“How many more lessons should I take in a foreign language before I’ve achieved total mastery and never need to practice again to retain complete fluency?”
“How many more breaths of air do I need to take until I can live just fine without breathing any more?”
“How many more bad days or challenges do I have to face until they’re over?”
“When can I discontinue strength training/maintain/stop taking care of myself?”
“I can’t wait for retirement.”
“I can’t wait for...”
“I don’t like people who...”
“I like people who...”
Objects. We’ve turned pursuits, skills, growth, and even people into objects. But only in our minds. They are all processes. Processes in motion. Even people are processes. They are not fixed points, nor impossible products which do not move and have no nuance.
It seems tidier to operate viewing the universe as a collection of products. As if they don’t and can’t change, we place everything neatly into the organizational drawers in our minds. Then all pursuits, skills, and growth we talk about like we’ll just go out and buy them and they’ll sit on our mantles. Or we can’t afford them and they will never occupy our mantles. DONE. The products have been sorted in our mental warehouse. Right?
We think we will ARRIVE. We think we PRODUCE a finalIty. We think we can get to a pinnacle, and there will be nothing more to do. Instead of singing the whole song of The Bear Went Over The Mountain, we sing, “the bear reached THE top and THE END.” We will have filed each type of person in their proper drawer. And we’ll sit back and look at our trophy case of pursuits.
This is the objectification problem. This mental framework which looks at all of God’s handiwork like a conveyor belt in a factory is not just wrong, it is immoral. To determine that people and life are widgets being cranked out for Amazon delivery is base. There is no factory. There is no conveyor belt. All are processes. And putting processes in drawers is heresy.
No one ever arrives. There is no “type” of person. The mantle is empty forever. There is no trophy case. The joys and difficulties of life aren’t products. They’re moments within a journey flowing from one into another. They process, and they recess. It is all in process.
The low are brought high. The high are brought low. People gain. People lose. We raise skill. We lower it. Records are set only to fall. What is built can be torn down. What is destroyed can be rebuilt.
It’s a journey. All of it. People. Pursuits. Skills. Health. Fitness. None are products. All are processes. We may work the process; or we may refuse to work the process. We may play an active hand in continuing the processes; or we may choose a passive hand in watching the processes. Whatever we do and whatever we choose, let us stop objectifying all of life’s journey, all of the grandeur, all of our brothers and sisters. End the objectification problem.
Read this 2007 paper published in the American Journal of Physiology: https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/ajprenal.00149.2007
It's actually pretty straight-forward: insulin resistance plus insulin causes high blood pressure regardless of restrictions in dietary sodium intake.
And the inverse is pretty straight-forward as well: healthy insulin sensitivity does not yield high blood pressure regardless of spikes in insulin or increases in dietary sodium.
To summarize, insulin is the sodium-retention pump. When it's added to an unhealthy person, the signal for blood pressure increase is overwhelming. When piles of salt and/or insulin are added to a healthy person, there is no strong signal to increase blood pressure.
Any management of high blood pressure through medication/mineral imbalance (ie - salt restriction, calcium or potassium manipulation, diuretic, or beta blocker) is a mild symptom reducer AT BEST. Of course, this symptom reduction comes at incredible costs to other organ systems, since its exact method of action is the disruption of various health systems throughout the body. The restoration of health, therefore, is the only cure for hypertension. Specifically, the restoration of insulin-sensitivity is the cure. In the many medical studies on type 2 diabetes reversal, all participants had a dramatic drop in blood pressure that exceeds any drop which could be obtained from salt restriction and hypertensive medications combined: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5928595/.
In wider reviews of the literature (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6520897/#B110-nutrients-11-00766), what the reader discovers is that there are many different names for the manifestation of metabolic diseases, but they all intertwine at the development of insulin resistance and persistent rampant inflammatory response. In one person, the primary manifestation may be atherosclerotic plaque buildup. In another, the primary manifestation may be weight gain. In another, the primary manifestation is hypertension; and so on. In all cases, all manifestations are up for grabs. The onlooker may only see one manifestation prominently; and the inclination is to throw one diagnostic name on that person (eg - hypertension, OR hypercholesterolemia, OR type 2 diabetes). But all manifestations are readying themselves underneath the surface, without a care about the diagnostic name chosen. The body doesn't care at all whether it obtained the name "prediabetes" or "type 2 diabetes". In both cases, blood pressure is mismanaged. That could showcase as LOW blood pressure, HIGH blood pressure, or even BOTH. Yes. You read that right. An exhausted person who is incredibly unhealthy may run very high blood pressures most of the time, and therefore be incapable of managing the normal healthy increases required from life when he stands up from tying his shoes.
Statistical analyses have been unhelpful. It's long been known that a diagnosis of high blood pressure doubles that person's risk of prediabetes. What those analyses miss is mechanism and direction of causation. They merely observe correlations and prevalence of correlation. And, of course, this all requires placing people in neat little bins of specific diagnostic names. To be clear, what's easier to catch: a high blood pressure number or chronic unregulated insulin? People with ridiculously unhealthy insulin response can land at "normative" glucose numbers many times before the clinician finally discovers an awful insulin relationship under the surface. Thus, although correlation is cute, it isn't a rigorous science. In the rigors of science, we work to understand mechanisms and really don't care at all what the correlational statistics say. In this particular case, there isn't a great alternative to slicing the data pie anyway. The data pie still says prediabetes has strong correlation to hypertension. If we ignore those stats and simply focus on known biology, unhealthy insulin management is causal for high blood pressure. That is not in dispute.
