What is happiness and how important is it to you? The answer to this seems obvious at first, yet as we look closer we can see that the answer to this question is more illusive than one might think. The fact is, if we all had a clearly defined picture of what happiness means to us―we would all strive towards it.
How much happiness do you really want? So, I Imagine you, dear reader, now sit poised with eyebrows raised at such a silly question. When your eyebrows return from the top of your head, allow me to explain why the question is not silly, nor is the answer self-evident. Maximum happiness and maximum knowledge, whilst the two are not mutually exclusive, I would argue, the two interests are in a zero-sum contest; that is to say, we cannot have the maximum happiness and the maximum knowledge simultaneously. As we surely want both happiness and knowledge, this means we need to make a difficult decision, how much of each do we want in our lives? Knowledge is necessarily burdensome―the more we know the more we understand how much we do not know. Idioms like “ignorance is bliss” suggest I’m not the first to recognise that as we attain more knowledge we also learn of the depths of the problems we face. The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias wherein people of low ability tend to overrate their competence, intelligence, and have an illusory sense of superiority―the fact that the majority of drivers rate themselves as better than average demonstrates this perfectly. If ignorance really is bliss and the most important thing in our lives is to be happy, then why waste our time on knowledge at all? Well, we recognise implicitly that happiness is not the be-all-and-end-all of our existence. House dogs―well treated― are the happiest creatures I can think of. A walk, some cuddles, a comfy spot to call their own, and they are in a perpetual state of happiness. They are not burdened by the knowledge of their own mortality and have everything done for them. Yet, is there anyone on the planet who would sincerely trade places with their furry friend? If there is, this person is likely not of sound mind! We recognise that a reduction in happiness is a price we are willing to pay in order to have the intelligence to appreciate a sonnet, or a symphony, a great work of art, literature, or a conversation. The trade-off between happiness and knowledge gives rise to experiences of awe and wonder. An inconvenient fact is that people who have children rate themselves as less happy than they were before they had kids, so why have them at all? It is because we recognise that, whilst we will endure the burden of child rearing, it is an experience which we ultimately want to have in our lives. We recognise that in spite of it being hard, and burdensome, and stressful that this experience is invaluable and to be without it can be tragic. Most would consider this experience to be their most meaningful despite the zero-sum relationship it has with happiness.
Is happiness, simply, a synonym for contentment? There are two people within your consciousness, each jostling for control of your actions―the current-self and the-reflective self. If we were asked, as we mindlessly browsed social media, how content and happy we felt in that moment, the current-self would perk up and we would say that we were indeed happy and content. However, at the end of our day, when we total up time spent on social media, if we were asked how happy or content we were throughout the day, the reflective-self would perk up and we would express regret for our time spent on social media because, reflectively, we see this as time wasted. Now, both of these versions of yourself have a purpose, the current-self needs to be appeased from time to time in order to stay sane and the reflective-self is working towards the big picture. However, your current self is only concerned about making you feel content and this contentment, usually, takes the form of cheap and easy pleasure. When we embark on a challenge, a new diet plan for example, our reflective-self understands that to maximise happiness you will need to make sacrifices which your current-self doesn’t want to make. Your reflective-self, generally, is the version of yourself which you need to take control of your actions, it does not bother about feeling content in the moment―it is concerned with long-term happiness.
My advice to you then is this. Figure out how happy you want to be, define it, and write down the long term goal which would have the maximum happiness payoff with the minimum knowledge loss to you. This may mean distancing yourself from things which you like in order to specialise in one domain. Let your reflective-self take control and strive towards achieving your personal definition of happiness. Be aware that at times you will not feel content, but take refuge in the fact that you know you are investing in a plan for long term happiness.
Written by Aidan Doherty
Useful or Not? Reflexology
As a fitness professional, health and wellbeing is my game. Clients often solicit my advice on injuries, both chronic and short term, with the hope that someone—more invested than themselves—can offer a pathway to relief. This is something which, I believe, should be taken seriously by anyone who is considered an authority in the field. For this reason I have a very low tolerance for people giving others advice which is based on anecdotal experience or here say. We simply know far too much about the bugs in the human system to rely on our self-reported claims.
The scientific enterprise is, demonstrably, the greatest tool we have when discerning reality’s phenomena and thus it has been adopted in the medical domain. Its commitment to rigor, competence, and the institutionalised eradication of human biases is what separates it from any system of testing we have ever had. This is why, when asked for advice dealing with injuries, I confidently refer to the evidence based approach of science when offering solutions. This, unfortunately, often leads to me butting heads with advocates of complementary & alternative medicine (CAM) practices. Please do not mistake my dismissal of CAM as insularity or a modern inertia, for if a CAM practice where to stand up to the rigor of the scientific method and we could demonstrate meaningful results from it, I would be recommending that treatment to everyone I could.
