Friday, December 19, 2014

One Minute Abs (and More)

Over the past two years, I've devoted a fair amount of attention to Peter Singer's claim that “if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it.” Building on Singer's altruistic/consequentialist arguments, I've attempted to show that altruists have reason to value physical fitness. Now a recent study (abstract and New York Times summary) shows that a single minute of intense exercise (included within a total workout of ten minutes) improves peak oxygen uptake (VO2 max), reduces blood pressure and lowers blood glucose levels. Improving VO2 max improves your fitness age, which increases life expectancy, while reducing blood pressure and glucose levels decreases the risk of disease. So even ten minutes of regular exercise will help you live longer and have more opportunities for altruism. The Journal of Labor Research has equated at least three hours of exercise per week with a 9% increase in earnings. If any of that salary bump is due to improved physical fitness and reduced risk of disease rather than time spent in the gym, we should expect an increase in earnings from ten minute workouts as well. And following the altruistic argument, those extra earnings provide greater opportunity for charitable donations. Returning to Peter Singer's assertion, it is now possible for those who find exercise a burden to make a greater altruistic impact with a smaller sacrifice for fitness.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Book Review: Free+Style by Carl Paoli and Anthony Sherbondy

4/5 Stars

Carl Paoli’s Free+Style is a comprehensive look at four basic physical movements and a thorough description of how to apply these movements to other sports, exercises and everyday life. Paoli’s greatest strength is his ability to regress and progress a particular movement, modifying it to make it simpler to perform or showing how it can be advanced into more difficult feats of strength. He manages to break down complex tasks into discrete actions, explains how to perform each action as efficiently as possible, and how to reassemble these actions into a more refined and stronger complete movement. Moreover, he outlines how to develop progressions for other movements not contained in this book. The book falls a bit short on a complete description of biomechanics, omitting explanations such as why external rotation promotes more stable shoulders and hips and allows for more efficient movement. And some exercise descriptions in the brief section on programming do not appear to refer to the titles of movements in the main section of the book. Still, Free+Style remains one of the better books available on human performance, and Paoli’s skill in describing human movement for individuals at every level of physical fitness is second to none.

