The legendary "Digesting Duck" is an allegory for the modern understanding of nature that has it´s foundations in the Age of Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th century. Mastermind René Descartes reduced living organisms to it´s pure mechanics. He saw the human body and all living creatures as "machines". Like the Digesting Duck that never really worked, the mechanistic thinking in general could never be proven right. Nevertheless this outdated philosophy of nature is still ruling modern day thinking and science.
The dominating factor in nutrition nowadays is the calorie, in which nutrition sciences believes like an unquestionable truth.
*The bedrock upon which the calorie theory rests is the assumption that energy production by the human body is a function of quantifiable biochemical reactions. Specifically, it is held that these reactions are similar to combustion and that they involve the consumption of oxygen and the production of carbon dioxide.
In 1777, the chemist Antoine Lavoisier put forth his theory of respiratory physiology. He held that the life process of metabolism is essentially the same as combustion. Both combine fuel and oxygen, and both produce warmth and waste products. He held, furthermore, that the nature of this caloric process was identical in both living and non-living entities and that it could be quantified and measured in both cases.
The thesis that the processes of human life are, in essence, identical to those of inorganic nature was well received during the age of "Enlightenment" of the eighteenth century and the prevalence of Materialism in the nineteenth century.
Antoine Lavoisier, the "Father of Modern Chemistry", put forth in 1777 the theory that life processes are essentially the same as combustion processes in machines.
The theory that the processes of human life are essentially identical to those of inorganic nature - as illustrated in this infographic by physician Fritz Kahn (1929) - is one of the big misleading ideas of Materialism that still dominates modern scientific thinking.
Conceiving the human body as a machine - albeit a very complex one - led to a feeling of emancipation. The human being no longer needed to believe that his life was dependent on God, Mother Nature or any other creative or intelligent power outside of himself. (Riggins, 1996)
However, this lasted until the end of the 19th century, where there was found something that was, and still is, accepted as experimental evidence for the Calorie Theory.
In 1896, Wilbur Atwater, the inventor of the respiration calorimeter, started with Francis Benedict on a series of experiments studying respiration and metabolism in animals and humans. *They used direct calorimetry (i.e. measurement of the heat given off by the human body), indirect calorimetry (i.e. a calculation of the theoretical amount of heat produced, based on the consumption of oxygen and the production of carbon dioxide), and measurement of the heat value of the food eaten and waste products excreted by their subjects.
When the results from all subjects were pooled, it was found that, on the average, the production by the human body of heat and work corresponded to the caloric value of the nutrients metabolized within a reasonably narrow margin of error. (Riggins, 1996)
This was what the materialists wanted to hear: There is experimental evidence that the human body is a complex combustion engine.
The idea that the human body works like a complex machine is a prevailing modern believe that has been clearly disproved by current experimental data.
Outdated mechanistic "evidence": In 1896 Wilbur Atwater (picture above) started with his collegue Francis Benedict a series of metabolic experiments that suggested that the production of heat and work produced by the human body corresponded to the caloric value of the nutrients metabolized. The Calorie Theory was born.
*A few years later, in 1919, the well-known Harris-Benedict equation was put forth, which tells us until today how much calories the human "machine" is supposed to need in resting mode - the formula for the Basal Metabolic Rate, involving weight, height, sex and age. The Harris-Benedict equation generally produces reasonable results when applied to people of average weight and in good health. However, it is a poor predictor of energy expenditure based on actual measurement in underweight, obese or ill people. Therefore, it over-estimates just as often as it under-estimates.
To make a long story short: The Calorie Theory does not hold up to reality - or as Dr. William Riggins writes in "THE MYTH OF THE CALORIE" (Riggins, 1996):
"We can therefore come to only one conclusion. Given the present state of our scientific knowledge, it may not be useful or practical to conceive of the human body as operating strictly according to the thermodynamic laws of inorganic nature...
Even in a controlled, artificial setting, where the oxygen taken in and carbon dioxide released can be measured, we still cannot predict, in all cases, how much heat and work the body will produce. We must therefore call into question whether it is completely accurate to think of respiration as being merely a form of combustion.
Two blocks of carbon which consume the same amount of oxygen will always produce the same amount of heat. With human beings, however, it is not so."
The Calorie Theory does not hold up to reality. The Harris-Benedict equation to calculate the Basal Metabolic Rate over-estimates just as often as it under-estimates.
"The energy requirements of man are not known. Paradoxically we conclude this from the results of increasingly sophisticated studies ", writes the renowned scientific journal NATURE.
Even in the renowned NATURE journal four leading researchers in the field of human nutrition and human physiology exposed the flaws of the classical theory of nutrition. The title of the article, published in 1973, posed an interesting question: "How much food does man require?" They wrote:
"We believe that the energy requirements of man and his balance of intake and expenditure are not known. Paradoxically, we conclude this from results of the increasingly sophisticated studies of food intake and energy expenditure which show that in any group of twenty or more subjects, with similar attributes and activities, food intake can vary as much as two-fold....
The results of careful studies in a number of countries suggest that some people, perhaps through some mechanism of adaptation, are able to be healthy and active on energy intakes which, by current standards, would be regarded as inadequate... These observations underline the extent of our ignorance about the mechanisms by which energy balance is maintained." (Durnin, et al. 1973)
A few years later a metabolic research team in Ohio found even stronger evidence for the above statement. They not only proved the legendary 19th century experiments by Atwater and Benedict were wrong, but made a revolutionary discovery that still has not reached the mainstream of science. They found evidence that man is, at least partially, powered by an energy from an unknown source.
All italicized parts in this text are original excerpts from the book "THE MYTH OF THE CALORIE" which was published in 1994 as doctoral dissertation by Dr. William Riggins at Columbia University/USA.
"The results of careful studies suggest that some people are able to be healthy and active on energy intakes which, by current standards, would be regarded as inadequate."
This is the conclusion of four renowned physiologists who published their peer-reviewed work in NATURE.
Zinaida Baranova is a woman from Russia, who allegedly did not have any calorie intake for more than a decade, while being obviously overweight. She is one of many examples shown in "IN THE BEGINNING THERE WAS LIGHT" , which seem to be completely absurd following classical Calorie Theory.
By accepting that the human body is also nourished, at least partially, in a non-physical way, those assumed fakes suddenly become more conceivable.