Regardless of what names we want to slap on someone to label him or her, restoration of health is the cure. In the review of type 2 diabetes reversals, hypertension disappeared in the responding participants. And in the 2007 paper discussing mechanisms, we find that a healthy, insulin-sensitive individual cannot run high blood pressure no matter how much salt and insulin you add to his system. Meanwhile, an unhealthy, insulin-resistant individual runs mismanaged blood pressure while medicated and salt-restricted UNTIL he restores health and insulin-sensitivity.
According to the CDC, in just over 15 years, obesity in America increased by 39%. Severe obesity about doubled.
In that same period, social media became every day, weight loss shows gained popularity, and fitness tracking technology exploded onto the scene. Deterioration of health and fitness ACCELERATED.
I’m not sure what else to say. It's not enough to say that the gimmicks don't work. The gimmicks are WORSENING our outcomes. I have been preaching sustainable lifestyle shift for longer than that 15 year period of time. And I’ve seen sustainability work while every sexy fitness trend has failed. I’ve coached sustainable. I’ve known it. I’ve lived it.
No guilt. Every popular voice is telling us the wrong things and we are listening. Intently. Our compliance is high. We are executing perfectly according to the food pyramids which indoctrinated us. We are living very tightly to our clinicians’ recommendations. We are abiding well by the popular shows, influencers, fitness trackers, exercise equipment, and franchises.
People aren't failing. People aren't weak. People aren't refusing advice. People aren't struggling with self-control and willpower. People are doing exactly what popular voices tell them to do. And we are getting the precise outcome which the methodology reaps. Severe obesity DOUBLED. DOUBLED! People, wake the f up. More than 2 out of 5 Americans are obese, and that wasn't true 20 years ago. The commonly-accepted beliefs are clearly ineffective.
Who is this Jillian Michaels lady?
The bartender who obtained ONE personal training certification, never logged one single day of real coaching experience, was never mentored by one renowned coach, then became a celebrity with a 99% fail rate among clients?
Never heard of her.
There are many problems with the fitness industry, like any industry. A unique attribute, however, is that the more unqualified and wrong the person is, the more “right” outsiders think a piece of advice is.
If your students are pissing blood, regain more weight than they lost, and die, the general public clamors for your fame. It’s pretty cuckoo. Over its 17 season run, The Biggest Loser only worked with 204 candidates; and 2 of them died... in their 30s.
204 candidates is fewer clients than a full time coach will have overseen by year 5. I don’t have any peers who killed two 30-something clients by year 15 or 20.
Some friends of mine have chirped back that the show “raised awareness.” But according to the CDC, the only thing that happened among Americans during that show’s run was a DRAMATIC rise in obesity. DRAMATIC. Faster than any period in human history. SEVERE OBESITY DOUBLED.
Don’t get me wrong. You do you. If you have zero experience and love to workout, it’s cool. Be famous. Have your million follower social media accounts. But please know that you are a strong contributor to the problem. There is this thing called Exercise SCIENCE. Exercise SCIENCE doesn't give a rip about one fit person's opinion, no matter how famous that person is, no matter how fit that person is.
For the layperson out there, find PRACTICAL changes. We MUST ignore the noise of popular opinions, devices, equipment, and programs in the health and fitness world. Combined, they are all having a profound and lasting impact on worsening the outcomes for everyone. A 40% increase in the obese population in less than a generation is arguably THE greatest existential threat to mankind. Please, just find sustainable lifestyle steps. Take the steps. Ignore the noise.
Look closely. That's not March. That says MAY of this year, 5/16/2021 and 5/17/2021. I took these photos Saturday, February 27, 2021. Back-to-back days of 6a-6p, 24 hours of appointments within two days. A few hours are up for possible change. But probably not.
No secret. Just pour out yourself for the love of coaching. That’s it.
There were a lot of peers who didn’t quite understand how I could command 119 dollars per session 10 years ago at the big box clubs and have over 40 hours of appointments every week, even when I was a manager.
I’d ask, “how often do you show up late?”
They’d say, “not too often.”
I’d say, “make it never.”
I’d ask, “how many hours do you spend on program and note prep before you enter your day?”
They wouldn’t respond, since, after all, they show up late regularly. The right answer is 1 hour for every 5 hours of appointments.
I’d ask, “how often do you show emotional understanding for the challenge clients are going through?”
The right answer is “every time.”
I’d say, “always undersell your experience”. I’m over the 50,000 hour mark for professional career experience; and I’m still learning.
I’d ask, “how much more committed to your client’s health must you be than they are?”
The right answer is “ten times.” This one is huge, because some fitness goals cost people their health. It is on the coach to push back when clients are possibly hurting themselves for a six pack. A lot of people drive themselves into a lifelong autoimmune condition from pushing so hard to hit a body composition goal. They get or amplify Crohn's, colitis, anxiety disorders, arthritic conditions, food allergies and sensitivities, just so they have a couple of sweet photos to look back on. I don't want them to be a bedridden shell of themselves in a year, telling the PAST story of how "in-shape" they WERE a year ago. I want clients to be telling the PRESENT story of how great they CURRENTLY feel in five years, ten years, twenty years. I want it more than they do. Ten times more than they do.