When dealing with CAM claims it is inevitable that one will run into the term “placebo”. The placebo, largely misunderstood, is often used, by laypeople, as validation for practices which are otherwise useless and for this reason I need to first address this term lest I be rebutted with the ambiguous retort “but the placebo effect states that if you simply BELIEVE you’re getting better you actually WILL get better!” My parents used this logic on me when trying to convince me of Santa Clause’s existence too. Unfortunately this “mind over matter” interpretation of the placebo is a misunderstanding and we have actually tested this claim just to be sure—spoiler alert, believing one is being healed doesn’t work! In reality, the placebo simply refers to the placebo arm of a clinical trial, which is used as a control with no physiological effect. If a treatment is effective it will perform statistically significantly better than the placebo control.
Placebos help to rule out factors such as…
Regression to the mean – Illnesses often have symptoms which flare and fluctuate. This means that there is a chance that any treatment, if taken at a peak, will be followed by a period of less intense symptoms.
Self-Limiting Illness – Many Illnesses will get better on their own and this can be mistaken for a treatment actually working.
Self-Reported Relief – Many people mistakenly report that symptoms have eased—due to biases, a want for success, or the social pressure for the treatment to work—but when tested, we can see that the ailments have not healed objectively.
So yes, there may be a placebo effect involved in some of these CAM practices; but unfortunately that is akin to saying it does not work.
Reflexology is a practice in CAM which Hypothesises that reflex points on the feet, hands, and head are linked to every part of the body and that by massaging these areas one may receive health benefits. The problem here is that reflexologists, and CAM practitioners generally, hide behind loosely defined terms such as “health” and “a sense of wellbeing” never offering a clear definition as to what they actually mean. When pressed, they become more clandestine offering phrases like “it restores your balance.” What does this really mean?
To address these nebulous claims I scoured the literature hoping to find some specific—clinically relevant—data which could be used to bolster reflexology’s case.
A systematic review carried out by Wang MY, et al. in 2008 reviewed 12 separate studies and concluded that
“There is no evidence for any specific effect of reflexology in any conditions, with the exception of urinary symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis. Routine provision of reflexology is therefore not recommended.”
Another systematic review carried out in 2009 by Ernst E. Med J Aust. Which looked at 18 separate randomised control trails found that…
“The best evidence available to date does not demonstrate convincingly that reflexology is an effective treatment for any medical condition.”
Whilst I did, in fact, come across some studies which demonstrated ostensibly positive outcomes, most of them suffered from critical limitations such as poor methodologies or poor sample sizes. I was finally able to find a number of studies carried out which demonstrated reflexologies potential efficacy in relieving the effects of stress and fatigue. This seems to be the only real domain in which we can get any clinically relevant data. When it comes to the rehabilitation of injuries or the treatment of ailments, reflexology simply does not prove effectual. The question then becomes are you willing to pay a premium for a service which provides results which can be replicated by taking a long bath, a walk, or getting your ass to the gym?
So what is the conclusion I’ve come to? Should you get reflexology or not? Well as a remedial solution to injuries, aliments, and/or a method of rehabilitation, reflexology would not be the best money spent. As there is no data to suggest that reflexology has any clinical benefits I would recommend seeking other remedial practices which have been demonstrated to be effective. If what you’re looking for is a relaxing experience which can mitigate the stresses of every day life then reflexology is something which would potentially suit your needs.
Undoubtedly, this article will be met with the devastating counter-argument “I had reflexology and it worked for me!” The thing is, you simply are not the best judge of whether something has worked for you or not! Our biological systems are full of bugs, cognitive biases, and fallacious patterns of reasoning which make the fact that you believe something has worked for you—and whether it actually has worked for you—two very different outcomes.
Written by Aidan Doherty
Postmodernism and it’s impact on the fitness industry
Postmodernism is a philosophical school of thought and is notoriously hard to define. This is because the concept of postmodernism is applied to many different aspects of culture as well as being used to define an epoch in time. People affected by postmodernism usually have many different views and beliefs which make it a heuristic nightmare. Lecturer Daniel Palmer wrote, when asking a student to define what postmodernism meant; a student replied “it’s when you put everything in quotation marks.” I think this is simultaneously witty — and makes the point. Postmodernists believe words such as “truth” “facts” “reality” to be completely relative and without objectivity. Objective truth is a non starter in a postmodernist worldview which inevitably leads to an indulgence in cultural relativism. I am of the opinion that absolute truth is an illusion, however there is undoubtedly a hierarchical value system which can be placed on claims and we can be maximally certain about things.
