy Noakes explained, at length, why that park ranger was right.

Noakes runs through a massive amount of material relating to human physiology, looking at the biomechanics of running, the hormonal signals that regulate thirst, and all of the associated research. When I first read this book in 2012, I realized I was completely in over my head. I found Noakes' arguments interesting, but I lack subject matter expertise to really be able to assess the details of his arguments. Which is a pity, because I suspect he might have a point, but it is prudent to see what the best counterarguments are, in the best Thomistic fashion.

I'm also cautious simply because this is a field with lots of axes to grind. Like Gary Taubes, Noakes is a bit of a contrarian, and in this book he claims that Gatorade is partly responsible for the idea that we need to drink all the time during exercise, in order to maximize revenues. I don't have an opinion on this. I find it possible, at least, but I'm not interested enough to find out whether it is true. And to be fair, Noakes is suspicious of Gatorade because he realized that the free shoes Nike used to send him colored his views on running injuries (p xvi).

I also don't think it matters to the core argument of the book. Which is extremely reasonable: only drink when you are thirsty. Even when you run or bike for a really long time. As evidence for this, Noakes can point to historical examples like the early and mid-twentieth century practice of marathon runners to not drink anything during the entire race (pp xiii, 38, 210), or the endurance hunting practiced in places as various as the Kalahari and the American Southwest, where you run an antelope to exhaustion and then kill it easily (p 10).

After establishing this recommendation, Noakes looks at the etiology of exercise-associated hyponatremia (EAH) and exercise-associated hyponatremic encephalopathy (EAHE), which he believes are caused by overdrinking during endurance exercise, especially marathon running. Noakes has documented 1600 cases of EAH and EAHE in an Appendix, and he has plotted the incidence over time.


The clear implication of this juxtaposition of charts is that Gatorade is to blame. I'm not sure of this. For example, Noakes doesn't adjust the incidence of EAH and EAHE for the increasing numbers of people participating in endurance sports, which implies a gradual lessening of average fitness, or the numbers of people participating who fall below some threshold of fitness. On the other hand, Noakes does have some evidence that physicians and scientists who got money from Gatorade advocated for the drinking guidelines that he thinks are causing EAH and EAHE in endurance athletes. On the gripping hand, Noakes has some evidence that reducing the availability of fluids during races decreases the incidence of EAH and EAHE (p 303), and that the US military saw a reduction in incidence of both after fluid intake guidelines were changed (p 321).

Noakes also mentions the cases of EAH in the American Southwest, specifically the Grand Canyon, citing a 1999 paper (Backer, Shopes, et al 1999), which brings us full circle, to that anonymous park ranger I met a few years later. Despite the criticisms I have made, I think Noakes is on to something. In part, that is because his core recommendation is pretty sensible. But it is also because where he says something that outrages conventional opinion, I have seen something with my own eyes, or heard with my own ears, evidence that supports Noakes. This increases the probability he is right, but it isn't quite definitive evidence. Since this isn't my field, I'll call that close enough.

My other book reviews

The World at the End of Time Book Review

Hertzsprung–Russell diagram

Hertzsprung–Russell diagram

The World at the End of Time

by Frederik Pohl

Del Rey 1990

$12.95; 393 pages

ISBN 978-0345339768

I was lent this book by a friend. I had never read anything by Frederik Pohl before, but I knew of him because he wrote the introduction to the collection of Cyril Kornbluth's short stories that I read recently.

This was a cracking good read. Hard scifi, mildly didactic regarding stellar astrophysics, along with some reasonable speculations about setting up colony ships that cannot travel faster than light. Pohl played around with General Relativity and some of the proposals that have been floated to unify gravity with the electroweak forces.

I found the main character thought-provoking. Viktor Sorricaine is perhaps a bit of an anti-hero; it takes him until the end of time to stop being a selfish bastard. Nonetheless, I found Viktor likeable, and I could easily get inside his head even when he did things that made me cringe [perhaps in self-recognition?]

