Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Your True Self

In a recent article in the Chicago Tribune about the growing trend of "sweatworking," or combining networking opportunities with a trip to the gym, personal trainer and gym owner Jason Rodriguez says of the practice, "The great thing about sports or exercise is your true self is revealed." Entrepreneur Tony Ricciardi adds, "People need to be vulnerable," and claims exercise or other physical activities uncover that vulnerability. I think one of the benefits of these activities is that they provide an opportunity to expose oneself to failure in a relatively safe setting. Fatiguing during a workout or making an error while playing a sport happen regularly, but the consequences to most of us are relatively minimal. We leave the gym or field and return to our everyday lives, not too much the worse for wear. But learning to respond to challenge and failure is an essential life skill that translates beyond physical activity. Those who are motivated by setbacks in training or sport seem likely to be similarly motivated in their careers and relationships. I can understand why prospective colleagues view sweatworking as a way to gain valuable insight into people they hope to collaborate with and depend on in the future.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

2015 Year in Review

2015 saw the end of one thread of the KineSophy project and the start of another. When I began this blog in 2012 with the aim of exploring connections between philosophy and physical fitness, I soon began to recognize ways in which a philosophical approach could be applied to redeem physical virtues and reintegrate them in a unified ethical theory. Ancient Greek thinkers like Aristotle considered physical capabilities such as strength and endurance as virtues alongside bravery and kindness, but these physical virtues have been cast aside in modern philosophy to focus more on moral (other-directed) virtues.
In 2013 and 2014, I proposed three ethical precepts for human movement (part 1 and part 2), showed how to scale these precepts basedon age, used this principle of scalability to distinguish between primary and secondary virtues in non-moral and moral spheres, and showed how secondary virtues complement and strengthen one another (see January, March, July, September and October 2014). In October 2015, I provided further evidence for the connection between physical fitness and cognitive performance, a relationship I had previously delineated in January 2014. In particular, I sought more evidence to demonstrate that greater levels of cognitive performance are correlated with increased physical capabilities. Scientific research has shown that subjects who imagine performing specific movements without actually performing those motions demonstrate greater strength gains than subjects who perform no imaginary exercises, thus establishing a connection between brain activity and physical ability. Moreover, the quality of this mental imagery is important, since subjects who practice positive imagery improve their performance, while subjects who practice negative imagery see decreases in performance, and individuals who are more adept at mental imagery demonstrate greater improvement in physical skills than do weaker mental imagers. These studies suggest that the quality of mental imagery impacts changes in physical capacities, and individuals with greater cognitive abilities having more potential for increases in physical performance.
In January, I continued my construction of a complete ethical framework by deriving secondary, scalable virtues from the primary virtue of human inviolability. In short, when I think of myself, I realize that I do not want my personhood harmed or my desires frustrated. I also recognize other beings who appear similar to me and realize that they must not want their personhoods harmed or desires frustrated. This realization provides the basis for the primary virtue, according to which I would be wrong to perform certain acts (such as murder) against others no matter my own level of ethical knowledge. Furthermore, human beings are creatures that think and act, or more specifically, that meet minimum standards for thought and action. These standards are non-moral secondary virtues. And if I recognize the reasons to avoid violating the rights of other humans, I will also see reasons to abstain from theft, dishonesty and other secondary moral virtues, since these also harm others or frustrate their desires. Thus, from an understanding of the primary virtue, we proceed to a realization of the secondary virtues.
In March, I endeavored to complete the picture by showing how secondary virtues, and physical fitness in particular, work to support the primary virtue. According to the action theory I proposed in 2014, an agent who performs a virtuous action must have a notion of self, a notion of control over a situation and a notion of value. As an example of physical, non-moral, secondary virtues, an individual who wants to perform a handstand must recognize that he is the agent who will act, that he is capable of learning to perform a handstand, and that performing a handstand is important to him for some reason and will improve him in some essential manner. A similar approach can be used to explain moral secondary virtues. As a result, an agent who practices secondary virtues necessarily realizes that at least one person’s existence is worthwhile. Since the ends of her desires are valuable to her, she does not want to see those desires frustrated. From here, we return to January’s argument, in which an understanding of one’s own inviolability and the recognition of other similarly motivated human beings leads to an understanding of the primary virtue.
Having thus completed the initial aim of the KineSophy project, I turned my attention to applying a philosophical approach of critically appraising arguments to commonly held assumptions in health, fitness and athletics. In February, I addressed the practice of applying ice to physical injuries. Any rationale for icing must assume that the human body’s natural inflammatory response is not appropriate for dealing with acute trauma, and that the topical application of ice can somehow blunt this response. However, there is no scientific evidence that ice achieves the ends claimed by its proponents. In fact, ice may actually delay the healing process. For these reasons, the claim that icing an injury improves healing has no merit.
In June, I used a similar approach to address the common practice of landing on the heel of the foot when running. We would never think of jumping and landing on our heels with locked knees rather than on the balls of our feet with bent knees in any other circumstances. Yet that’s exactly what the majority of runners do when they run for any distance longer than 200 meters. And instead of adopting a safer movement pattern, many runners throw on thick-heeled shoes that allow them to continue to heel strike without the painful feedback that would normally alert them to the dangers of this movement choice. A growing body of research into shoe type and running style consistently demonstrates that the choice of running shoes has no effect on injury rates, and that landing on the forefoot while running reduces impact and decreases the likelihood of injury. Though it may take time and practice to transition from a heel strike to a forefoot strike, thinking logically about the biomechanics involved and reading the pertinent scientific research both lead to the conclusion that the latter is a more effective running stride.
Finally, in November, I combined the Socratic philosophy of self-knowledge with scientific experimentation to examine changes in my own diet. By varying the carbohydrate-to-protein ratio of my meals, I was able to measure the effects of varying macronutrient content on a variety of health and performance metrics. I found that a balance between protein and carbohydrate intake led to the greatest improvements in my central nervous system and brain function, while a diet slightly higher in protein resulted in the greatest improvements in my workout performance and body composition. Overall, I achieved the best results with a macronutrient ratio of 6 to 9 grams carbohydrates per 7 grams protein. Most importantly, I hope this kind of self-experimentation will demonstrate the importance of defining and measuring specific changes for those who seek to make improvements in some aspect of their lives.
I plan to continue this approach of applying logic and critical thought to popular beliefs in health and fitness in 2016. I will also continue to share the latest news on developments in the interplay between athletics and society. And I hope to hear from new and diverse perspectives on all of these issues, similar to my interview with MeganGrant in May. Having completed the ethical foundation for KineSophy in 2015, I look forward to building on it in the months to come.