Facts, for example, are at one end of the continuum in which we can be maximally certain, whilst at the other there is fabrication, of which we can be minimally certain. Truth — to the postmodernist — cannot be defined therefore there is no objective or moral system which is better than any other. Viewed through the lens of today’s culture postmodernism seems to disdain, more than anything else, hierarchical systems. Postmodernists see hierarchy as a power system which only erodes our culture and political systems. Of course, this translates perfectly to the notion of relative truth — all claims are on an equal playing field! A rejection of hierarchy is not only enervating but it also potentially poses some serious obstacles to how our society functions. You see, we cannot destroy hierarchical systems without too destroying value systems, as value systems are — by definition — hierarchies. We imbue everything we do with some sort of value ranking; this enables us to prioritize tasks, to favour one choice over anther, to distinguish between right and wrong, or to establish ethical certainty. To give you an example of how this school of thought goes beyond the pale ethically, we can look at the notion of cultural relativism. Cultural relativism is the notion held by many anthropologists, and inevitably postmodernists, which states that cultures can be viewed through their own lenses. This means that whether something is morally, ethically, or behaviourally right or wrong is dependent on the culture. For example, in extremist Islamic cultures woman are viewed as second class citizens and are subjugated by being poorly educated and by not being afforded the same rights as the males. A cultural relativist, and a postmodernist, would say that we cannot judge this as objectively wrong — that this is their culture. This notion, in my opinion, is morally reprehensible and I would invite the cultural relativist, if he really believes what he purports, to send his daughter off to one of these countries for a year foreign exchange; after all, there would be nothing wrong with the treatment she would receive during her visit. In fact, it may even be morally correct for the denizens to subjugate his daughter — on his own account.
Postmodernism and Fitness
So how does all this translate to the fitness industry and how the hell is it relevant to your progress and your gains. Well this school of thought, of course, spells disaster for methodological naturalism in which the scientific method is based. Science, being the main tool for which we get reliable knowledge in the fitness industry, is of course vital to the industry’s effective operation. Due to its focus on rigor, its commitment to the mitigation of human biases, and demonstrable effectiveness — we have placed science at the summit of the hierarchy of truth. Postmodernists seek to pull this hierarchy down so that all claims can share an equal space at the table. Now this is not pie in the sky rhetoric, with the global consumption of social media these ideas spread like intellectual contagions. This idea, in particular, is spreading at an astounding pace and we now have personalities such as David Wolfe and Gwyneth Paltrow, who are making health claims which require an esoteric knowledge, promulgating ideas which are being received by the public as if they have the same credibility as genuine, perspicacious, and evidence based experts. We have hard working, competent, and erudite people having their work discredited by people who believe, through a google search, that they — in fact — know better. Social media has acted like a force-multiplier for this ideology and one of the greatest impacts has been felt by the medical community with the anti-vaccination movement. With the inception of the vaccination we have, arguably, the greatest medical breakthrough in history which, is now being undermined by a large group of predominantly middle-class privileged mothers who have decided the entirety of the medical community are no better informed than anyone else. This movement has gained incredible traction and is a great example of how postmodernism can potentially threaten what is widely considered an immutable fact. The Netflix documentary The Magic Pill is an example of how we, in the fitness industry, could find ourselves exposed to the intellectual contagion. In the documentary the celebrity chef Pete Evans makes outlandish — and more importantly unsubstantiated — claims such as changing to the paleo diet can mitigate the symptoms of diseases such as Autism and cancer! Using arguments from authority, by having physicians bolster his claim, laypeople could easily find themselves fooled by his hyperbolic rhetoric. The President of the Australian Medical Association compared it to the documentary Vaxxed and said the two were competing “in the awards for the film least likely to contribute to public health.”
What can we do to protect ourselves against this?
Ultimately, it is down to you to understand the difference between a good source of information and a bad one. You need to understand why some sources are good and why some are bad. You need to be sceptical of all claims and educate yourself in methods of differentiating between good information and bad. Remember that we all have biases, which we need to correct for, that make us view information through a distorted lens. We know that we are more likely to accept information which agrees with our pre-existing notions — this is called confirmation bias. Good quality sources usually have tell tail signs such as regulatory bodies, policies, or procedures which ensure that the information given is true and are held to account when it is not. There are resources out there such as Snopes, factcheck, politifact, and fullfact which you can use to filter claims on the go however, some claims will require deeper research. All the information on the internet is not equal however it is being presented to you as if it were. So where ever you get your information — especially if it’s fits into your worldview — make sure it has been objectively substantiated. Do not allow yourself to become complicit in the propagation of misinformation.