The other main character, whose life unexpectedly parallels Viktor's, is Wan-To. Wan-To lives inside a star, possesses immense power, has a lifespan measured in very large exponents, and has the ethics of a toddler. I actually find this plausible. Wan-To's life, which spans nearly the whole interval from the Big Bang to the heat death of the Universe, is remarkably static. What Wan-To reminds me of is an angel, albeit a fallen one.

St. Thomas Aquinas is known as the Angelic Doctor because he spent a great deal of time speculating about what what angels are like. This is primarily of interest because Thomas used angels as a thought-experiment: he tried to discern how a mind worked by thinking about things that are nothing but a mind, and deducing what properties they must have. One of the properties of an angel is that they are immaterial, minds without bodies.

Pohl describes Wan-To as something very much like Aquinas' disembodied intelligences, except that Wan-To very much has a body, albeit one composed of plasma. What is similar is that Wan-To largely lacks the capacity to change. Part of what makes the material material is the ability to change from one form to another. Immaterial things, by definition, lack this ability.

Since Wan-To is actually material, he can change a bit, but his life history is so slow that it takes him a very long time to do so. Unlike humans, who are so very fragile and perishable, but who possess a remarkable ability to change very much over their short lifespan. There is a venerable conceit in literature that our transitory nature is really our greatest strength. Dante and Milton suggested that the fallen angels in particular, envy us, because a human being can make an entire lifetime of mistakes, and yet be redeemed at the end by a singular act of contrition, whereas an angel only ever gets one choice, without any possibility of redemption.

A more recent example from the same tradition is J.R.R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. The relatively eternal and blessed elves lose the world to the raucous and fecund men, precisely because Tolkien's elves lack the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances. A similar idea is at work in Pohl's book, but is only implied. Like the elves, Wan-To's long life, and the very few creatures like himself that he encounters, render his conceptual universe small and fixed. Despite the unspeakable eternities that Wan-To experiences, nothing happens to him. Accordingly, he has few opportunities to learn from his mistakes, or see that someone else has done it different and better.

Wan-To lacks socialization: he completely lacks the common human experience of being raised by someone older and more experienced. All he has are his [admittedly ample] wits and native powers. Against any mere human, or human-like creature, Wan-To is clearly superior. However, in a Providential occurrence, Wan-To's destructive attempts at self-preservation purify a remnant of humanity of the Thanatos impulse by accidentally flinging them to the end of time. Conflict is created thereby, because the nuclear energy of the suns the humans enjoy is unique in the dissipated universe at the end of time, and Wan-To, being material, needs energy to survive. Pohl leaves us with an inevitable future collision between Wan-To and the sons of man. Strongly implied, I think, is that Wan-To will be tested, and found wanting, when this lesser Day of Judgment arrives.

My other book reviews

The Long View 2002-03-01: The European Constitutional Convention

Just today I read an article featuring a prediction about the future of the EU by Emmanuel Todd, a prominent French anthropologist. Todd is known for his work on Anglo-American exceptionalism, particularly in how families are viewed differently in England, Denmark, Brittany, the Netherlands, and parts of Norway.

However, despite how interesting Todd's work on families is, the reason I mention him here is Todd's [correct] prediction in 1976 that the USSR would fall, based on failing demographics.

Todd is now predicting the same thing for the EU. I am not a Euroskeptic; indeed I rather prefer not sticking my nose into other people's business. Thus I take no sides in the political travails of the EU. I am simply interested that Todd was correct once before on a similar matter.

I do note that futures other than mere collapse may be possible for the EU and its member states. John always had a keen eye for historical analogy, and to that let me add a physical analogy. The fragmentation of Europe into nation-states took a great deal of energy; energy that Western Civilization now seems to lack. Without conscious effort to maintain the system created by the Peace of Westphalia, it is likely to relax back into the ground state.

That ground state is Empire.