Monday, December 1, 2014

2014 Year in Review

            At the end of 2013, I offered a rough sketch of a comprehensive ethical theory that includes both other-directed, moral virtues, such as honesty and justice, and self-directed, non-moral virtues, such as intelligence and fitness. Starting from my proposed three ethical precepts for human movement and the need to scale these precepts for considerations of age, injury and disability, I suggested a hierarchy of all virtues based on the distinction of scalability. Primary, non-scalable virtues are those that apply to all individuals regardless of age and intellectual and physical capacity. A person should not torture, rape or murder another human being. Secondary, scalable virtues include fitness, intelligence and other non-moral and moral virtues whose standards may vary. A person may lie to save the life of an innocent, and we should not expect a 75 year old woman to carry a 250 pound man from a burning building. Within this hierarchy, I proposed a complementary relationship between secondary virtues, where strengthening one virtue helps strengthen another. I also suggested that the secondary virtues provide a foundation to support the primary virtues.
            At the beginning of 2014, I set out to give evidence for the relationship between secondary virtues. In January, I cited several studies demonstrating the connection between physical fitness and intellectual capacity. Researchers from the University of Illinois and the United Kingdom showed that increased physical activity and fitness can improve learning, memory and academic performance in children and adolescents.[1],[2],[3] A University of California study demonstrated that women who walk more frequently show less significant declines in cognitive test scores than those who walk the least, and each additional mile the subjects walked per week was associated with a 13% lower chance of cognitive decline.[4] A study in the Annals of Behavior Medicine demonstrated that senior citizens who walk regularly have improved memory, learning ability, concentration and abstract reasoning, as well as a reduced risk of stroke.[5] Moreover, the Cleveland Clinic Foundation discovered that subjects who consistently focused on imagining they were moving their little fingers and flexing their elbows displayed significantly greater strength gains in theses muscles than a control group which performed no imaginary exercises.[6] So increased physical activity and physical fitness improves cognitive performance across age groups, and increased mental focus appears to improve physical capabilities.
            In March, I shifted focus toward moral virtues and presented research on the effect of regular yoga practice on prison inmates. A study by the Oxford University Departments of Experimental Psychology and Psychiatry showed that prisoners who participated in regular yoga classes showed an improvement in positive mood, a decrease in stress and greater accuracy in a computer test of impulsivity and attention when compared to a control group.[7] A study published in Nursing Research demonstrated that incarcerated women who completed a twelve-week regimen of two yoga
classes a week exhibited reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression.[8] And a 2008 study showed a mere 8.5% of prisoners who attended four or more yoga classes were re-incarcerated upon release, compared to 25.2% of those who attended between one and three classes.[9] So yoga provides one example of how physical activity can help put people in mental states where they are more likely to act ethically, and can actually help them refrain from unethical behavior.
Of course, yoga is considered a very gentle and mindful physical activity. A counter to yoga’s benefits comes from what I call the Bully Argument, which suggests that those who dedicate themselves to more aggressive forms of physical fitness may become more hostile and violent toward others and may use their exceptional strength, power and other physical capabilities to overwhelm weaker individuals. In July, I provided a counter to the Bully Argument, based on testimonials about the positive effects of mixed martial arts (MMA) practice for war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In San Diego, Todd Vance provides such training, based on his own experiences with PTSD. He returned from military action “angry, confused, combative. He got into fights and drank a lot.”[10] Vance used MMA practice in conjunction with medication and counseling to manage his symptoms, and now extends the same physical therapy to others in his position. “I come here and I feel better than I do when I leave the VA,” said 13-year Marine Corps veteran Jason Jones about Vance’s classes.[11] So even physical activity like MMA that seems the polar opposite of yoga and a prime candidate for the Bully Argument actually appears to promote ethical behavior. The Bully Argument is unfounded, and we have even more reason to believe that pursuit of physical fitness encourages moral virtues.
            In September and October, I explored the converse relationship and attempted to show how having moral virtues and moral values gives one reason to value physical virtues. Given the immense variety of ethical theories, I proposed dividing these theories between those which hold that the value of other humans should be considered simultaneously (if not before) the value of oneself (altruism), and those which hold that the agent’s own value has primacy over the value of others (egoism). I further divided egoism into objectivism, which places emphasis on so-called higher values such as production, achievement and love, and hedonism, which identifies pleasure as the only value. Because objectivism values production and accomplishment, adherents of this theory appear more likely recognize the importance of physical fitness in achieving their ends than do altruists and hedonists. With altruism and hedonism at opposing ends of the ethical spectrum, if I can show that adherents of both theories have reason to value physical fitness, similar arguments should apply to theories in the middle of the spectrum.
            In September, I addressed hedonists who seek to maximize lower pleasures, i.e. pleasures which appeal to the basic senses and include food, drink, sex and natural and pharmacological highs. Given that most of these pleasures lead to undesirable side effects and a decreased life expectancy when enjoyed to excess, the hedonist has reason to minimize said side effects and work to increase life expectancy in order to maximize her total pleasure over time. Improving physical fitness has been shown to work on both fronts, reducing drug-related brain damage[12] and increasing life expectancy[13] without the use of drug intervention[14]. Exercise also improves the quality of certain lower pleasures such as food[15],[16] and sex.[17] So the egoistic hedonist has reason to value fitness in some capacity in order to increase life expectancy (and thereby duration of pleasure), improve the quality of pleasures and minimize deleterious side effects.
            In October, I turned to altruism, the belief that an action is ethical if it benefits someone other than the agent. Perhaps the strictest form of altruism comes from Peter Singer, who claims humans are morally required “to prevent bad things from happening unless in doing so we would be sacrificing something of comparable moral significance.”[18] So if I can save a life by donating a sum of money to a particular charity without endangering my survival, then by Singer’s argument, I am morally required to do so. A corollary of this argument is that I can be a better altruist by preventing the greatest amount of bad, such as by saving or improving the lives of many other humans through various charitable works. Singer and I agree that perhaps the most efficient way to do so is to pursue a career with a high earning potential, since an agent can do more good by financing multiple individuals to perform beneficial work, than by performing that work alone as a single agent. According to the Journal of Labor Research, people who exercise for at least three hours a week earn 9% more than those who don’t.[19],[20] Furthermore, since improved physical fitness increases life expectancy, a physically fit altruist has greater opportunity to earn and give in order to help others. For these reasons, the altruist has reason to value fitness in some capacity in order to maximize his charitable efforts.
            Having thus addressed the relationship between the secondary virtues, I will turn my attention to the primary virtues in the coming year. In particular, I hope to find answers to two questions:
1)      How do secondary virtues, and physical fitness in particular, work to support the primary virtue?
2)      Is it possible to derive secondary virtues, especially those relating to fitness, from the primary ethical precept of human inviolability?
These questions will serve as the main tasks of the KineSophy project in 2015.