The fitness industry, like any other, spits out trends at a phenomenal rate. Food Gurus, paradoxically, seem to find the ultimate diet to trump all others every few years. They make outlandish claims about what’s currently trending, nutritionally speaking, and when counter evidence is presented to them they seem completely resilient to the opprobrium. They move on, plant a flag somewhere else and, without compunction, make some more money spinning the same story. So then the question becomes; where do we get our information from? How can we tell the difference between a credible source and perfidious charlatan? The answer, unfortunately, is that the onus lies with you. Like it or not you are now part of an information age unlike any before it. The information bubble has popped and we are adrift in its entrails. As we float in this sea of information, we can use many devices to extract what we want yet the methods of filtering we normally use seem to be redundant. There are, however, methods out there which are both readily accessible and consistently reliable (tautology, so what?!). You now have a responsibility to implement these before promulgating information.
I have decided then to turn my, unforgiving, eye towards the current demonization of sugar. It’s important to note that demonization is often justified so it pays to look into these things — an informed decision is rarely regretted so, let’s get informed!
So firstly, what is sugar? Sugar is a form of carbohydrate which is broken down very quickly by the body. Sugar takes many forms however the ones we are most familiar with are sucrose (table sugar), fructose (sugar in fruit), lactose (sugar in milk), and glucose (what carbohydrates are broken down into). Glucose is the only fuel source which brain cells can use — so the notion that we don’t need carbohydrates can be dispelled immediately. Sugar is now facing the obloquy and it has become quite fashionable to finger it for the current obesity crisis facing the western world.
So let’s do away with some popular misapprehensions surrounding sugar and see if we can’t get our heads above water with what is true and what isn’t.
Claim – Sugar Makes You Hyper
We have all been there with our kids, they’ve returned home from a party jacked up on cake, chocolate, and aptly prepared to give you a mental breakdown! “Too much damn sugar at that party!” Tends to be our complaint! Unfortunately, as great as it would be to have an out like this, science has shown time and time again that the link between sugar and our kid’s hyper-activity simply does not exist. The brain uses glucose as an energy source and thus it seemed logical to link sugar intake with increased cognitive activity; there have been some studies which show that cognitive ability may be increased by consuming sugar however even these findings have not been demonstrated effectively. Take this quote from a review which looked at the literature regarding the link between sugar and children’s behaviour and cognitive abilities…
“The meta-analytic synthesis of the studies to date found that sugar does not affect the behavior or cognitive performance of children. The strong belief of parents may be due to expectancy and common association.”
There was also a brilliant study analysing children and parents, in which the parents were told their children had been given either a placebo or actual sugar. In actuality neither groups had sugar and both were given a placebo. The mothers who believed their children had been given sugar actually reported that their children were significantly more hyperactive! This demonstrated that our biases are playing too much of a roll, we are expecting our children to be more hyper and therefore we perceive them to be such.
Claim – Sugar is toxic and addictive!
Facebook is notoriously good at proliferating absurdities and it — again — has a part to play in the propagation of the notion that sugar has addictive properties. Social media’s role in the alarmism that surrounds many of the topics today cannot be overstated. Articles which allude to sugar being addictive are everywhere these days and, to this end, it’s important for me to firstly make some distinctions. There is a spectrum here which, at one end, people use hyperbolic titles to get clicks and, at the other, flat out asserts that sugar is as addictive as cocaine. I am addressing the harmful end of this spectrum. This all comes from a study on lab rats which demonstrated sugar had addictive properties BUT this cannot be extrapolated to humans. There is a large body of evidence contravening this claim which has shown that — in humans — sugar is NOT addictive. The review concluded…
“To conclude, the society as a whole should be aware of the differences between addiction in the context of substance use versus an addictive behavior. As we pointed out in this review, there is very little evidence to indicate that humans can develop a “Glucose/Sucrose/Fructose Use Disorder.”
Humans do however develop eating disorders and these people typically tend to have unhealthy relationships with high calorie, low nutrient foods. As for toxicity, anything can be toxic given that we consume enough of it and sugar is no different — studies have shown this again and again. Obscurantism like this can be extremely misleading to the general public. Take this quote from a study reviewing the literature…
“There is no evidence, however, that fructose is the sole, or even the main factor in the development of these diseases, nor that it is deleterious to everybody, and public health initiatives should therefore broadly focus on the promotion of healthy lifestyles generally. “
Claim – High Fat Low Carb is best, sugar is the enemy!
There is, indeed, the notion that there is one diet which surpasses all others! One which its proponents claim is how humans were meant to eat. There tends to be a lot of zealotry with in the low carb community and you will regularly here utterances such as “the ultimate diet” espoused by proponents of ketogenic and low carb diets, in fact, the topic has been the source of many of my posts. There is quite a bit of literature to support this claim too and that, I think, is one of the reasons this trend has taken off. The problem is that with literature we need to learn, not just to look at conclusions drawn, but also at the limitations with the research, and what you will find is that most of the literature which supports low carb diets don’t control for some very fundamental variants… calories and protein. You see, what we find when we compare diets in which calories and protein are equated is that there is no difference! Here a very recent review of the literature concludes…
“A wide range of dietary approaches (low-fat to low-carbohydrate/ketogenic, and all points between) can be similarly effective for improving body composition, and this allows flexibility with program design. To date, no controlled, inpatient isocaloric diet comparison where protein is matched between groups has reported a clinically meaningful fat loss or thermic advantage to the lower-carbohydrate or ketogenic diet. “
Thus we know that —fundamentally — our calorie and protein intake are of the utmost importance. Excess calories, be it from sugar or fat, will lead to obesity.