The European Constitutional Convention

Yesterday, a convention opened in Brussels that is supposed to make recommendations for restructuring the European Union, in preparation for the expansion of the EU from 15 to 24 members. At any rate, that's the party line. The Convention was not called for the explicit purpose of writing a constitution, and its spokesmen say they have no intention of creating a "European Superstate," whatever that might be. Nonetheless, though the very term "constitution" is missing from the official title of the assembly, the press has decided to call it the Constitutional Convention. They have also decided to compare it to the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, which drafted the current federal constitution of the United States, and to find that the European Convention compares badly.

Certainly there is some chance the whole thing could crash and burn. The public debate in America on the Constitution of 1787 was open and the choices were clear. The Constitution had to be ratified by specially convened conventions in each state, so that the proposed Constitution would not fall prey to the interests of local elites. However, the Convention that wrote the draft was closed. The members thought, probably correctly, that they could not make compromises if they had to deal with public reaction to their daily debates. The European Constitutional Convention, in contrast, was called precisely because the European publics are tired of secret conclaves of diplomats and bureaucrats creating plans that fundamentally alter the way the publics' countries are governed. So, the Convention is to be televised, webcast, and otherwise open to inspection. The Convention will make decisions by "consensus," not by taking votes. Moreover, a Civil Society Forum will parallel the proceedings. There the EU's NGOs and other Usual Suspects can criticize the Convention's proceedings and offer proposals of their own. We have all heard the old witticism that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. This structure could easily produce a kangaroo.

Maybe, but not necessarily. For one thing, the Brussels Convention does not suffer from the bloat that characterizes today's international conferences. There will be just 105 delegates, in contrast to the 55 in the Philadelphia Convention (who, incidentally, represented a country with fewer people than live in Paris today). More important, the Brussels Convention simply is not trying to do the same thing that the Philadelphia Convention did. The Founding Fathers met just from May 25 to September 15 of 1787, while the talk will go on at Brussels for a year. That is more the scale of an ecumenical council than of a deliberative conference.

What we are looking at here is a difference of historical periods. The Philadelphia Convention was an exercise in Enlightenment Neoclassicism, perhaps the last moment such a thing could have been done, even in America. The National Assembly in Paris just two years later was already on the other side of the historical watershed, the first great expression of political Romanticism. The Brussels Convention of 2002-2003 may provide the signature to a new era.

It is sometimes said that the European Union is an attempt to revive the Roman Empire. Sometimes even the architects of the EU said that, but they were wrong. What the EU resembles, and probably will resemble even more if the Brussels Convention does not fail, is the Holy Roman Empire. The Empire can be dated, according to taste, to the crowning of Charlemagne as Emperor of the West in 800, or, more correctly, to the accession of Otto I to the title of "Holy Roman Emperor of the German Nation" in 962. A confederal structure, the Empire waxed and waned over the course of almost 1000 years. It mostly waned after the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 created the Western system of sovereign states. At the behest of Napoleon, the Empire broke up into its constituent parts in 1806, with the last emperor abdicating to the slightly less exalted position of King-Emperor of Austria-Hungary.

The Empire reached maturity only with the promulgation of its constitution, the Golden Bull, in 1356. Americans usually think that they invented federalism, the separation of powers and checks-and-balances. Americans even think they invented the idea of a written constitution. A quick look at the Golden Bull will show otherwise. The Empire had a multilobed legislature, extreme deference to the sovereignty of its constituent states, and a court system with ample authority to gum up the works. The Empire looked, in fact, like nothing so much as the current EU, with the difference that it could, sometimes, function as a great power.

The Western nation-state system grew out of the fragmentation of the Empire. In the 21st century, the fragments are falling back together. Even if the Convention is successful, its work will be provisional. Eventually the US, as the other half of the West, is going to have to associate with the system somehow. The American president could perhaps be ceremonial head of state. This would give the EU a measure of diplomatic and military heft it would otherwise lack. It would reassuure the smaller states that they are still states among other states and not mere provinces. It would also act as a restraint on the American executive. No one on either side of the Atlantic is likely to suggest such a thing this year, however.

Certainly not me.


Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site