[1] Raine, Lauren B., et al. “The Influence of Childhood Aerobic Fitness on Learning and Memory.” Plos One. 11 Sept. 2013. Online. 29 Nov. 2013.
[2] Kaplan, Karen. “Physical Fitness boost brainpower in kids, study finds.” Los Angeles Times. 11 Sept. 2013. Online. 29 Nov. 2013.,0,6326552.story#axzz2nrpOEGui
[3] Sifferlin, Alexandra. “Study: More Active Teens Get Higher Test Scores.” 22 Oct. 2013. Online. 29 Nov. 2013.
[4] Journal of Applied Psychology, October 2000. Cited in “The Human Brain.” The Franklin Institute. Online. 29 Nov. 2013.
[5] Annals of Behavioral of Medicine, August 2001. Cited in “The Human Brain.” The Franklin Institute. Online. 29 Nov. 2013.
[6] Society for Neuroscience, Annual Meeting, November 11, 2001. Cited in “The Human Brain.” The Franklin Institute. Online. 29 Nov. 2013.
[7] “Prisoners doing yoga may see mood benefits, study finds.” BBC News. 11 Jul. 2013. Online. 16 Feb. 2014.
[8] Pilon, Mary. “A Series of Poses for Fitness, Inside and Out.” New York Times. 3. Jan. 2013. Online. 15 Feb. 2014.
[9] Landau, Pashupati Steven and Gross, Jagat Bandhu John. “Low Reincarceration Rate Associated with Ananda Marga Yoga and Meditation.” International Journal of Yoga Therapy, No. 18, 2008. Online. 20 Feb. 2014.
[10] Perry, Tony. “To exorcise devils, vets exercise fists.” Chicago Tribune. 19 Sep. 2012: 20.
[11] Perry, 2012.
[12] Fell, James. “Exercise: Alternative reward for those battling addiction.” Chicago Tribune. 12 Jun. 2013. Online. 27 Aug. 2014.
[13] Goldberg, Carey. “Every Minute Of Exercise Could Lengthen Your Life Seven Minutes.” WBUR’s Common Health. 15 Mar. 2013. Online. 15 Aug. 2014.
[14] “Could exercise be as effective as medication?” NHS Choices. 2 Oct. 2013. Online. 15 Aug. 2014.
[15] Horio, Tsuyoshi and Kawamura, Yojiro. “Influence of Physical Exercise on Human Preferences for Various Taste
Solutions.” Chem. Senses 23: 417-421, 1998. Online. 29 Aug. 2014.
[16] King, Neil A. “What processes are involved in the appetite response to moderate increases in exercise-induced energy expenditure?” Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 58(01): 107-113, 1999. Online. 30 Aug. 2014.
[17] Penhollow, Tina M. and Young, Michael. “Sexual Desirability and Sexual Performance: Does Exercise and Fitness Really Matter?” Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, 7: 2004. Online. 30 Aug. 2014.
[18] Singer, Peter. “Famine, Affluence and Morality.” Ethical Thoery, Ed. Russ Shafer-Landau, Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007, p. 506.
[19] Kosteas , Vasilios D. “The Effect of Exercise on Earnings: Evidence from the NLSY.” Journal of Labor Research, Volume 33, Issue 2, p. 225-250. Online. 14 Sep. 2014.
[20] Sanburn, Josh. “One More Reason to Hit the Gym: You’ll Make More Money at Work.” TIME. 8 June 2012. Online. 16 Sep. 2014.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Allow Myself to Interview... Myself

This month, KineSophy has agreed to act as a blog tour stop for author Greg Hickey. His debut novel, Our Dried Voices, was released on November 4 and is available for purchase on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. He stopped by to answer some questions about his book, and we ended up finding some interesting similarities between our work. Here is the interview:

KineSophy: Hi Greg. Thanks for coming on the blog.
Greg: You’re welcome. Thank you for having me.
K: No problem. So your first novel, which was released earlier this month, is called Our Dried Voices. I assume that’s a reference to the way you sound when you’re out of breath from having just finished a really hard workout.
G: Umm… no. Our Dried Voices is about the last human colony on another planet—
K: Wait what!? Another planet? Is this some kind of sci-fi crap?
G: The story has elements of science fiction, but I think dystopian fiction would be a more accurate descriptor.
K: Dystopian… you’re kidding. I’m interviewing Katniss Everdeen? Where is my manager? Jonah! Jonah!... (sighs) He’s never here. How did you get in here anyway?
G: You invited me to do this interview.
K: Right. Well obviously there’s been a mistake. Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re a sci-fi nerd and I’m a jock. A smart jock, thank you very much, but nevertheless, our circles just don’t get along. This is a serious fitness blog. I’m not here to talk about teenage vampires or lightsabers.
G: I’ve read your blog, and I think we might have more in common than you seem to believe.
K: Yeah I’m sure. What would a dork like you know about the finer points of a deadlift? Proper squat mechanics? Running a marathon?
G: But KineSophy is not just about fitness. It’s not a site where people go to learn how to do a certain exercise or structure a training program. You’re heavily concerned with ethics, right?
K: True. KineSophy’s overall goal is to connect fitness and ethics, to make people understand why they should be fit, beyond the common reasons like wanting to lose a few pounds, live longer and healthier lives or train for an event like a 10K, half-marathon or marathon.
G: Right. So why should people be fit?
K: In a nutshell, any time you talk about ethical action, you’re necessarily talking about action. So there’s a physical component to ethics right there. A person actually has to perform the right actions in order to be ethical. And there are certain physical actions that human beings should be capable of performing, simply by virtue of being relatively healthy human beings. You should be able to lift your own body weight off the ground. You should be able to rest in a full squat position. You should be able to cover three miles on foot in just over half an hour.
G: So it seems like there’s a certain sense of responsibility. By virtue of being human and having a physical body designed to move in certain ways, you should be able to perform certain physical tasks.
K: That’s right.
G: And Our Dried Voices is about the responsibility humans have to use their minds, to think critically and productively about the world around them.
K: I see. So no spaceships and aliens?
G: There are a few spaceships. But it’s not Star Wars.
K: Hmm… I guess that’s okay. So what happens in the novel?
G: The story is set in the future. Humans cure all their diseases and start to find solutions for global warming, but eventually overpopulation and years of environmental destruction catch up with them and they’re forced to migrate to another habitable planet. They establish a colony on this planet, Pearl, and set everything up to make the colony automated. So machines make and deliver their food and the buildings clean themselves, and the human colonists just run around and play in the colony all day without having to think about anything or solve any problems. But then the machines in the colony begin to break down, and humans have to relearn how to think critically and fend for themselves.
K: And then the stuffy androgynous leader of the colony decides each first born child must fight in a tournament of laser pistol duels that serve to cull and subdue the population while offering a grotesque Coliseum-like form of entertainment?
G: No. No lasers, no children killing each other, and once humans arrive at Pearl, no more spaceships.
K: Really? Then what happens?
G: Every time a new malfunction occurs, one colonist figures out a way to fix it. But then these more intelligent colonists begin to disappear. Eventually, the protagonist Samuel emerges as the new problem-solver. As he and his friend Penny work to keep the colony from collapsing, they begin to find clues that point to the cause of all these malfunctions.
K: So basically the book is about how human beings neglect vital critical thinking skills for the sake of greater comfort, even though that apparent bliss comes at the price of ignorance?
G: Yes. Just as KineSophy is about the ways human beings neglect their physical abilities for the sake of modern conveniences. If you think about pre-historic humans, their survival depended on their ability to hunt and grow or find food, to build their own shelters, to constantly invent new ways to solve their problems. Modern technology, for all its benefits, makes it so much easier to neglect those once-vital capabilities.
K: That’s true. But technology is not necessarily a bad thing. You gave the example of being able to cure diseases. Technology and innovation have obviously done a lot of good.
G: I agree. Technology is a wonderful thing. But we can’t forget how much thought and effort went into producing those new inventions and technologies. They are supposed to make our lives easier, so that every single moment of existence doesn’t have to be a struggle for survival. But if we really think about it, we don’t want them to do everything for us. A vital part of the human experience consists in thinking and solving problems. Or as you point out, overcoming physical challenges.
K: Definitely. You’ve said a lot about how humans often neglect their physical and mental capabilities. Multiple articles on this blog have tried to demonstrate the connection between the physical and mental. Do you see that connection in the world as well? Does it show up in Our Dried Voices?
G: There’s absolutely a connection between the physical and mental. We’ve both read the research—from children to the elderly, increased physical activity allows for improved cognitive performance. And while Our Dried Voices focuses primarily on intellectual stimulation, there are definitely moments when physical activity is required. Samuel has to think to solve the problems he faces, but he has to actually perform physical activities to fix them. He has to climb walls and build structures and so forth.
K: So you see a need for physical abilities even in a future society like Our Dried Voices?
G: Yes. I think thought and movement are critical to being human. I don’t think we’ll ever lose the need for those capabilities.
K: I agree. Well that’s all I have. So the novel is currently available, right? Where can readers find it?
G: It’s available in paperback through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and e-book on Amazon Kindle.
K: Great. Thank you for stopping by. This has been surprisingly enlightening.
G: Thank you.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

What's Your Fitness Age?

In the previous two months, I have presented arguments for why adherents of egoistic hedonism and altruism have reason to value physical fitness. In September's article on hedonism, I argued that since fitness can help increase life expectancy, hedonists have reason to achieve some measure of fitness in order to maximize pleasure over the course of their lives. A similar argument applies to altruism. Altruists who live healthier, longer lives will have a greater number of opportunities to aid others. To that end, here's an interesting article from the New York Times on finding your fitness age, a better predictor of longevity than actual age. I've also included a link to a quick calculation for fitness age (also provided in the Times article).

What's Your Fitness Age?
Calculate Your Fitness Age

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Another Ethical Precept of Human Movement

Everyone loves sitting in the emergency exit row on airplanes. And why not? A few feet of extra leg room in exchange for the very minuscule chance you might actually need to assist in a evacuation seems like a good trade-off. But does everyone sitting in these seats meet the physical requirements necessary to assist in an emergency evacuation? U.S. Federal regulations require passengers sitting in an emergency exit row to be able to:
1. Push, shove, pull, or otherwise open the emergency exit
2. Lift out, hold, deposit on nearby seats, or maneuver over the seatbacks to the next row or out the opening objects the size and weight of over-wing window exit doors
3. Have the capacity to perform the applicable functions without the assistance of an adult companion, parent, or other relative (Emergency Exit Seating Requirements)

On a Boeing 737, the overwing exit doors measure 0.97 meters x 0.51 meters (3.2 x 1.7 feet) and weigh 39 pounds (Boeing 737-400 exits). So take your largest suitcase (which is still probably shorter than three feet), set it on your bathroom scale and fill it with clothes until the total weight is 39 pounds. Stand the suitcase on a coffee table or other knee-high surface. Then lift the suitcase off the table and raise it above your shoulders. Like my three previous precepts of human movement (Part 1 and Part 2), moving an emergency exit door is an action all healthy adults should be capable of performing, and an action which has significant ethical implications. If you can pass the suitcase test, you are physically qualified to sit in an emergency exit row. If not, you are putting the lives of everyone on your flight at risk by choosing to sit in these seats.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Why Be Fit? - Altruism

             Last month, I began the project of demonstrating how moral virtues can help strengthen physical virtues. In particular, I want to show that any agent who acts according to some ethical standard of moral virtue has reason to consider physical virtues. Thinking of the entirety of ethical theories as a spectrum, I proposed to address the two polar opposite theories: egoistic hedonism, which claims an agent should act so as to maximize her own pleasure, and altruism, which claims an agent should act so as to benefit others. If I can show adherents of these two theories have reason to consider physical virtues, I expect similar arguments will apply to theories in the middle of the spectrum. In last month’s article, I argued that the egoistic hedonist has reason to exercise (i.e. improve his physical abilities) in order to maximize his total pleasure over time. Now I turn to the opposite end of the ethical spectrum and address altruism.
By altruism, I mean the belief that an action is ethical if it benefits someone other than the agent. In last year’s article on consequentialism, I presented Peter Singer’s argument for altruism, which is worth repeating here. Imagine you pass a baby lying face down in a shallow pool of water. You could easily rescue the baby without putting yourself in danger, perhaps—at worst—ruining your shoes in the process. In this situation, it seems hard to argue that choosing not to save the baby counts as an ethical decision. Yet at this very moment, there are many, many children dying somewhere in the world, and you could save one or more of them without much greater expense than the cost of a new pair of shoes. If you accept that you should save the drowning baby, it seems you should also accept that you should save a faceless innocent child at some minimal cost.
Singer summarizes his consequentialist/altruist argument with the claim that “if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it.” [1] This statement leads to the conclusion that we are morally required “to prevent bad things from happening unless in doing so we would be sacrificing something of comparable moral significance.”[2] This latter assertion represents a particularly stringent interpretation of altruism, but one which I believe is accurate. If you believe ethical actions are those that benefit others, your position loses credibility if you are willing to refrain from such actions in order to satisfy your own desires. The true altruist sacrifices her own wants for the benefit of others until she would be worse off than them if she continued to do so.
So if you accept the full altruistic claim, you might decide to give some large percentage of your income to one or more deserving charities. Or, if you are not too far along in your current career, you might decide to attend medical school and work with an organization like Doctors Without Borders to fight preventable diseases in third world countries. And while these are altruistic pursuits, consider that the most effective altruist is the one who provides the most good for others. With that thought in mind, imagine an altruist who makes $50,000 annually and donates $25,000 to charity, knowing he can live a relatively comfortable life on $25,000 per year. What if this altruist earned twice as much money? He could then triple his charitable donations to $75,000 annually and still have $25,000 for his own living expenses. He could also use that $75,000 to pay the salaries of three doctors in Doctors Without Borders (at a starting salary of $1,731 per month, or $20,772 per year[3]).
Unless our altruist possesses some vastly superior ability (e.g. he is able to do the work of several doctors), he can benefit more people by earning more money. Peter Singer highlights this connection in a 2013 TED Talk:

“If you earn a lot of money, you can give away a lot of money, and if you're successful in that career, you could give enough to an aid organization so that it could employ, let's say, five aid workers in developing countries, and each one of them would probably do about as much good as you would have done. So you can quintuple the impact by leading that kind of career.”[4]

The website referenced in the lecture, 80,000 Hours, researches a variety of careers and lists the following as those that offer the most opportunities to a make a difference for others: founding an effective non-profit, politics, tech entrepreneurship, trading in quantitative hedge funds, consulting, PhD in Economics, software engineering, and valuable academic research.[5] In other words, joining Doctors Without Borders or Greenpeace are not the best career paths for an effective altruist. Instead, the altruist should choose a career that affords him the power to directly influence other people to help those in need, or one that allows him to make substantial sums of money which he can then donate to viable charitable organizations.
I have already written about the link between increased physical activity and improved cognitive ability. A recent Forbes article highlights the exercise habits of successful leaders, with writer Carmine Gallo noting “nearly [every leader] I interviewed made physical fitness a top priority,” and “successful leaders carve out time for daily exercise because they have no choice. They have to prepare their bodies to handle the increasing demands of long hours and heavy travel schedules.” [6] So physical activity can help individuals perform better at careers like those selected by 80,000 Hours, all of which require above-average intellect and/or strong leadership.
Furthermore, a recent study published in the Journal of Labor Research indicates people who exercise for at least three hours a week earn 9% more than those who don’t.[7],[8] Let us return to our imaginary altruist who chooses a career that earns him $100,000 annually. Based on the Journal of Labor Research’s findings, he could theoretically increase his earnings by $9,000 by exercising for three hours each week. Since he already sets aside $25,000 to support himself, that extra $9,000 is additional money that could be donated to charity. The Against Malaria Foundation, which provides bed nets to protect people from mosquitoes carrying malaria, claims one mosquito net costs $3 and every 50-250 nets saves one life.[9] Our hypothetical altruist could theoretically purchase an extra 3,000 nets and save 12-60 lives each year if he chose to exercise more frequently.
In summary, a thoroughgoing altruist is committed to doing the most good for others until continuing to do so would be detrimental to her well-being. Such a person has reason to pursue a career that maximizes her social or political influence or allows her to earn vast sums of money to donate to select causes. Given the positive effects of physical activity in furthering the abilities and earning potential for people in such career fields, the altruist has reason to pursue physical virtues in order to attain her ultimate end of helping as many people as possible.

