Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Information Problem

Unlike times in the past, most contemporary problems are not the lack of resources or even resourcefulness, as it is the lack of valid information. In this, those who work hardest, are those with the most to gain from spreading misinformation, by which they hope to create their opportunity. Many even create a problem, even if none existed before. They may even come to believe that their distortions are actually true, particularly if they are successful at convincing many others to believe it so, concluding that so many other people couldn’t be wrong, even if they knew it to be false when they first came up with the idea.

Chief among these are those who propagate information -- which is the media collectively known as the newspapers, television, radio and other transmissions of advertising. But it is not the advertising that is paid for that is the greatest sources of misinformation, but the so-called “objective” articles and commentary of misinformed people or those without the ability to validate information effectively -- a category of folks who in a former era, were known as journalists -- or professional journalists. The entire information game has passed them by.

Such people now, are the most vulnerable to being deceived and manipulated -- because the information game is played on a much higher level than the old journalism could encompass. They have been supplanted by the new information processors -- people whose primary skill is the validation of information, before it is processed for truthfulness. That validation process cannot be done at the end -- it must be done at the beginning of the information process. It is the model of modern information processing, taught as computer processing, or data processing. It is actually a generic skill for processing any kind of information -- and not limited to processing information only about computers, or information processing per se.

That is the essential skill required today for everybody -- and renders the specialized skills and disciplines irrelevant. It breaks down the walls by which experience and knowledge of life has been fragmented, specialized and compartmentalized in the past. While there are those with exceptional abilities and predispositions in certain areas, it is not because they have delimited their field and range of study. The old Ph.D. of the 20th Century, has become a baseline for the well-informed person in the 21st Century.

Today’s generic researcher is capable of accessing quickly what took those in a previous era, a lifetime to be able to learn and access quickly -- but that now is a skill that is largely unnecessary in an era of unlimited memory and storage capacity. It used to be that a primary function of most human beings was to memorize and store information -- which we now realize, is not the highest use of human possibilities. Like a computer, the human is most effective processing real-time information, from moment to moment. If one can do that well, it doesn’t require memory and memorization to function in such a world.

That information is encoded in the very structure of every existence -- and can be examined directly, not as a memorized piece of information but verifiable as truth in the moment, of which there is sufficient processing capacity to do so now. The truth that is only a remembered thing, is no longer necessary, and may be counterproductive, in determining what is essential to know.

The real process of understanding, is eliminating all that is not essential to the task. In many people, that is 95% of what they know.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Exercise Made Easy

The big mistake of the fitness industry, was the notion that in order to make themselves indispensable to the process, they needed to make exercise hard rather than easy -- adopting the education model, that learning should be as difficult as possible, rather than as easy as possible. It was thought that unless these activities could be made to seem as difficult as possible, there would be little need for those who know better, to push their subjects harder, against their will, to do more. Trusted to their own good sense and instincts, their disciples would conclude rightly, that they ought to do as little of the recommended regimen as possible -- just as their coaches now do. Coaches and teachers existed to do as they said, and not as they do -- which is why they are coaches and teachers, rather than still active players, throughout their life far beyond the need for competitions to motivate them.

The notion that anything should be made easy -- rather than hard, is only a recent realization growing in popularity for the last twenty years. Prior to that, it was thought that the height of wisdom and sophistication was to make everything and anything seem as complicated and difficult as possible -- as an indication of superior intelligence in mastering it. What virtue could there possibly be in mastering anything that was simple and easy? During this period, academics went to great lengths to prove that they could require an entire semester to teach nothing at all -- as a mark of superior guile and cleverness. Entire books might be written with all the jargon signifying nothing of any consequence. It was the Golden Age of Liberal Education -- during which, the highest achievement was proving the utter futility of learning anything.

