When I was in college, a psychology professor told our class about a phenomenon called selective blindness – the inability to perceive things that are right in front of you. He described experiments conducted on kittens: some were raised in environments where everything was painted in horizontal bars; others were raised in environments where everything was painted in vertical bars. When the “horizontal” kittens were placed in a box with vertical barriers, they couldn’t perceive them and couldn’t find their way around them. They would ignore vertical toys, but play with horizontal toys. Same for the “vertical” kittens, only in reverse.
I thought about selective blindness last week when some researchers announced that, much to their surprise, well-to-do ancient Egyptians apparently suffered from heart disease. Check out the opening paragraph from this story in the Los Angeles Times and see if you can spot the selective blindness:
CT scans of Egyptian mummies show that many of them suffered from hardening of their arteries, researchers said Sunday. Cardiologists have generally believed that atherosclerosis is a byproduct of the modern lifestyle, caused by eating foods that are too high in fats, lack of exercise and smoking. The new findings indicate that “we may understand atherosclerosis less well than we think,” Dr. Gregory S. Thomas, a cardiologist at UC Irvine, told a New Orleans meeting of the American College of Cardiology. It may be that humans “are predisposed to atherosclerosis,” he said, “that it is part of our genetic makeup.”
I give Dr. Thomas credit for admitting he and his colleagues may understand less about atherosclerosis than they previously supposed. But later in the article, it becomes clear he was raised in an environment full of horizontal bars labeled fatty meat causes heart disease!
The Egyptians ate more fruit and vegetables and less meat than we do and their meat was leaner. They also led a more active lifestyle and were not thought to have smoked. Given that they developed atherosclerosis anyway, Thomas said, it becomes even more important to take measures to forestall development of the disease as long as possible, including stopping smoking, eating less red meat and losing weight.
Got that? The Egyptians ate more fruit and vegetables than we do, ate leaner meat and less of it, and were more active — but they were prone to heart disease, so this proves we should cut back red meat and try to be more active. Oh, and don’t forget to eat your fruits and vegetables.
Head. Bang. On. Desk.
Here’s how the diet the experts tells us will prevent heart disease worked out for the wealthy Egyptians:
Thomas and his colleagues reported 18 months ago on a study of 16 mummies, in which they found hardening of the arteries in nine. Eight of those nine were older than 45 when they died.
In the new study, Thomas and his colleagues in the U.S. and Egypt expanded the study to 52 Egyptian mummies dating from about 1981 BC to AD 364. They were able to identify arteries and heart tissue in 44 of the mummies and observed calcification — a clear sign of hardening of the arteries that is also seen in modern patients — in nearly half of them. That included 20% of those who had died before the age of 40 and 60% of those who were older than 40 when they died.
In their horizontal world, the doctors are confused by these findings. They’re bumping into vertical bars and not even seeing them. The vertical bars are sugar and starch in the form of honey, wheat and beer. Here’s how one site describes the diet of the ancient Egyptians:
Bread was the staple diet of most Egyptians. The average kitchen was usually situated at the rear of the house, or on the roof. Mostly it was in the open, but may have been partially shade. Egyptian food was cooked in simple clay pots, using wooden utensils and stored in jars.
Beer was the national drink and was also made from barley. To improve the taste the Egyptians would add spices and it was usually stored in labeled clay jars. The importance of beer to the ancient Egyptians should not be underestimated as it was esteemed so highly that it was regularly offered as libation to the gods.
I understand. I’ve been known to talk to God after indulging in beer myself. But apparently, the real crowd-pleaser (and deity-pleaser) in ancient Egypt was honey, which was too expensive for the peasants, but a favorite among the royals.
Honey and beekeeping were very much part of the daily lives of the Egyptian people in ancient times. Records show that it was used as a symbol for Egyptian royalty. It was sought after by Pharaohs, who used it as gifts for their gods. Honey was also found to be used when the ancient Egyptians died. It was one of the materials used in their embalming. Honey has been found in pots next to Pharaohs in their tombs to be used in the after life.
You’ve got to really like honey to carry a pot of it into the next life. But I’m guessing all that honey, along with the bread, beer and the other tasty treats, punched the Pharaohs’ tickets to the next life a little sooner than they hoped. One description I found online of a meal from “the king’s table” listed bread, beer, meat, vegetables, fruits, honey, cakes, wine and oils.
Ah, there you go: meat was mentioned. This, of course, proves we should all cut back on red meat to avoid the kind of heart disease that afflicted ancient Egyptians who didn’t eat much red meat.
No, that doesn’t make any sense. But in a horizontal world, it’s the best we can do.
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