[1] Singer, Peter. “Famine, Affluence and Morality.” Ethical Thoery, Ed. Russ Shafer-Landau, Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007, p. 506.
[2] Ibid.
[3] “Benefits & Opportunities.” Doctors Without Borders. Online. 14 Sep. 2014.
[4] Singer, Peter. “The why and how of effective altruism.” TED Talks. Feb. 2013. Online. 
[5] “Top Careers.” 80,000 Hours. 27 Aug. 2014. Online. 16 Sep. 2014.
[6] Gallo, Carmine. “How Successful Leaders Attain Superhuman Energy Before Most People Wake Up.” Forbes. 13 Nov. 2013. Online. 16 Sep. 2014.
[7] Kosteas , Vasilios D. “The Effect of Exercise on Earnings: Evidence from the NLSY.” Journal of Labor Research, Volume 33, Issue 2, p. 225-250. Online. 14 Sep. 2014.
[8] Sanburn, Josh. “One More Reason to Hit the Gym: You’ll Make More Money at Work.” TIME. 8 June 2012. Online. 16 Sep. 2014.
[9] “Why nets?” Against Malaria Foundation. Online. 14 Aug. 2014.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

"Basketball alone ain't gonna do shit"

In April, I questioned the conventional wisdom that competitive sports like basketball can keep young adults out of trouble and away from violence. From Myron Medcalf and Dana O'Neil at ESPN, here's an article about another side effect of the violence that has become associated with playground basketball games (especially in Chicago).

Playground Basketball Is Dying

Monday, September 8, 2014

Responses to some very insightful questions from JoAnn Gonzalez Hickey:

Q1. Are you speaking from a perspective of mind/body as one? I have become quite fascinated with the question of mind/body through my work with drawings. I have come to experience a certain phenomenology repeatedly raising deeper questions about functioning. I have read a scholarly work, The Meaning of the Body, by Mark Johnson who defies the long held notion of a duality of mind/body. I have come to believe everything enters the mind through the body senses. Nothing enters the mind without first entering the body.  Mind and body are as one. So in reading your blog I needed to understand your perspective on this issue.

A1. I understand the mind-body problem as follows. Humans appear to have physical bodies with physical properties (volume, weight, color, etc.) and minds with mental properties (consciousness, belief, desire, etc.). The problem comes in describing the precise relationship between physical states and mental states.
-Materialism claims all mental states are really just physical states. So when I stub my toe, the purported mental state of pain is really just a physical state. Neurons fire in my brain, I yell "ow!" and an inflammatory response begins in my foot.
-Idealism claims all physical states are really just mental states. What I think of as my body is just a perception of my mind. When my toe contacts the bedpost, my mental state describes what happens. I experience pain, which makes me aware of my foot and the bed. But a congenital analgesic (a person born with the inability to experience pain) does not experience pain in the same situation. Perhaps he experiences pressure against his toe, which makes him aware of his toe and the bed, but his mental state does not encompass the hardness of the bed, the velocity of his foot and other purported physical properties the way mine does.
-Dualism claims mental and physical states are distinct and cannot be assimilated into one another. When a sophisticated robot bangs its foot against the bedpost, its circuitry may produce a reaction that includes very human-like pain responses. Yet the robot does not experience pain in the same way I do. So the human mind must be something entirely distinct from the physical body.

I haven’t addressed the mind-body problem on KineSophy as yet, and I hope I haven’t wrongly assumed a position that has led me to some untenable conclusions. I have not read Mark Johnson’s work, but I agree with you that the mind experiences the world through the senses of the body. The question is what happens next. Dualism has a point in that there seems to be something about consciousness not captured by physical states. Materialism is right to suggest that if there is something non-physical about consciousness, the dualist needs to offer some explanation for how consciousness occurs. I think it’s an interesting and important problem, but one that doesn't necessarily require a definitive answer from an ethical point of view. Ethics requires a thing that chooses (the mind) and a thing that acts (the body). I’m not sure it matters for ethics if the choosing entity is a complex network of electrical impulses or something metaphysical somehow attached to the body.

Q2. Is displeasure commensurate with stress?

A2. Stress can be a form of displeasure. Mill’s definition of higher and lower pleasures allows for non-physical pleasures and displeasures. Using the pleasure expression (d-s-e)t as an example, I imagine stress would either fall under something like s (side effects of the pleasure), perhaps as a symptom of withdrawal, and/or under e (the displeasure of exercise or physical activity). The hedonist who seeks to maximize this pleasure expression must balance stress and the other variables in the expression in order to maximize his total pleasure.

Q3. What degree of variation in exercise/physical action is assumed in the analysis? Is there a baseline?

