It occurs to me that if I were to design a robot to do all the things a human does, it’d have a control panel, or administration interface. This is the equivalent of the Settings menu or Properties page in various software. That control panel would likely be internal, operated by the robot’s mind, but it would be there.
I would do this because a general intelligence, being able to think about and plan for the future, can know in advance what capabilities it needs. For example, sometimes it’s good to store fat (because there could be food shortages ahead), so a “Store Fat Mode” would be nice. On the other hand, in modern western society, calories are abundant, and it would be better to stay at a particular desired weight / body shape / etc, so “Maintain Weight Mode” would be more appropriate. Or “Add Muscle mode”, or “Overclocked Metabolism mode”, etc etc. The possibilities are endless.
But humans don’t work that way. Watching “The Biggest Loser” a bit recently (yes that makes me the loser), it strikes me that we have made weight loss into a moral endeavour. “No pain no gain”. We invoke purity/sanctity, the message is “you have sinned, now you must do penance, and only then shall you be rewarded with weight loss”. It’s easy to just accept that, because it plays to our fundamental moral systems, but if you think about it rationally, it’s nuts. What’s really happening with weight gain is that we have a system (our bodies) with a regulatory mechanism adapted to calorie shortage, and no administrative override, no calibration features.
Separately, there’s this idea that we need to “burn off” those calories. It assumes this dumb system where calories go in, get used or stored, and the only way to remove stored calories is to use more than you consume, like we have all the systemic complexity of a bucket. If that were true, then seriously fat people could just not eat for a few weeks, and lose big weight, but it doesn’t work like that. I think what’s really going on is a little of this, but more important is that extreme exercise is communicating to the body “The new normal is massive amounts of physical work, so go into a mode where we can do this”. So the body drops the kilos, adds muscle, etc etc, to adapt to what it is being made to do.
And I guess it follows that the purity/sanctity morality is invoked as motivation to keep up the otherwise very unlikely behaviour of high level exercise.
The corollary of this is, I expect, that if you stop the penitential flagelation of the flesh, the body will change back into its “store fat” mode and you’ll be back to weight gain again.
That’s all by way of example. The point I want to make is that it shouldn’t be this hard. Exercise for weight loss is a hack, it’s tricking the body into doing what you want in an indirect way. If you were designing a human from scratch, it wouldn’t be necessary, you’d just go into Settings, and change metabolic modes.
However, if you were designing (or, heaven forbid, evolving) a body to be inhabited by a non-generally intelligent mind, one that can’t plan forward and can’t do meta analysis on its own goal system, you’d build something exactly like what we humans current are. There would be no possibility of intelligent control, so instead you’d have the body have a range of possible behaviours, and move between them in response to its activity and cues from the environment. Also, you’d have the same thing with the brain itself; emotions/moods/cognitive states would all change, not at the behest of the mind, but according to a pre-programmed regime based on physical and environmental cues.
For all the amazing abilities of our bodies, they are a fundamental mismatch for our minds. Even our mental architecture is a fundamental mismatch for the task of being a general intelligence; most of what we are is targetted at coping with a control system totally unlike what we actually possess.
No wonder it’s so weird being human.