Claim – Sugar Causes Diabetes
Diabetes is a condition which causes a persons blood sugar to become too high. There are two kinds of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the cells which produce insulin. Type two diabetes develops when the body becomes resistant to insulin or when the pancreas stops producing insulin. The root cause of type 2 diabetes is generally unknown however what we do know is that there are some major contributing factors, most notable is weight gain! This 2018 overview lists the risk factors as follows…
- Being overweight and not getting enough exercise.
- Low fibre, high fat, sugary diet.
- Medication which affect the body sugar metabolism.
- Genetic factors.
What is the common denominator when looking at these lifestyle factors? Overweight, Little exercise, low fibre, high fat, sugary foods. All these things lead to a negative energy balance i.e. you’re taking in more calories than you need! That said there are a number of factors which need to be addressed as stated in this consensus statement. It does however go on to say…
“Most patients with type 2 diabetes are obese, and the global epidemic of obesity largely explains the dramatic increase in the incidence and prevalence of type 2 diabetes over the past 20 years.”
And then follows with…
“However, the precise mechanisms linking the two conditions remain unclear, as does our understanding of interindividual differences. Improved understanding will help advance identification and development of effective treatment options.”
This shows that whilst there is a prevalent link between lifestyle and type two diabetes we simply do not know the specifics of that link as of yet and to attribute it to sugar would be specious. The best advise to give someone is to get their weight under control and exercise as often as possible.
So in conclusion. There is nothing inherently bad with sugar, problems arise when we eat beyond what we need — when we are in a surplus of calories. There is a hierarchy of importance which we should appeal to when addressing these things and at the top of this hierarchy is total number of macronutrients by the end of the day. Fundamentally, if we manage our calories correctly, eat enough protein and plenty of fibre, most of the hard work is done. Sugars only really become a concern when we go into a surplus of calories. Peace!
Written by Aidan Doherty
If the title confuses you, or worse still offends you, then I implore you to read calmly and objectively. As the western political pendulum caroms between left and right, regression and dogma, and emotive arguments vs skewed arguments, I see the preliminary symptoms of such behaviour creep surreptitiously into the fitness domain. What is amazing to me is that for most of these issues the answer seems so simple — honest and open discourse about the facts. Facts are paramount here, we must address them in their entirety if we are to progress.
So before I put my point across I feel I should clarify some things, lest I be misunderstood. Firstly — kindness is beautiful and useful! I am extremely proud to live in society in which kindness is an extremely important component in our system’s operation. Compassion and kindness are two values which most of our populace would have instilled systemically and would give priority to, and rightly so. If you doubt our societies commitment to kindness and human flourishing go to the middle east or North Korea and see what it looks like when human life is undervalued. Perouse the history books and read how communist states had to remind it’s citizens that eating their children was a crime. This is only what has happened in the last century, as you go further into the past the rate and severity of suffering and violence increases almost exponentially. The empirical evidence, which shows we live in the best of all possible times by any meaningful metric, is overwhelmingly clear.
That being said, being kind is often not the most compassionate thing to do. The best analogy I can give to demonstrate this comes by way of how we treat and teach our children. Take this situation in which your child has been brought home by two police officers for shop lifting. The kind thing to do here is to forgive your child and welcome him/her back into your house with no repercussions — solve the problem with love! However, we all know that is the most uncompassionate thing you can do for your child. This will teach them absolutely nothing about right from wrong and will instead socially encumber them indefinitely. What kind of parent cares so little for their child that they would not punish him/her when they needed to be punished. Through this act of unkindness [punishment] we teach our children social values such as how to act so that everyone — including them — has the best possible experience in life.
I see an analogous situation to the “solve the problem with love” method happening within the media. Positive body image, which has been demonstrated to be effective in the treatment of eating disorders, has some how been extrapolated to glorifying obesity. As plus sized models took to the street to protest at a fashion event recently I couldn’t help be overwhelmed by the hypocrisy in their protest. Just as the fashion show was glorifying the skinny models, here the protesters were, glorifying obese ones.
Eating disorders encompass both under-eating and over-eating, and pretending either side of this is virtuous — is harmful.
This should not be a controversial thing to say given that obesity has been causally linked to over 50 diseases. This means that there are over 50 diseases which we can significantly reduce our risk of getting, given that we address the problem of obesity. Pretending that we are being progressive by glorifying obese people is an abhorrent trend which is just as harmful as the unrealistic body standards set within the media today. A study addressing the prevalence of obesity describes the problem as follows…
“Excess bodyweight is the sixth most important risk factor contributing to the overall burden of disease worldwide. 1.1 billion adults and 10% of children are now classified as overweight or obese. Average life expectancy is already diminished; the main adverse consequences are cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and several cancers.”
Another study outlines the economic cost that obesity will have, given that it continues along the same crescendo as it has been…
“The combined medical costs associated with treatment of these preventable diseases are estimated to increase by $48–66 billion/year in the USA and by £1·9–2 billion/year in the UK by 2030. Hence, effective policies to promote healthier weight also have economic benefits.”
When we go to the doctors and he discerns our health problems are causally linked to obesity, it would be unethical of him to advise you to simply “be happy in your skin.” The fact that obesity is already a huge problem within our society needs to be addressed and glorifying it under the guise of progressive values is harmful. All this movement does is make obese people feel better as they hurdle toward a completely preventable death.
To clarify here, I’m not proposing a reduction in kindness or to be more callous towards the obese, I’m simply purporting that kindness can be misplaced and sometimes rational compassion is what is needed. I am well aware of the causal link between poor mental health and binge eating disorder (BED) and I am not negating the severity of the struggle which some people deal with day to day. However, please step back and realise that pretending that there is nothing wrong with being obese is extremely harmful to the people who hear this message.
This is different from body shaming! As someone who actively works towards counteracting the societal problem of obesity I can tell you that making obesity a part of your identity is not a good thing — this is, inevitably, what this movement will lead to. The glorification of obesity is the antithesis of everything I promote and work toward, and devalues the work which perspicacious and conscientious people do to combat this! It encourages people — woman in particular — to embrace their obesity as part of their identity and to be proud of it. I’m almost certain that this movement is done with the intention of rectitude, however I feel they have diagnosed the problem correctly, but have implemented the wrong treatment. The real problem then follows, now that people have taken on obesity as an identity it becomes offensive to talk about it honestly and here in lies the problem! This is an effective way to sweep the problem of obesity under the rug which I am unwilling to do. Whilst I absolutely see the benefits, and encourage the proliferation, of promoting a culture of positive body image, I refuse to cede conversational territory to this movement in fear of being deemed offensive.
Obesity is responsible for far more societal problems than the unrealistic standards the fashion industry sets for woman. This is not the way to instil the values of positive body image. We look at the facts, we embrace what’s been demonstrated to work, and we implement the plan which has the highest potential of success.
Written by Aidan Doherty
Gossip, helpful or hurtful
Gossip is an interesting subject to reflect on. We really don’t have to have spent very much time in introspection in order to feel that there is something not quite right with gossiping. Intuitively we recognise that gossiping about the personal details of another’s life seems injurious yet it recrudesces again and again. So why the hell do we keep this behaviour up and why is it that humans have such an overwhelming propensity to engage in gossip? Should you allow gossip to be a part of your relationships or should you discard it?
So first let me say that this blog is totally speculative and composed via self reflection rather than through any use of scientific literature. The contents and themes are entirely subjective and reflect, only, my own opinion on the subject of gossip.
I think I should begin by speculating on the reason gossip exists in todays society. Through a dint of sheer good luck we have been born into the least violent time in human history. Western values, that is to say a universal notion of human flourishing and equality, has allowed us to live vertiginously privileged lives in which topics such as gossip merit a possible concern to blogger like me. As my significant other has heard me repeat ad nauseam, we live in the best of all possible times — this is a demonstrable fact. Violence has been going down for a very long time, and even with two world wars in the beginning of the twentieth century violence still reached record breaking depths at its end. The crescendo of non-violence is a trend that continues even today and it is a good bet that it will continue into the future as we become more socially, politically, and scientifically erudite. However, we did not always have these privileges and most of human history is replete with horror and suffering. Evolution, by definition, causes life to be well suited to the environment of its ancestors rather than it’s current habitat, and this means that we are still dealing with many vestigial characteristics which serve little purpose. Once upon a time genetic fitness was all that mattered, competition was one method used to filter out weaker gene pools so that the stronger ones would survive. Another method was reputation. A good reputation could be the difference between finding a suitor and passing on your genes, and being the outcast of the group. It seems to me that gossip still serves a social purpose in this way, without the worry of how we are perceived and spoken about by others, I posit a more extreme society. The knowledge that your actions will have an impact on your reputation is clearly an effective way to regulate extreme behaviour and certainly, in my opinion, serves a social purpose. In this sense, I can see a justification for gossip and I believe an argument can be made in this way. After all, it is important to give the devil his due.
My own intuitions however, are more pessimistic and I feel that gossip — ultimately — does more harm than good. The argument that people get pleasure from gossiping has always seemed abhorrent to me; as I feel, intuitively, that trading and bartering in the personal negative details of another’s life is overtly cruel and injurious. This is a feeling, I believe, that is demonstrated every time we bare witness to gossip — about ourselves — being promulgated. The fact is that it only needs to make one jump for information to become false, damaging, and incorrigible. Perhaps positive gossiping can be beneficial however, it is negative gossiping which tends to massively tip the scales as this seems to appeal more to our surreptitious nature. There is also an infuriating hypocrisy in those who indulge in the act of gossip most often, which is that they regard gossiping, when it is about them, as an unforgivable betrayal. This is the time for one to ask oneself this question, do I have a right to be angry about being a victim to a system that I voluntarily encourage and participate in? This, almost by definition, is called special pleading.
So what conclusion have I drawn? Well I do certainly see the merits of the social function argument for gossiping however I feel that gossip requires some personal regulation in order for it to no longer be pernicious. I feel that a commitment to honest discourse would be one way to achieve this, that is to say, asking the person directly before telling tales will produce better outcomes. The writing of this has led me to think deeply about the topic of gossip and I feel that now, with a well established viewpoint, I should make a commitment to change — for we all gossip. So here is my commitment and my invitation to you…
As a rule, I am only going to talk about others in a way that I would feel comfortable talking directly to their face.
I feel that this is a great way to approach interactions in order to feel morally intact. It promotes honesty and encourages more difficult conversations which is ultimately a good thing for your social relationships. Do not keep gossip or discard it — change it — to make the world a place you will be more proud to live in.
GMO’s… should you be worried? (5min read approx)
GMO is an acronym which means Genetically Modified Organism. It is a term used to describe an organism whose genetic material has been altered using any technique attributable to genetic engineering (GE). Now, while this sounds pretty scary, it is important to realise that we have been genetically engineering foods for as long as agriculture has existed simply by selecting and breeding foods for specific reasons such as size, colour, taste, yield etc. As technologies have progressed we have been able to subsume a wide variety of more specific techniques, which are much more efficient than the torpid artificial selection approach and enable us to mitigate many of the short comings which were previously inherent in agriculture.
So what is the problem here? Well a quick google search will turn up some — seemingly — terrifying results…
A growing body of evidence connects GMOs with health problems, environmental damage, and violation of farmers’ and consumers’ rights. More than 60 countries around the world – including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union – require GMOs to be labelled. Globally, there are also 300 regions with outright bans on growing GMOs. nongmoprogect.org
Responsibletechnology.org lists a number of dangers such as…
By mixing genes from totally unrelated species, genetic engineering unleashes a host of unpredictable side effects. Moreover, irrespective of the type of genes that are inserted, the very process of creating a GM plant can result in massive collateral damage that produces new toxins, allergens, carcinogens, and nutritional deficiencies.
The problem here is that none of these sources seem to want to back their claims up with genuine research citations and they use logical fallacies which are easily refuted. For example, the claim that we should be worried about GMO’s due to the fact that “more than 60 countries worldwide” stipulate that GMO’s must be labelled and some have banned them. However, when we think this through this line of argumentation means absolutely nothing. Earth also has 72 countries which still currently outlaw homosexuality, using their logic we should be extremely worried about gays! This is called an argument from popularity and it assumes that a claim cannot be wrong simply based on the fact that a large number of people believe it. These kinds of claims are preposterous, rather than using facts, figures, and research they depend on buzz words like “toxins” and “chemicals” to give their assertions weight.
When we look at the scientific literature there is an overwhelming agreement that GMO’s are at least as safe as their conventional counterparts…
Here is an overview of the last 10 years of genetically engineered crop safety research, which incorporated nearly 1,800 studies into its analysis. The authors concluded the following:
“We have reviewed the scientific literature on GE crop safety for the last 10 years that catches the scientific consensus matured since GE plants became widely cultivated worldwide, and we can conclude that the scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazard directly connected with the use of GM crops.”
After looking at the facts The Royal Society of Medicine concluded that…
Foods derived from GM crops have been consumed by hundreds of millions of people across the world for more than 15 years, with no reported ill effects (or legal cases related to human health), despite many of the consumers coming from that most litigious of countries, the USA.
The World Health Organisation stated …
GM foods currently available on the international market have passed safety assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.
All this is but a snippet of the information out there which is widely available and should be convincing to any rational actors that GMO’s are completely safe to eat and use. They also provide poor countries a lifeline with which to produce crops when it would not have otherwise been possible. They ensure that crop yields are at a maximum by protecting the crops from damage from countless environmental dangers giving farmers around the world the opportunity to make a living.
The takeaway point here is that you have absolutely nothing to fear from GMO’s, there is currently no evidence — which is taken seriously — to show that there are health risks associated with ingesting them. Rather, the problem we are facing is a distrust in expertise. We have been thrust into the information age without the necessary filter to sift the good information from the bad. This has led to a phantasmagorical situation in which we, as a lay population, have decided we are better informed than the experts in the field. This is ultimately a path to disaster.
Written by Aidan Doherty
What is a logical fallacy and why should you care? If I could only give one piece of advice to help one sift through the sea of misinformation, and reason effectively it would be this… Educate yourself on Aristotle’s 256 syllogisms and learn to identify logical fallacies.
So a fallacy is a mistaken belief which is based on poor reasoning. The more fallacies we are aware of the less likely we are to commit them when deciding if we should believe a claim or not. The ubiquity of logical fallacies is quite startling and the recognition that one has committed them can be—to say the least— humbling. Now the problem is that until you have educated yourself in critical thinking these fallacies can be hard to spot. You have probably heard some of them so many times that you automatically accept them as sound reasoning. Humans interpret the world through inference and induction which, in laymen’s terms, means that our brains functions like pattern recognition software. Whilst this is extremely useful and usually leads us to the correct answer, it can also lead us to become confused about what is true — especially when the information is of an esoteric nature.
There are quite a few fallacies which are ubiquitous with in the fitness industry and recognising these can mean the difference in believing true information and false. However, these fallacies are not unique to the industry and instead can be found in everyday life! Here are my top five fallacies found within the industry and why you shouldn’t fall for them…
1. Post hoc ergo propter fallacy (after this therefore because of this) – this is the fallacious argument that because event Y followed event X, X therefore must have caused it. Here’s is an example…
“I was sick for two weeks then I took one table spoon of apple cider vinegar and the next day I was right as rain!”
If you can’t see the problem here let me explain. No link has been given which demonstrates that apple cider vinegar was the cause. It could well be that the cold had, in fact, run its course and would have subsided the next day regardless. We must show how we ruled out other possibilities before assuming a cause!
2. Argument from ignorance – this fallacy asserts that a proposition is true because it has not been proven to be false. The problem here is quite obvious especially if you know your way around the scientific method. If this were sound reasoning then by necessity all unfalsifiable claims would be automatically true, for example…
Unreasonable guy/gal: “Unicorns are real”
Me: “You can’t demonstrate that?”
Unreasonable guy/gal: “Well you can’t demonstrate that it’s false!”
3. Appeal to nature fallacy – This fallacy states that because something is natural that it must, by necessity, be good/healthy. This, of course, is not the case and we know many naturally occurring things can be extremely bad for us and many artificial things can be very good for us. In fact the reason humanity has come so far ethically is largely down to controlling our natural tendencies toward instant gratification. A monogamous relationship, for example, is unnatural and actually obfuscates the propagation of our genepool, yet we know that it is much better for everyone that monogamy comes before desire.
4. Argument from authority – This fallacy states that because and authority in the field said something it must be true. The fitness industry has a propensity to commit this fallacy, I think most of us do. The problem here is that there is just simply not enough time to educate ourselves in every discipline so we tend to rely on authorities in any given field to provide us with correct information. The problem is that authorities can be wrong and they often are. So what we should do is make sure that our sources are good and anything that you are going to pass on to others should be fact checked or— at the very least— be given with the caveat that you may be wrong.
5. Argument from popularity – this fallacy states that a proposition is true because many people believe it. Everyone once believed the world was flat (some people still do). This is the easiest example to show that this form of reasoning is unsound. The fact that many people believe it tells us absolutely nothing about its truth!
Article by Aidan Doherty
Is organic food really better for us than food acquired through conventional agriculture? Which is better for the environment?
The popular belief is that organic is better in all instances as it is more natural. However, the evidence to support this claim is simply lacking!
The Appeal to Nature Fallacy is the belief that “natural” is always better than “unnatural”. This is a poor form of reasoning and is easily abjured, for example – cocaine is a …natural product which is certainly not good for you! Just because something is natural does not mean it is better!
The problem is that organic food has become so politicised that eschewing it publicly can attract more attention than it is worth. Supposed experts who are intellectually lazy have gained a significant following and they, along with their cohorts, are quite well versed in social marketing and the rejection of science.
I have attached a link to a meta analysis of a plethora of studies which show no evidence to suggest that organic is better than conventional. I have also attached a link to studies which suggests that organic agriculture may, in fact, be more detrimental to the environment (however this study does not include biodiversity). Also find a link discerning the impact organic vs conventional food has on our health and link for the impact of conventional pesticides.