A3. As for hedonism in particular, the variation in exercise/physical activity depends on maximizing the expression for pleasure, (d-s-e)t, where d is the pleasure value of the hedonist’s chosen activity (drugs in my example), s is the displeasure of the side effects of the chosen pleasure, e is the displeasure produced by exercise and t is time, the quantity of pleasures, which is related to the hedonist’s lifespan. Since an increase in e results in a theoretical decrease in s and increase in t, each individual hedonist can choose a value of e that maximizes the overall pleasure expression. Some people find physical activity more unpleasant than do others, so there will be variation in physical activity levels among hedonists who seek to maximize their pleasure. The question is whether any hedonist actually goes through this calculation, especially if driven by purely sensory pleasures. My point is that anyone seeking to maximize her total pleasure has reason to consider physical activity as a means to do so.

On a larger scale, we can speak of any virtue in terms of how much of that virtue is necessary to achieve a particular end, versus how much of that virtue an individual should actually demonstrate. For example, a person who seeks the benefits of a society must demonstrate a minimum level of honesty in order to gain the trust of others, but most people believe an individual should be honest beyond that minimum, and not merely to dupe others into their trust. The same is true of physical fitness, and I have previously argued for three physical virtues (see part 1 and part 2 of that piece) with an explanation of how to scale those virtues (again, see part 1 and part 2).

Monday, September 1, 2014

Why Be Fit? - Hedonism

           At the end of last year, I explained my plan to 1) demonstrate the interrelationship between physical fitness and the other secondary virtues, 2) give evidence of how the secondary virtues, and physical fitness in particular, work to support the primary ethical precept of human inviolability and 3) derive some secondary virtues, especially those relating to fitness, from the primary ethical precept. In a previous KineSophy article, I have demonstrated a complementary relationship between physical fitness and intelligence. Increased physical activity and fitness improves cognitive performance in schoolchildren and elderly adults, and subjects who concentrate on specific muscle movement show improved strength gains. I have also cited evidence of how yoga, mixed martial arts and other physical activities can strengthen other non-physical virtues. To complete part 1 of my plan, I now need to show how non-physical and non-intellectual virtues can reinforce physical virtues.
            As I argued in June, virtuous action requires a sense of self, a notion of control over a situation and a set of values. In particular, virtuous agents must have reasons to treat other humans well or to treat themselves well. Such reasons are based on the belief that human life has some value. This value may be assigned directly, as when an agent refrains from harming another out of respect for the other’s intrinsic value, or indirectly, as in refraining from doing harm merely to avoid punishment. Furthermore, different ethical theories assign the primacy of intrinsic value to different agents. Altruism holds that value of other beings should be considered simultaneously (if not before) the value of oneself. Egoism holds that the one’s own value has primacy over the value of others. Within egoism, objectivism places emphasis on so-called higher values such as production, achievement and love, while hedonism identifies pleasure as the only value.[1]
            In order for an individual’s moral virtues to strengthen her physical virtues, she must believe her ethical precepts give her reason to improve her physical virtues. Of the three ethical theories mentioned above, the objectivist will find this connection most apparent. An agent who values production and accomplishment will likely recognize the importance of physical fitness in achieving these aims. The relationship between non-physical and physical virtues is far less apparent to adherents of altruism and hedonism. If I can give reasons why altruists and hedonists should aspire to physical virtues, similar arguments should apply to most other ethical theories as well. In this piece, I consider hedonism; next month, I will address altruism.
            Ethical hedonism is “the claim that all and only pleasure has positive importance and all and only pain or displeasure has negative importance.”[2] The philosopher John Stuart Mill distinguished between higher and lower pleasures and claimed that the value of a pleasure depends on both its quality and its quantity. Of these two sorts of pleasures, the pleasure that a majority of those who have experienced both prefer is the more desirable of the two pleasures.[3] Presumably, higher pleasures would include intellectual stimulation, productivity, love and physical achievement, while lower pleasures would appeal to the basic senses and include food, drink, sex and natural and pharmacological highs. To make my argument for the physical virtues as strong as possible, I need to show that the hedonist who embraces solely the lower pleasures must still desire some level of physical fitness.
            It is commonly accepted that many of the lower pleasures are self-destructive when enjoyed in excess. Drug use and overconsumption of food and alcohol present obvious health concerns. Extreme sexual promiscuity raises the possibility of potentially life-threatening diseases. The main question I wish to address is whether or not an intensely pleasurable, self-destructive life is preferable to a longer life of moderate pleasures. If pleasure depends on quality and quantity as Mill describes, it is theoretically possible to assign a numerical value and expected frequency and duration to each pleasure in order to calculate total pleasure. Of course, there are no clear guidelines for how to assign such values. At minimum, I want to show that a hedonist has reason to consider some measure of physical fitness as necessary to maximizing total pleasure.
            According to the website World Life Expectancy, the average drug addict has a life expectancy of 15 to 20 years starting from the moment of addiction.[4] Conversely, numerous studies show that exercise can limit drug use and reduce drug-related brain damage.[5] While pharmacological substances may offer pleasurable highs, abuse of many of these substances leads to unpleasant cravings, withdrawal, addiction and possibly death. And while a hedonist may find the act of exercising unpleasant, its benefits can mitigate the addiction-related side effects of drug use. In an oversimplified model, let us call the pleasure derived from a particular drug d, the unpleasant side effects of drug use s, the unpleasantness of exercise e, and the duration of a hedonist’s life t. Then for any non-exercising drug-hedonist (NEDH), pleasure is defined as (d-s1)t1. An exercising drug-hedonist’s (EDH’s) pleasure is defined as (d-s2-e)t2, where s2 < s1 and t2 > t1. Let us expand the two expressions as follows:
            The first term in each expression, dtx, favors EDH since she will experience a greater quantity of d. The second term, -s1t1 for NEDH and -(s2+e)t2 for EDH, favors NEDH. NEDH will experience a lesser quantity of unpleasant drug side effects by dying before EDH. But if d is the greatest source of pleasure (and thus the most important motivator) for a drug-hedonist, it seems EDH’s total pleasure will be greater than NEDH’s. NEDH will have to show exercise is extremely unpleasant, especially since s for NEDH will be worse than for EDH. Exercise will have to be so unpleasant that it outweighs a longer lifetime of pleasurable drug highs with less unpleasant side effects. It is probably too much to expect such rational decision-making from a borderline addict, but it seems hard for the hedonist to make this argument.
            Similar arguments apply to other hedonistic pleasures. Strengthening physical virtues increases the quantity of pleasures (by increasing life expectancy) and improves the quality of pleasures, either by decreasing the unpleasantness of side effects or improving the experience of the pleasure itself. From a quantity standpoint, each minute of exercise increases a person’s life expectancy by an additional seven minutes, according to Dr. I-Min Lee of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and one of the authors of “Leisure Time Physical Activity of Moderateto Vigorous Intensity And Mortality: A Large Pooled Cohort Analysis.”[6] And a recent study by researchers from the London School of Economics and Political Science, Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute and the Stanford University School of Medicine showed that physical activity can be as effective as drug therapy in reducing heart-related deaths, and more effective than drugs in reducing death by stroke.[7] So physical fitness can both reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (which may be exacerbated by poor diet and overconsumption of alcohol[8]), and extend a person’s life once she is afflicted by heart-related illness.
            In terms of quality of pleasure, exercise has been shown to increase the affinity for sucrose[9], a boon to any hedonist driven by a sweet tooth. In general, there appears to be a loose connection between increased physical activity and increased appetite, although assessing this relationship often proves difficult since people who exercise to lose weight often choose to curb their caloric intake for the same reason.[10] For hedonists who view sex as the ultimate pleasure, a variety of studies show that physical activity increases sexual desirability and may improve sex drive, sexual activity, and sexual satisfaction in both males and females.[11]
            Given the capacity of exercise to increase a hedonist’s lifespan (and thus the quantity of his pleasures) and to improve the quality of the so-called lower pleasures, the hedonist appears hard-pressed to justify an avoidance of physical virtues. He must either find exercise so unpleasant as to risk a diminishment in the quantity and quality of his other pleasures, or he must adopt an excessively narrow definition of pleasurable life in order to justify an utter lack of physical fitness. It is possible to imagine a person who finds no happiness in sensory pleasures and views lounging in bed all day as the height of enjoyment, but most real-world hedonists do not seems to fit this description. Even a hedonist who embraces lower pleasures alone has very good reasons to desire some level of physical fitness. Thus, the standards of ethical hedonism complement the virtues of fitness.

[1] There is also the possibility of non-egotistic hedonism, in which the ethical action is the one that results in the greatest net gain of pleasure for all beings. This variant of hedonism is closer to altruism and is not directly discussed in this article. If I can show that both egotistic hedonism and altruism support physical virtues, I believe these arguments will account for non-egotistic hedonism as well.
[2] Moore, Andrew. “Hedonism.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2013. Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Online. 14 Aug. 2014.
[3] Ibid.
[4] LeDuc, Tom. “Addiction and Your Brain.” World Life Expectancy. Online. 15 Aug. 2014.
[5] Fell, James. “Exercise: Alternative reward for those battling addiction.” Chicago Tribune. 12 Jun. 2013. Online. 27 Aug. 2014.
[6] Goldberg, Carey. “Every Minute Of Exercise Could Lengthen Your Life Seven Minutes.” WBUR’s Common Health. 15 Mar. 2013. Online. 15 Aug. 2014.
[7] “Could exercise be as effective as medication?” NHS Choices. 2 Oct. 2013. Online. 15 Aug. 2014.
[8] Pearson, Thomas A. “Alcohol and Heart Disease.” American Heart Association. 1996. Online. 30 Aug. 2014.
[9]Horio, Tsuyoshi and Kawamura, Yojiro. “Influence of Physical Exercise on Human Preferences for Various Taste
Solutions.” Chem. Senses 23: 417-421, 1998. Online. 29 Aug. 2014.
[10] King, Neil A. “What processes are involved in the appetite response to moderate increases in exercise-induced energy expenditure?” Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 58(01): 107-113, 1999. Online. 30 Aug. 2014.
[11] Penhollow, Tina M. and Young, Michael. “Sexual Desirability and Sexual Performance: Does Exercise and Fitness Really Matter?” Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, 7: 2004. Online. 30 Aug. 2014.