Often I spend 90 minutes on initial meet and greets, even with people who will not be a fit. I spend an hour on follow up notes for initial consults who may never be clients. There was a time I went running every morning for months with a client who was really struggling. I got up between 1:30 and 2:00am, so I could have time to prepare my notes for my workday before I went running with her. She just simply wouldn't take care of herself unless I nearly literally held her hand. Do MORE than the clients will do for themselves. You will never regret putting in more effort and integrity than they give themselves. Want it more than they do. Ten times more than they do.
If you pour out yourself for the love of coaching, the right people will support you in the right way. Coaches, stay strong. Do the right things. Persist. The wrong people will drop out. The right people will show up. When they can count on you, you can count on them, 11 weeks out, 111 weeks out, 1,111 weeks out.
I found this little gem from the third year of my professional coaching journey. A whole lot of WHAT. Man o man, look at that page. It’s just packed with WHAT to do. That newbie approach looks a lot like the approach you find on most of Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.
Lots of what. Almost no mention of WHO, HOW, or WHY.
The “what” isn’t wrong. Don’t mishear me. And just because there was no how or why on this sheet, it doesn’t mean we didn’t cover them at all.
If you’re going to work with motivated people who don’t need coaching, “what” is the absolute gold standard. If you want to look like a guru, you might add some “how” terminology to your delivery of a template.
But then there’s experienced coaching. There’s real coaching. It’s not on this sheet. It’s not in a template, a diet, a set of workouts, or a printed program.
How are you going to keep going when you don’t want to?
When it seems impossible?
When you want to quit?
Tell me WHY you are going to be the person WHO persists.
There’s too much WHAT out there. And it looks too much like my first three years of experience in the fitness industry.
Figure out the answer to those three how questions and respond to the why/who directive; and you’ll make any WHAT work.
Just sitting here today, working on virtual school with my daughter and son on one of my off days, I look down at these sweat pants which used to be loose enough to drape down to the ankle and foot. “Hmm... imagine if I actually trained for size,” I think to myself.
I am not currently eating for size. I am not currently training incredibly intensely. I am taking absolutely no supplements other than omega 3s, vit D, a multi and caffeine.
All I'm looking at is the compounded training effect of consistency. Honestly, I am so busy with family and running five different businesses that the gym-fanatic lifestyle has hardly been on my radar for months. Maybe more like years.
I can confidently say that if you’re struggling to get stronger and put on muscle WHILE training hard for it, you have a significant program deficit. It’s likely lack of stress management. It’s likely overtraining. It’s probably under-recovery. It could be improper progressive strategy. I’m sure you’re insufficient on some nutrient even if you think your diet is on point.
Take a moment. Breathe. Take a step back. Evaluate. And let me ask you this: if you only train one single set of lower body exercise per week (time commitment 5-10 minutes), but recover enough to add one rep and/or 10lbs per week, what do you think will be the outcome at week 10, week 20?
Volume is nice. I don’t knock it. To get or stay lean, it’s proven. But I see people slave for years, putting in thousands of hours more than me to have basically the exact same legs as 5 years ago, 10 years ago. Capability-wise, they have a decline usually. I’ve about doubled my capacity in the past 4 years and I barely train compared to what I used to.
Intelligent progression with consistency defeats all.
Skinny people aren’t necessarily healthy. In fact, underweight body mass has a statistically significant shortening of lifespan that is WORSE than overweight body mass risk: https://www.thelancet.com/.../PIIS2213-8587(18.../fulltext. Overweight people aren’t necessarily unhealthy. None of those is fitness. Elite athletes aren’t necessarily rounded in their fitness, and oftentimes ARE NOT healthy. Many researchers have shown that there are VERY fit people who are MORE unhealthy due to excessive stressors: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4882373/ . This is unsurprising to those of us who are in the field. But the general population needs to know.
In 2019 I had the pleasure of performing a gait analysis at the Biomechanics Lab at Northwestern Health Sciences University. It’s pretty involved. You have motion cameras, the reflector pads which they use for big movie actors and video games, etc. The computers are pulling billions of metrics.
Afterward, as I and the researchers chatted, they showed me some findings with Olympic athletes they’ve measured. I asked what corrective protocols they use for such high level athletes once the specific imbalances are uncovered. You see, even the most elite athletes have MALadaptations. Unsurprisingly, the director told me that these OLYMPIC athletes fail at even some very basic core exercises.
This is unsurprising to me, because I’ve been assessing movement patterns professionally for 17 years. Ask anyone with a serious background in movement and biomechanics and they can give you ample examples of people who have superhuman performance in a few domains but fails completely at being a well-rounded fit person.
This is important for the public to understand. Marvel at high level physical prowess. But don’t get confused. That doesn’t mean they’re totally fit. Usually it means they AREN’T.
And that’s just one distinction.
Another which is critical is the fact that physical fitness can have 5 big headings:
- Strength (force production)
- Muscular Endurance (capacity to repeat moderate-to-high force efforts)
- Cardiorespiratory Capacity (O2 to CO2 exchange, peak VO2, average VO2, spectrum of bpm, resting bpm, HRV, anaerobic threshold, lactate threshold, aerobic base, etc.)
- Mobility (how close active muscular range of motion aligns with theoretical skeletal ranges)
- Composition (bone density, lean mass, body fat percentage, overall mass, hydration percentages)
Even this is an oversimplification. However, often people see skinniness or small body mass as equating to fitness. I want you to look closely at those five categories. PART of the last one people are equating with ALL of all five. That’s not smart. That’s not right.
Furthermore, these categories are intended as fitness in a strict sense of the word “fit,” meaning CAPABLE of doing a task. Thus, your body mass has no objective value to fitness. If your task at hand is pushing a car, more mass makes you more fit for the task. If you have incredibly high body mass accompanied by incredibly high lean mass, you are more fit for a lot of activities.
If I wanted friends to help with landscaping, I am not going to elect waify, little, light, skinny people. They aren’t FIT for the job.
Can you pickup a Boulder? You’re pretty fit, regardless of your waistline.
If we are referencing the capacity to hang from a bar, low lean mass with high body mass means you’re less fit. Low mass and low strength is just as unfit. These are relative statements.
I didn’t mention emotional fitness, or psychological well-being, or mental acuity. They, along with physical fitness, can inform health to be better OR worse. You can starve yourself, be addicted to narcissism, and take amphetamines, and you will appear more fit. Are you more fit? No. Are you healthy? Absolutely not. Are you better at one piece of something we may put under the headings of physical fitness? Maybe.
And so this is a substantial problem. Extreme unhealthiness can purport to be fitness. And if we conflate fitness with healthiness, we reinforce that people ought to risk health to showcase “fitness.”
If, instead, we can keep a clear mind, remembering that these are all very different things, we can appreciate an overweight runner, an underweight yogi, a muscular athlete. Appreciate must be where it ends. The next step, the step of connecting that appreciation with “SHOULD” is misleading. Connecting a small mode of physical ability with an overarching theme of health is wrong. It is dead wrong. It is not even close to being not-wrong.
I’ve heard the statement, “the picture of health and fitness,” and people apply that statement to a photo of a single person by himself or herself posing. Think the cover of Sports Illustrated. Think the cover of a New York Times Best Selling book on health or fitness. Now, stop. Think about this. To me, the picture of health and fitness is an unposed picture with my kids, my friends, my family. The picture of health and fitness is a candid shot of people gathering together. The picture of health and fitness is not a single idol standing alone showcasing one piece of composition at most likely the cost to deep human connection to others.
Disproportionately, I had my most consistent year ever. Most of my clients had their most consistent year ever. A lot of people had their best fitness breakthroughs of all time. In large part, we and our loved ones just didn’t get sick for the first 12 month period in history. To lucky people and those without small children, it might have seemed more challenging to wrestle with unwanted change; and maybe they didn’t even notice how much more consistent they could be while distracted by all the newness. But for those with the strength to embrace challenge, it was BY FAR the most consistent 12 months.
In large part, I pin it on the American spirit and the warrior spirit. True Americans always loved their personal space. Now, they actually abided by it. The strongest warriors have always donned face coverings. Now, everyone could.
For all of human history, the mask was the symbol of the badass. We see iconography of covered faces and our very first thought is “warrior.” When it isn’t done with material, it’s done with blood and paint. The mask means “battle.” Look closely at pottery and depictions of people without masks in the ancient world. Instantly, you know what the unmasked person is: not a warrior; not a fighter; always soft; often a slave.
As facial recognition software technology progressed in the past 10 years, tyrannical governments worked to ban masks (https://www.aclu.org/.../americas-mask-bans-in-the-age.../), because unmasked people are easy to track, identify, prosecute, control. Irrevocably, the mask is the hallmark of the uncontrolled individual. As the tech gets even better, only the free person will wear a mask. Slaves of the state won’t. Privacy and anonymity are the strongest safeguards for a free people, arguably for a society. And any mask works toward that libertarian ideal. Companies and overbearing governments which track your every move with facial recognition software want to BAN masks and used to BAN masks and WILL BAN masks again:
Knights, Spartans, warriors, special ops, ninjas, and the American cowboy were being weak when they covered their faces? William Wallace was scared to show his bare face on the battle field? Bandits and bank robbers are compliant sheep? Protestors who confront oppressive regimes are living in fear? SWAT teams are docile betas? Steel workers are soft? And health care workers are overcautious fools?
Up until March of 2020, a number of things were universally true: 1. badasses wear masks; 2. filtration works; 3. anonymity is freedom; and 4. personal space is great.
1. Athletes took pride in training with masks. It meant you were tough as hell. Think of one of the toughest situations on earth, firefighters going into a burning building, and you can't even picture it without masks and breathing apparatus.
2. Put any filter in front of particulates, and you’ll reduce them by some degree. Think of those firefighters again. Most smoke particulates clock in between 0.03 and 1.0 microns. All of us just plainly accepted that a face covering could be effective at blocking some of the smoke. The coronavirus diameters range from 0.8 to 2.0 microns, significantly larger than most smoke. Never mind that they travel on droplets (unlike smoke) which are orders of magnitude larger. However, this subculture which rose up last year convinced itself that filters couldn't block the coronavirus. Concurrently, it developed a fear that oxygen is restricted through masks. Oxygen is 0.0005 microns, or, to be precise, four thousand times smaller than coronavirus particulates, and a few hundred-thousand to a million times smaller than droplets.
3. Restrictive governments were working to outlaw masks in public. All of us just plainly accepted that the direction of technology is going increasingly toward the nanny-state. One of the only ways you're going to thwart that oppressive inclination of companies and governments is face coverings. Major conflicts rose up all around the world prior to March 2020, debating whether citizens would be allowed to don masks. Then March came; and people started begging to throw away this increasingly-needed freedom.
4. It was a freedom-loving conservative value that no one needs to know your business, be in your space, or even breath on you. Americans liked their personal space, whether it was disliking someone sitting within six feet, or whether it was owning their own houses and yards, or even if it was just dreaming of moving out to the country and getting off the grid. Ever go on public transit in other countries? The rest of the world doesn’t get it. They like sharing bubbles. Americans don’t, or at least didn’t until March 2020. Every red-blooded American loved personal space.
No new data emerged. None. Nothing changed. Yet somehow, as the pandemic struck, some people shifted away from all of those universal truths. The month of March came, and all of a sudden they gravitated toward a totally new belief, a very odd subculture which came out of absolutely nowhere and continued to build in the past 12 months, completely disconnected from all of prior human history. Preceded by nothing, a cult-like coping mechanism to deal with uncertainty formed: fear masks; vilify masks; demand that filters magically become 100% effective or insist they’re worthless; demonize personal space and distancing; redefine the entirety of human society; and then pretend that pathological phobia of masking is toughness.
Personally, I don’t get it. I am not and never was afraid of Covid for my personal safety. But I also don’t even notice the tiny inconvenience of a mask on my face. I don’t have hyper-sensitive skin or intimacy issues which might drive someone to hate a covering so close to the face. I'm not sure if fear of masks is connected to insecurity or Napoleonic complexes; but I just don’t know of one physically large male who is the sole provider for his family and rejects all masking. The manliest dudes on earth never had an issue with masks. And since March of 2020, the only guys I've known who developed this completely newfound hatred of all masks are physically small, bachelors, trust fund babies, and/or carried by their wive's or partners' careers. Pandemic aside, if we can reduce incidence of OTHER colds and flus by even 5%, to me, some regular masking is probably worth it. Totalitarian regimes and technology are going nowhere but forward; so some masking sometimes in public aligns with conservative ideals of liberty. If we can lower risk for the most compromised and elderly among us, to me, it's no sacrifice of my lifestyle at all. It just means we’ll be more productive as fewer people have down days. I never cared for clueless and mannerless people invading my personal space beforehand. Still don’t. It’s a little too... european, if you catch my drift.
What did it take for people to have the most consistent year of their lives? They didn't have any attachment to “the way things used to be.” They made their peace with change. They didn't invent a brand new, negative, fantasy narrative about masks. They embraced both the American spirit and the warrior spirit. As I understand it, the warrior doesn’t whine and complain about newness or inconveniences. The warrior doesn’t avoid doing hard or uncomfortable things. The warrior doesn’t care about signaling his toughness. He doesn’t refuse a mask any more than he begs for one. He will wear it in battle. The slave won’t. That was always true. March 2020 didn’t change that. And as we continue going into the future, I can guarantee that people who can’t let go of the past will continue to make themselves suffer needlessly. Those with the strength to embrace change can have the most consistent and best year(s) of their lives.
Trying to figure out what advice to follow in fitness is tricky. Conflicting opinions abound. And attempting to weigh them against one another is an infinite effort. So don’t. Find the argument. Forget the opinion.
Opinion Versus Argument - Section 1
This is a really sticky area for all of us. I see people make this mistake on both sides of a debate on just about anything. And your intellect and education does not shield you from this mistake. Part of the problem is that even really good experts forget that opinion is not argument. An argument stands alone. And it must be taken on its own terms. Opinion can be weighed based on the expertise and motivations of the one saying it. Argument does not rely on anything but it’s own soundness and validity (which is covered below).
To help illustrate, imagine the following:
- The Director of NASA with 40 years of experience in the field and numerous peer-reviewed published papers says, “based on my experience, I must conclude the earth is flat.”
- Your crazy neighbor with an IQ of 80 and history of mental illness says, “if a model’s explanations and predictions are confirmed by repeated and independent observation, it is practical and provisionally true - the spherical model of the earth and Copernican principle make explanations and predictions which are confirmed by repeated and independent observation; therefore, they are practical and provisionally true.”
The expertise of the first and his motivations play into how we should weigh his opinion. The problem is he never presented an argument. There is an implied one we often insert, something along the lines of “if one person’s expertise is high enough, his conclusions are true; my expertise is high enough, therefore, my conclusion is true - and here it is!” This is a question-begging fallacy, of course, and an extremely common one. The implied argument is valid, but unsound. We mistakenly take that implied validity to equate with truth. But the premises are both question-begging and so obviously untrue. There is no level of expertise anyone can achieve which puts her opinions beyond question. Regardless, the expert did not present us with an argument.
In the second example, we have an argument. The person presenting the argument is immaterial to the force of the argument. Its logic is valid. That’s beyond question. If we accept the premises, it is sound. We could disagree over any one part of the premises, and revise until we find a commonly-agreed-upon wording. At that point, all who agree on the premises will end with the same conclusion. And it has absolutely nothing to do with the expertise or field-specific experience of the presenter.
We always hope that field-specific experience will help experts to present better arguments, but there is no guarantee. They could just as easily present increasingly strong-worded opinions, confusing themselves and listeners.
In non-empirical sciences and in vast extrapolations, the layperson is at a disadvantage in grappling with the arguments. They’re very complex and expertise-specific. Often, they require an incredibly good understanding of statistical modeling and the foundational workings of that particular science and its research. However, instead of patiently taking the time to better present the arguments to laypeople, we will demote ourselves to opinion-waving in the form of consensus-brandishing. “Over 90 percent of scientists say X,” we might chirp. That IS meaningful. But it is a much more slippery slope than the person saying it realizes. Instead of presenting argument, you’ve merely stated a bunch of opinions. They’re well-informed opinions. They’re expert opinions. But that is not an argument.
Expert opinion creates a broad backdrop of grey area. This gets particularly difficult when we attempt to hold a claim to the scientific gold standards: falsifiability and predictive power. Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter if 100% of scientists believe something which is neither falsifiable nor has predictive power. It’s non-science at that point and devoid of an argument. There MUST be an argument that stands on its own; and, for us to even care about it, there must be a way to falsify it (ie - test it), and it must house a steady stream of specific predictions which came/come true. There are artificial “sciences” on the periphery, which make “PREdictions” AFTER the fact. And the more complex a pseudoscientific model, the more likely it is to descend into the concentric circles of the geocentric model. Supporters, knowing this, get more adamant about presenting opinions instead of arguments.
Sadly, many times in recent history those on the correct side of a debate stop presenting arguments. Their position is right. But their presentation and communication is exactly wrong. Conversely, and even more sadly, the people on the wrong side of the debate may be presenting more arguments than opinions. This lands the debates in odd territory. Right people with wrong debate. And wrong people with right (albeit unsound and invalid) debate. If we can move everyone away from thinking that invoking opinions is an argument, we’ll all do better. It will take patience. Yes, it will take engaging with really dumb arguments. It may require painstakingly walking non-specialists through the process of how some research works. But we have to stop being lazy with defaulting to opinions as a sit-in for arguments. They’re not. And clearly, our avoidance of genuine argumentation has only emboldened ignorant people. Opposition is empowered when we lazily present opinions as some sort of truth trump card.
Look for arguments, not opinions. Evaluate arguments on their own terms. Make arguments great again.
Validity and Soundness - Section 2
One of the layers in helping people with health and fitness is to help with critical thinking and sometimes formal logic. We all constantly make mistakes of equating opinions with arguments, induction with deduction, and then equating validity with soundness. Soon, everyone is talking past one another, including your own internal dialogue disagreeing inside your own head. That’s a lot of distinction to keep in mind. So in this section, just consider validity and soundness.
Whether you are vexed at your own inability to listen to yourself or you’re frustrated that other people just won’t see things your way, you can experience some peace by discovering just where exactly the roads diverge. It could be that both sides are mistaking opinion (even expert opinion) for argument, induction for deduction, statistical trend for known mechanism, and validity for soundness. They are all distinct. But our minds tend to blur the lines.
Consider first a valid but unsound deductive argument:
- Only people who eat too much dietary cholesterol will get heart disease.
- You are a person who eats too much dietary cholesterol.
- therefore, you will get heart disease.
The argument is valid, but unsound. What makes it valid is the construction. The construction is such that as long as the premises are true, the conclusion can’t be untrue. However, that isn’t soundness. An argument is sound only when its premises are true. Oftentimes, we begin with an untrue or at least contentious premise, and present a completely valid argument. People don’t accept the truth value of the conclusion, not because the argument is invalid or because they’re ignorant, stupid or evil, but because WE didn’t begin with an accepted premise.
Consider now a sound, but invalid argument:
- All people with heart disease tend to have had elevated VLDL.
- You have had elevated VLDL.
- therefore, you have heart disease.
Sound; but invalid. Both premises are true. But the conclusion can be false. We only established that people with heart disease tended to once have had VLDL. We did not establish that all people who once had elevated VLDL have heart disease. In fact, this very common mistake is a logical fallacy with a name: affirming the consequent. We took the starting premise (if A, then B), affirmed the consequent (B) in order to conclude with the antecedent (A). Logic forbids this. If you're outside and it's raining (A), you are wet (B). You are wet (B) because you just took a shower inside the house (X), just went swimming (Y), just had a bucket splashed on you (Z), or any number of things which are not (A). If-Then constructions, even when they are totally airtight, do not work backwards in that manner.
Take a moment to reread this. You’ll likely find that the vast majority of super smart arguments are well-intentioned, well-informed, well-thought-out, but both unsound and invalid. That’s to say nothing of the common conflation of opinion with argument (Section 1), induction with deduction (Section 3), and statistical trend with known mechanism (Section 4).
Induction Is Not Deduction - Section 3
There is this thing we often think we’re doing (deductive reasoning) when in fact we’re not. We’re inducing. I see it as a massive problem in why many people can’t seem to figure out their health and fitness. Deduction is clear and may move us toward conclusiveness. Induction is a fallacy.
People usually mix up validity and soundness when engaging with an argument (Section 2). And that’s if they ever actually get to an argument. Most of the time they don’t. They present an opinion, albeit an ostensibly expert or legitimate one (Section 1). On the rare occasion that people arrive at actual arguments, they predominantly conflate trend with mechanisms (Section 4). Closely related to that rational error is another fallacy: the inductive fallacy.
Induction is tempting. As we gather more information, it becomes more tempting. As such, high level experts can be MORE prone to committing this logical error. But there is no point where induction becomes deduction. It is a fool’s hope of taking probability and demanding from probability the characteristic of guarantee.
Example of induction:
- The sun has risen every day this week.
- Therefore, it will rise tomorrow.
The conclusion is true, but NOT because of the flimsy premise, NOT because of probability. There are defined physical laws which make the sunrise what it is: gravitational pull, inertia, rotation of the earth, and so on.
Example of expert induction:
- The sun has risen every day of our peer-reviewed study.
- Therefore, it will rise tomorrow.
The conclusion is true, but NOT because of the rigor of the study cited in the premise. The premise has no bearing on the truth value of the conclusion at all. This construction in the second example is as incorrect as the construction in the first example. Adding research analysis to the credentials of faulty logic does not strengthen assertions. Technically, it worsens them, because it's shrouding the flimsy ideas inside of what appears to be expertise.
The seductiveness of induction is its ability to be right, even though it’s for all the wrong reasons. With humans, this is especially pernicious, because we are subject to suggestibility and self-fulfilling prophecy.
- I’ve always been fat.
- Therefore, I will always be fat.
This is an induction fallacy. It’s blind to mechanism. It’s presented no deductive argument. It’s an opinion wrapped in the appearance of argument. But its conclusion is highly probable, mostly because we fall prey to both familiarity and disempowerment.
Some other common inductive fallacies I encounter:
- My nutrition never gave me bad health before.
- Therefore, my current health issue is unrelated to nutrition.
- My lack of strength training never gave me orthopedic problems before.
- Therefore, my current orthopedic problems aren’t due to lack of strengthening.
- I can’t do that anymore.
- It’s hopeless.
A whole lot of inductive fallacy, opinion and lack of mechanism gets presented as if it carried some sort of value. With regard to people's health and fitness, with the passage of time, they accumulate damage and set in motion changes. THEN, people are keen to focus on that passage of time (ie - "aging") as the type of data-gathering our sunrise scientists performed. They caught a trend and missed the cause. "Getting older" doesn't cause anything. It is simply the passage of time. Different people fill that time in different ways. But just like "the sun rose every day; therefore, it will rise tomorrow", average people end up with a premise which is faulty, flimsy, and/or not at all applicable to the conclusion. "Aging" happens because of accumulated damage. There are ways to avoid damage, slow damage, reverse some damage, get stronger and more resilient such that damage represents a smaller impact, and so on. Defaulting to induction as an impregnable standard of truth is self-defeating and lazy/weak thinking.
A deductive argument will have a premise with which we can all wrestle. One person’s individual expertise doesn’t really pertain. Once we settle on an agreed-upon set of premises, if valid, we all arrive at the conclusion. If sound, we are all right.
Induction does a lot of illusionist-like hand-waving. It can be sophisticated and considerably lengthier than the examples I gave. Any of the non-empirical sciences fall into this trap. That is, if we can’t test it in the now, we don’t have a known mechanism at play, and we have an inductive component in the premises even in a seemingly-deductive argument.
Induction is not deduction.
Correlation Is Not Causation: Trend Is Not Even Close to Mechanism - Section 4
“Heart disease correlates with X.” Fill in the blank. Do you believe that correlation IS causation? Careful. That’s a logical fallacy. Most things which correlate did not cause. Many are incidental, coincidental, or the effect, not the cause.
It crops up everywhere. “The economy does Z.” Fill in the blank. Now, that’s a really big and complex system you’re talking about. There will be a lot of correlations. Which proposed items are and aren’t legitimate causes? Current world leaders? Former world leaders? Old policy? New policy? Anticipated future policy? What if the real mechanisms which drive economy haven’t even been studied yet? What if we haven’t yet verified a mechanism?
We jump. We hurtle ourselves toward a causal conclusion. But look before you leap. Oftentimes relying on the whole payload of logical fallacies covered in Sections 1, 2, and 3, people find that making the wrong causal conclusion "makes perfect sense." They may even call it "common sense." It isn't, of course. It's just so bogged down in logical fallacies and layers of faulty thinking that it becomes difficult for us to wrangle with the upside-down conclusions. Heart disease is a great example wherein trends have told us all the wrong things. Biologists know the mechanisms. The inflammatory processes which lay down atherosclerotic plaque build-up ARE heart disease. Dietary cholesterol and saturated fat have no proven influence on raising the chances of those inflammatory processes. Even endogenous production of cholesterol may simply be the EFFECT of developing heart disease. Why did we ever jump to accept that it would be involved in the CAUSE? Cholesterol has antioxidant properties. It is a precursor to necessary hormones and the construction of cell walls throughout every organ in the body. In chemistry we understand it really well. But we've let faulty logical errors based on statistical trends, induction, and opinion supersede the scientifically-known relationship: a stressed body will develop heart disease; in its effort to manage the stress and mitigate the damage of heart disease it will consequently produce cholesterol to build the various necessary metabolites. How did we ever land at "cholesterol is bad"? Cholesterol just IS. There is no life without cholesterol.
