I learnt earlier this week that Dr. Ray Peat passed away over the Thanksgiving holidays. He was eighty-six years old.
Peat, the popular developmental biologist and nutrition writer, made a significant impression on me. Not only have many of his perspectives on health been deeply incorporated into my own understanding of life, but Peat personally prompted me to start a journey that led me to meet my wife. I will always be grateful that such a man existed, and that I had the good fortune to cross his path, albeit remotely.
I first encountered Peat’s work in 2011. While googling to learn more about the health implications of various fats, I stumbled on one of his articles about coconut oil. His ideas seemed to run counter to what other sources said, but he provided so much in the way of evidence, references, and solid argumentation, that I decided to continue reading. What I found was a trove of knowledge that knitted together a consistent and novel view of physiology and health.
I eventually emailed Peat with questions, and he promptly replied, taking the time to answer my questions in full. This became the start of a long chain of correspondence between us that would last until recently.
I have written elsewhere about my reading-list of supplemental books that helped me to understand Peat’s work, and I have previously published an interview he granted me, in which he shared some of his political perspectives.
Peat’s primary area of study was developmental biology, and he viewed life as an ongoing process of biological development. The idea key to all of his work was that “energy and structure are interdependent”. In other words, our living tissue was not simply a physical structure that is separate from the energy that allows it to do work, but that the energy for work maintains and restores the structure. Energy then—healthy metabolic processes—is essential for good health and well-being. This idea extends beyond health, and explains the living process itself as a self-ordering and complexifying system that is a product of matter being acted on by energy.
This is the constant thread through all of his work. Whether he was writing about addiction, psychological stressors, food quality, or how drugs are marketed for profit, his key concern was in how these factors affect the metabolic processes that cause us to thrive or decline.
Peat dedicated his life to learning and teaching. His students were encouraged to embrace self-directed learning, similar to the kind written about by psychotherapist Carl Rogers or philosopher Robert Pirsig. These men each held the belief that people learn most effectively when they are self-motivated and self-empowered to learn, rather than in the prescriptive, curriculum-based format used in standard education. When helping others, Peat did not seek to give quick-fix answers, which he believed promoted helplessness, but instead always tried to lead people to find evidence, draw their own conclusions, and form a deeper understanding of the subject matter. This is a skill that I observed in Peat and have tried to emulate myself on the rare occasions I am asked for help.
Peat was a prolific writer. He wrote books, dozens of online articles, recorded thousands of hours of interviews, and maintained a regular newsletter that discussed recent research papers through the lens of his own work. Yet, with the exception of a few book sales and newsletter subscriptions, he never asked for money in exchange for his knowledge. His political and philosophical beliefs impelled him to invest in the betterment of others without expecting something in return.
Although little is known about his private and family life, we know that Peat will be sorely missed by an online community of thousands of people. Most of whom he never met.
In life, Peat sought to ultimately understand the forces that enable one to grow and to maximise the span of one’s life. Through constant study, and teaching and helping others, Peat did indeed continue to grow every day of his life. By writing down his ideas and sharing them freely with hundreds of thousands people across the world, it is likely his legacy will outlive us all.
Some links to Ray Peat’s memory are available below: