Bad Science, Shrinking Brains, and Open (Yet Questioning) Minds

“The idea is to try to give all the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another”

Richard Feynman

So when we put all of our eggs in one basket — say, judging a particular question solely by the outcome of the published “science” related to that question, rather than approaching the question from multiple disciplines (intuition, common sense, empirical evidence, etc.) — we severely limit the possibility of finding the essential truth of the matter.  For example, “established science” held firm — and is yet holding firm —  to the notion that weight management is simply an extension of the 2nd law of thermodynamics, namely the “calories-in/calories-out” idea.  Those of us who allow ourselves to think without restraint now realize how ridiculously flawed this reductionist thinking is.  In fact, to the extent that I did, at one time, believe this to be true is…shocking to me.

We currently have battles raging withing the Physical Culture arena — gladiator “absolutists”, if you will — representing various training methods as being the end-all, be-all.  Is it really as easy as finding the lone “correct” answer?  Well, I say that all we need do is take a good look around to see how ridiculous this notion is.  For every Dorian Yates, I can offer a Bill Pearl; for every Mentzer, a Gironda.  The list goes on and on; for every fabulous athlete employing a certain training method, we can find examples of similarly proficient athletes doing something entirely different.  All methods work for some, no method works for all, and the method that currently works wonders for an individual likely won’t produce results in that same individual 6 months from now.  Some see training as purely science, I see it as more analogous to the culinary arts; replete with scientific underpinnings to be sure, but the creation of a great meal is a hell of a lot more complex than the simple co-mingling of those simple, disparate, underpinnings.  Just call me the Alton Brown, then, of Physical Culture.

A slight diversion: now I’m no linguist by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s my understanding that there is no single Sanskrit word for “truth”, but rather a number of words that hint at the truth of  an idea as colored by the strengths and limitations of the approach.  In other words, ideas can have “truths” revealed in a philosophical/emotional sense, a spiritual sense, and, yes, a scientific sense.  We in the west tend to put a premium on the scientific “truth” behind and idea at the exclusion of all else.  This, of course, leads to a dead-end trap of stagnant thought.  Again, quoting Richard Feynman: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.” Good words to live by, from a brilliant man.

And so with that “question authority” mindset nicely stoked, let’s reconsider, for example, the vaccine-autism link that was all the rage not so long ago.  Again, my point here is not to imply that all science is shoddy — far from it — my point is simply to maintain a questioning attitude even in the face of supposed scientific “proof”.

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The notion of a continual decline in humanoid brain volume over the past 20 kyrs or so is not exactly earth-shattering news to those of us who make it a habit to keep up with the musings Art DeVany or John Hawks; it is interesting, though, to reconsider this phenomenon through a more conventional lens.  Was the advent of the agricultural revolution a cause, correlate, or just a simple coincidence to the onset of this pattern?  For me, the evidence clearly indicates causation; always the epistemocrat, though, I remain open-minded to alternative theories.

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Much thanks to Robb Wolf (and his merry band of pseudo-science co-conspirators) for creation of the all-things-Paleo Forum, which will be a great resource for everyone dedicated to this Paleo/Primal/EvFit/Ancestral Fit journey.  We at Efficient Exercise intend to use this valuable resource as another educational tool (along with the Paleo Solution Quick Start Guide)  for those involved in our 10-week Project Transformation: the Efficient Exercise Solution.  And needless to say, we always recommend The Paleo Solution as the definitive go-to source for clients interested in pursuing the Paleo way.   Between Robb’s wesite, forum, podcasts, blog and book, anyone who has a mind to can accumulate a PhD-level education in the Paleo way from this single, convenient, root source.  Thanks again, guys, for all the free, selflessly-given, information.  Stunningly generous.

By the way, if you’d like to check-in on the happenings with Project Transformation, be sure to “friend us up” over at our Facebook page.  We’ll be kicking the program off on January 18th, with a wide-ranging demographic of “subjects”.

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My workouts this past week were all of the organic, non-documented type save for yesterday’s (1/8/11) heavy T-bar swing and weighted dip combo.  Ahhhhh, T-bar swings; Tim Ferriss would be proud 🙂

T-bar swings: 100 lbs x 20, 20, 20, 20, 20

weighted dips: bw+90 lbs x 6, 6, 6, 6, 4

Kept the rest between exercises and between rounds to a minimum here.  Just out of curiosity, I checked my pulse immediately following the 2nd round of swings — 165 bpm.  Pushing fairly hard, but certainly not a red-liner by any means.

An all-day squat-fest:

Okay, so here’s an example of an impromptu, situationally-driven “workout”: on Thursday (1/6/11), it occurred to me that I hadn’t performed a bread-and-butter, bilateral back squat in quite some time, as usually, if I’m going to squat at all, I’ll opt for a unilateral version — a RFESS, say — or maybe a front squat.   Anyway, I also saw in the day’s hand the (sweet!) opportunity to get quite a bit of short-burst fixie-huckin in.  What better to mix with that quick-burst leg burn than some good old back squats?  Yeah, I thought so, too — so I repeated this basic set-up time and again throughout the day.  And hey — shouldn’t I get credit as well, for all the plate loading and unloading?

(A1) full ATG squats: 135 x 12, 225 x 6

(A2) thighs parallel to the ground: 315 x 4, 4, 3, 3

(A3) quarter squats to full ankle extension (explosive): 405 x 8, 8, 8

(A4) fixie sprint

This is just an example of one round.  Sometimes I did much less volume between rides (diving right into the quarter squats, for example), and other times I just bounced around with the ATG stuff.  The point is, I did whatever the hell I felt like doing with no “need” to hit a pre-determined number of sets or reps at a calculated load.  The lone constant here was intensity — when I went at it, I friggin’ went at it.  At times there was a full 3 hours between rounds, and other times maybe a half-hour.  Again, no rhyme or reason.   So was this “play”, “physical activity”, a “workout”…or what exactly?  I definitely pushed myself, especially in the later rounds — and I certainly felt the results the next day (soreness, off-the-charts hunger, etc.) — but how would something like this be classified?  More to the point (and from my body’s prospective) does it even need to be classifiable to be productive?  Well, of course not.  The only problem with this scenario, from a “guru”prospective, is that I can’t sell you a cookie-cutter programming guide for this — you’ve got to figure it out for yourself mt friend, n=1 fashion.  Not much of a business model, I know — but hey, what the hell do you expect from a guy who dropped (like a fracking rock, no less!) his only business-related college class (accounting…ugh) after 3 sessions due to total and utter (drooling!) disinterest? 🙂  I mean, why waste time with that nonsense, especially when I had a whole Howard Zinn-inspired Poli Sci department full of courses to choose from?  🙂

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And last, but certainly not least — introducing the newest arrow to my quiver:

That makes 3 bikes now — and I still have but one ass  (as Meesus TTP has deftly pointed out)   🙂  All you cycling aficionados out there understand, though — I’m sure of it! …right??  🙂

In health,

Keith

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26 responses to “Bad Science, Shrinking Brains, and Open (Yet Questioning) Minds

  1. Gladiator Absolutists. Love it.

    One of the the ideas that keeps me warm at night is a notion I used to ponder as a child and then found the poet Gary Snyder musing on in his essays, namely that modern fossil fueled Hyper Capitalism is a mere eddy in the river of humankinds history.

    Snyder speaks of reinhabitation of the land, of becoming indigenous again. This work is starting with the reinhabitation of the our body, reclaiming the human potential from the ground up if you will. While some bemoan individual cultivation as not being enough to stand in front of the Mack Truck that is the disembodied lifestyle of Mass Man in the early 21st century and hope for some collective uprising it is only through individuals awakening that collective effort can arise.

    By seeking to stay alert and open source, rather than Gladiator Absolutists, we are plowing the ground and laying down seeds for those who come after us. Physical Culture is spiritual in way. Claiming the body is to begin to know our True Being, to recognize the potential within ourselves to maximize our health, kindness and compassion.

    My quivers…
    Bikes… Turner Sultan,Rivendell Roadeo, Rivendell custom AllRounder, ANT Boston Roadster

    Longboards… 2 Arbors and a Sector nine,

  2. I am an active-duty Air Force officer. I am currently assigned to UT-Austin for law school. Since I’m away from the watchful eye of my Big Blue Overlords right now, I have some physical training freedom. Nonetheless, I still need to practice the elements of the Air Force PT test (1.5 mile run, 1 min. max pushups, 1 min. max crunches).

    I’m currently experimenting with a once per week Body By Science Big-5 session (Tuesdays) and once per week practice PT test (Thursdays) under test conditions. Is the once per week practice PT test enough for strength endurance and 1.5 mile run time improvements? If not, what is the most efficient additional work?

    • I’d say if you are able to bring sufficient intensity to that 1x/week Big 5, then yes, that should suffice for the strength component. As far as the PT test, though, I think there are better ways of training for this. Rarely is it most efficient to train for an event by performing the event. For example, I’d run 200 meter sprint repeats — say 4 to 6,with 1 minute recovery — to train the 1.5 mile, and perform alternating push-up/sit-up Tabatas to train that aspect (1x/week). Caveat: I abhor the sit-up movement, but realize you need to train this as part of your test. I’d only train sit-ups very near test time, and ditch this movement in deference to planks and such immediately following.

  3. Um, Keith… not to be a total buzz kill, but the “calories in, calories out” is actually a misconception of the 1st law of thermodynamics, not the second. And it is a serious flaw due to the first law is for CLOSED systems. The human body / metabolic system is not, and nor has it ever been, a “Closed” system. 🙂

    (The second law, btw, says that energy won’t spontaneously flow from a lower energy state to a higher one… my thermo prof said the laws are thus:

    1st: You can Win.

    2nd: You can’t break even.

    3rd: You can’t quit the game.)

    -Suzi, your fan who is also an enginerd.

    • Ah, you are correct! I always get the first and second laws mixed-up. That and entropy vs enthalpy…ugh… This is what happens when liberal artzz majors dabble in that sciencey/thermodynamic stuff 🙂

    • Suzi,

      We as human’s are an open system, no? The first law of thermodynamics for an open system would still apply to humans and roughly equates to calories in/out.

      • The first law is conservation of energy in a CLOSED system – when you look at the second law, you realize that there is no such thing as conservation of energy because you can not truly close a system up (this is why we don’t have a perpetual motion machine, except as we approach very low temperatures), so using the “calories in, calories out” idea is a problem – while the idea “energy can be converted from one form or another but can not be created or destroyed” is what they are assuming with that fallacy, again, it assumed a closed system.

        And yes, you are correct, the human body is an open system – by adding heat or work to a system, its no longer closed – the first law ONLY applies to the internal energy energy of the system, which can be modified by heat and work, yes, but it still must remain “closed” to any other influence. The “calories in, calories out” arguement ONLY APPLIES IN AN ADIABATIC ENVIRONMENT (also known as a “closed system”) – and that only ONLY applies if you think of calories as the heat unit it is supposed to be, not the metabolic equivalent that is converted through a biochemical process. Not to mention that the human body is not, and will not (while alive) ever be an adiabatic system.

        Instead you’re now talking second law – which basically says that a system will never spontaneously gain or even maintain the same internal energy level. It is this law when you introduce the concept of entropy and “disorder.” So thinking “calories in” should turn into “less calories out” because you go from one energy state to a lower one per the 2nd law. (unless you’re at absolute zero – and while you’re there, you need to invent cold fusion too.)

        I’m sure I just muddied the waters more. We basically have a problem with using caloric value to measure food – calories are a unit of heat. Food is not heat and the conversion is not universal across food types – whereas fossil fuels are given heat values based on a strict thermal oxidation combustion reaction of the carbon atoms in the fuel. They try to do this in a calorimeter for food, but it doesn’t mimic the biochemical processes taking place, so really, how can you use calories to do relative comparison of energy supply????

        wow. that’s a soap box. didn’t mean to get on it. 🙂

        • Susan,

          I’m putting around on the internet and find a completely different set of thermodynamic laws for both open, closed, and isolated. And open system is (artificially) made closed in adiabatically isolated calorimeters. The heat is at least measured.

          Speaking of hormones, the trouble with that argument (for many) is that the pendulum swings in the opposite direction and you have people convinced that if they eat super slow carb/fructose/wheat/linoleic acid free food in unlimited quantities they shouldn’t gain any weight at all. Of course these people maintain their adiposity and don’t understand why since their hormonal environment is supposedly flawless. As flawed as using simple calories are to measure energy intake (in the face of not knowing *exactly* how the biochemical component is or isn’t optimizing the process), it has value until we come up with some sort of biochemical value is sync with our exact phenotypic expression at that moment. 😉

          You don’t seem to be arguing this, so what I’m about to list is more of a curiosity tangential to what you’re saying. The link I’m about to add is to a BBC documentary called “Why Thin People Are Not Fat.” They took a group of 20-somethings who have always been lean/thin and forced them to double their caloric intake by any means necessary. In addition to discussing things like set point theory, fat cell biology (including hyperplasia),etc. The best part is when they measure these people at the end of the experiment and see the result of the biochemical processes we can’t see, one person gained 4.5kg in 1 month. The majority of his weight gain was lean tissue with an accompanying BMR increase of 30%! Link:

          So there’s a genetic component but there’s also a bodyfat percentage component as there is evidence that the leaner you are, the more lean weight you put on in the face of overeating (and vice-versa):
          http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10865771

          As competition lean natural bodybuilders have shown again and again, caloric reduction is the most straight forward way to get lean, even in the face of starvation response.

          It’s important to note that I agree with you in general: calories don’t measure biochemical processes and the first law is cited when, in our case, it’s at least somewhat incomplete. However, people throw the baby out with the bathwater and say that how much you eat has no bearing on your weight. This is simply false; optimizing the hormonal component with a real food diet and, if you’re not at the weight you want, eat less of it.

          Anyone else want this soapbox while it is warm? 😀

          • Adendum: I realize you’re not saying much of what I’ve noted, but people who argue against the first law often use it to justify their level of consumption. I just wanted to cover that since I had a break in my client load.

            The breaks allow Keith and I to write such things kicking in our brain. 🙂

            • brain kicking. I like it

              I’m not disagreeing with you – I’m more arguing against the people who are using the “calorie=calorie” to justify ignoring the carb portion of their eating habits and then argue that aerobic exercise is what will make a fat person skinny. These are also the people who usually attack fat people as simply lazy and undisciplined. I prefer to think fat people are simply uneducated and misinformed more than lazy and don’t give a rat’s posterior.

              Example: Study after study has shown that sustained aerobic exercise actually makes people eat more, negating the effect. The key is building muscle mass, not running miles.

              Anyway my concern is : You dumb this down enough and all you do is get dumb fat people who are disillusioned.

              You are correct – you can manufacture an adiabatic closed system to study the first 1st law. You can not, however, take a human being and make them a closed system a la a calorimeter. If you did, they would overheat. The time line for the “calorie=calorie” balancing argument doesn’t allow for that type of analysis on a human. You can’t close the system long enough for the food to be metabolized without creating either a very large unwieldly system (difficult to isolate the specific energy changes taking place – e.g. how do you know that the heat generated by the body was powered by the snickers bar the person just ate or the break down of lean muscle?), or damaging the person.

              THAT SAID, I think you’re bang on with the whole, “its the best we got, and it sucks, but we gotta use it for now.” (kinda like democracy…ha ha)

              I think we’re back to the n=1 scenario too with the genetic tendancies.

              Even Eades will tell you that alot of the weight loss from the low-carb lifestyle is that you inadvertantly restrict calories because you’re satiated on the fats. And he’ll also tell you that you will stall on the weight loss if you eat too many fats – you won’t necessarily gain, but you won’t loose either.

              and don’t even get me started on the glycemic index. grrr.

              🙂 here’s your soap box back, Keith.

              • Susan,

                Thanks for the clarification and we’re on the same page. I’m not a fan of aerobic exercise unless it’s something a person *likes* doing and I don’t recommend it to my clients. I try to explain that proof of concepts exist on either side of the coin: fat people finishing marathons should be proof of concept that aerobic exercise isn’t a panacea.

                Keith needs to go on about fixies or something…leave this science and study reference for a less entertaining blog. 🙂

                  • Carb Cycling, the short form:

                    1. Get your diet from real whole food. This will result in “lowish” carbs but not necessarily low. I average 100 to 125/day on non-workout days.

                    2. Drink whole milk after a workout. Follow Aragon’s suggestion if you wish. I just do 3 to 4 cups.

                    3. Include some (or a large) serving of potatoes later in the day. Maybe a beer to go with it.

                    There, you’ve added 50 to 75 extra grams of carbs, you’ve topped off glycogen, perhaps received the serotonin smoothie, slept well and did not feel deprived in the least.

                    Similarly, I got my mother to lose 20lbs through carb cycling. She lost it in 20 weeks, never felt deprived and continued to get stronger. She kept it off for 5 years. It was “harder” but she only really ever counted carbs 2 days a week.

                    -Skyler

                    • D00d, I really do think we were hatched in the same nest. Mark has no idea what he’s gotten himself into 😉

  4. Also, my bike is a pony. Keeping us BOTH fit, and developing muscles in the right places is a fun trick. At some point, I need to evaluate your exercise philosophy from a training perspective for me and the pony.

  5. First, let me address Jamie…you are no longer allowed to comment on this blog…lol! 😉 signed, Meesus TTP
    Keith, darling, love of my life…you have but one ass & 3 bikes is definitely enough!
    Skyler & Suzi, you lost me at “Adiabatic”…lol! Actually, your comments were very interesting & enlightening…Skyler, you & Keith were definitely cut from the same mold…poor Mark…he’s screwed! 😉

  6. Keith, I’ve always had very skinny calves. I used to wear three pairs of socks with my football uniform to make my legs look bigger. My thighs get big, but my calves won’t. Is that something I have to live with, or can anyone, with the correct training, attain big calves? Reading about your blitz on squats prompted me to ask this question.

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