In many statistical studies, there are defined trends. So what? Trend doesn't mean cause. Even if we begin to uncover a possible causal relationship, trend doesn't tell us the direction of the cause. Without a proposed, testable, known mechanism, we have to be very careful. It is just as easy for what we think is an effect to be a cause. And there are all sorts of events which are happening all the time and have little or nothing to do with the trend. They're ancillary, and are neither causes nor effects.
In the study of human health, transforming correlation into causation and presenting trend without mechanism are two practices skating on thin ice. Did you know that 100% of people who sleep in beds end up dying? I guess you better not sleep at all, just to be safe. The price of tea in China went up. I guess that’s the reason why ammunition in America shot up 1,500% in the last four years.
Correlation is not causation. Trend is not even close to mechanism.
If we can apply even the smallest double-check of critical thinking by remembering Sections 1, 2, 3, and 4 above, perhaps we can strive toward a rigor in arguments which is driven by soundness, validity, and solid rationale. We can place opinions where they belong, and recognize trends in proper context. We can leave ideology at the door. We can forget induction when we need to. We can commit to truth instead of popularity or desires. Make arguments great again. For fitness' sake. For health's sake. For society's sake.
This is the document that lent its name and initial ideology to American Republicanism. As Madison and Jefferson (and most Founders) repeatedly referenced, their definition of "republicanism" was a safeguard against tyranny and oligarchy while establishing the best of democratic freedoms while also protecting against the extremes of democracy which can lead to disrepair. Written about 2,400 years ago, The Republic is one of the finest and most sophisticated discussions on what is and isn't best for society.
According to Plato, every society will begin with Aristocracy, meaning the literal force of the word "aristocracy" (rule by the best), not our modern use of it which can be synonymous with rule by a few.
Then, after these justice-loving founders have set in motion the workings of the new society, it will tend to degrade into civil war. Out of that is borne Timocracy (rule by honor).
In time, however, the natural tendency of wealthy individuals to accumulate more wealth and power supplants Timocracy. Thus rises Oligarchy (rule by the few; unfortunately modern usage of the word "aristocracy" is put in place of oligarchy quite often). Oligarchy amplifies the power of the rich and in turn widens the gap between rich and poor.
All the while, public unrest grows and revolt of the people against the elites becomes Democracy (rule by the people). Democracy's emphasis on unrestrained freedom and liberty to do whatever anyone pleases leads to loss of discipline and structure. Self-restraint is no longer seen as a quality so much as an external imposition. Infinite choices under the guise of liberty actually undoes itself.
Soon, an undisciplined and structureless public, having dug themselves into a hole, are vulnerable to a wealthy Oligarch promising to save them. Tyranny is established. The Tyrant capitalizes on the fear of the people, claiming he will re-establish structures which have indeed degraded through excessive personal liberty. Once the people have gifted rule of their society over to the Tyrant, they enslave themselves to him, since he will attack, remove or war with any threats to his power and/or to distract from his power grab. He removes the very elements of the society which make it function, make it good, and make it just.
The society ends. Start the cycle over.
Plato lays the blame not necessarily at the Tyrant, who, though unjust, is in some ways simply an opportunist. Each system has costs and benefits. Ultimately, causally, the argument could easily be taken that the blame most soundly falls on two fronts: 1.) enabling excess wealth accumulation; 2.) exploring the edges of personal liberty through attempts by the people to destroy all roles, rites of passage, and reverence, such that there are no longer stable societal structures.
What I find interesting is that two equally destructive forces erupt from the evolution of a society, each with a legitimate gripe. On the one side, there are those who try to limit consolidation of money and power. That is smart. But they tend to hold this up while readily destroying the bedrock structure which holds everything together. Likewise, the opposition aims to retain structures which make the society work; but all the while they enable the consolidation of money and power into fewer and fewer people. Both sides are right. Both sides are wrong. Everybody loses except for a few powerful wealth holders.
It’s easy to see how this is indeed predictive for the trends of most societies. Modern governments have tried to buck the inevitable trend by creating blended structures where nothing is totally aristocratic, totally democratic, totally oligarchic, or totally tyrannical. Instead, the hope is we can borrow some of the best from each one while limiting the worst of each one. But you can still see waves of pressure to move more firmly into a pure tyranny, or a pure oligarchy, or a pure democracy.
Moreover, I would encourage the reader to look at Plato’s Republic as a handbook on how your internal governance and internal dialogue unravel over the course of your own life. There are some very intriguing parallels. People will vacillate between strictness in how they manage themselves and unrestrained gluttony. Wavering back and forth between an autocratic tyranny and a liberal democracy inside their own heads and hearts, people falter a lot in personal management. But it doesn’t work. It evolves and devolves just like societal trajectory. “Anything goes” is categorically bad management. And punitive self-discipline does not have staying power. Unbridled “tolerance” is not good or productive. It has no anchor. Holier-than-thou judgmental conservatism begets extremist abuse. Both depart into immoral nihilism. What people end up accepting in order for their side “to win” is an atrocity.
Thus, we can apply The Republic in how we treat ourselves, in our healthy behaviors, in our fitness efforts, in our mental health, in our spiritual journey. Without guiding principles, we are lost. Anything does not go. Without flexibility, we are enslaved to dogma. Rigor is helpful only to a point. This is a tough sell, because our minds are wired to entrench in a hardline “side.” But the fact of the matter is the best in life is somewhere in the middle.