That was also the beginning of the end -- of unproductivity and inefficiencies that would bring about a revolution in how we did everything. And truly, the average person would soon be capable of doing nearly everything -- moderately well and easily. But some old habits and ways of thinking die a little harder. Exercise was still thought to require making it harder than easier -- lowering the barriers until there was nearly universal participation -- instead of excluding all but the most obsessive and compulsive. Nobody even seemed to want to test the notion that it did not require the arduous discipline, dedication and will power of only the most virtuous and vain.

Yet in the ancient academies, that was the core curriculum -- the well-rounded and balanced development of the complete human being. The problem was the fragmentation, specialization and professionalization of every aspect of contemporary life fostered by prolonged education. But the reintegration of existence begun twenty years ago, will bring about the healing required for a more healthful, integrated existence. It is a movement whose time has come -- because of a stage of life that never really existed before. That is, the healthy, productive life beyond the years of competition, striving, and need to become other than what one actually is -- without guilt, obsession and compulsion as prime motivators.

When we get beyond those issues, what needs to be done is pretty straightforward. It is our "issues" that won’t allow us to make things easy for ourselves. Life is very hard, until we allow ourselves to make it easy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Proper Exercise is Not Wasting the Most Time and Energy Possible

Many people have been taught by bad physical education “instructors,” that exercise is all about wasting as much time and energy as possible -- and having a miserable time doing so, as though that experience, by some miraculous transmutation, becomes a virtue. They don’t know how, but everything bad becomes good, the poor become rich, the anonymous, famous. They don’t know how, but if that is one’s wish beyond all desires, that is what must eventually come into being. Of course, that is merely wishful-thinking, but doesn‘t prevent many from living their whole lives with such fanciful notions.

The reason world champions invariably look like world champions, is because of their mastery of their skill, and not by doing something badly, more than anybody else -- which invariably embodies itself as a person who couldn’t do anything well. There are no exceptions -- though undoubtedly, many spread the myth that reality can be so fragmented, so deceived, that nothing is related to anything else, nothing can be correlated to anything else, it is so, because I say it is so. That is the underlying premises of much contemporary physical instruction; understanding is not a prerequisite for what one is doing, or focused on.

In fact, many research studies insist that ignorance of what one is doing and the objectives one wishes to achieve must be unknown for that test to be truly scientific -- when obviously, the intent is not to measure and observe random behavior but directed and focused behavior. That requires that the subject know what he is doing and why he is doing what he is doing. In fact, it is the understanding of this that is much more important than any amount of doing without such an organizing principle in their activities and behaviors. Only once those principles are well understood, are favorable results not only predictable, but are actually, inevitable. Without this proper understanding, no amount of effort will produce those desirable results -- randomly.

Yet that is precisely the approach taken by many fitness/exercise experts. Random behavior never produced desired results in any field of human endeavor, why should it on the athletic field or in a gym? Yet there are a lot of well-conditioned athletes -- who are not exercising for fitness’ sake. The focus on the mastery of their skill, is the organizing imperative of that body to achieve a high level of efficiency and functioning. The challenge of the task requires that optimal performance, function and form.

In reading most contemporary literature on exercise, what is striking is how these authors have no idea what they are talking about -- but have merely claimed the turf as experts because of their ability to write more coherently than most. But because their writing is clearer, it is more obvious they have no idea what they are talking about -- as long as they throw in all the buzzwords, that seems to be saying something, without actually saying anything. In the end, they advise you to consult with your doctor, implying that they are corroborating agents for their own expertise.

In seeking out worthwhile instruction, the telltale piece of information is this sense of purpose and a mastery of a skill valuable in itself. If there is no identifiable objective other than to waste the most time and energy possible, seek another. Such instruction, has nothing to offer -- it will only waste as much time and energy as you give it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Not Even Competing Against Oneself

Hopefully, there comes a time in everybody’s life at which they outgrow their youthful conditioning, and realize that the objective of their lives is not to reflexively compete with everybody else for first place in everything -- and that it is all right simply to be the best at being the person one is, at which everybody can be a world champion at. That’s why the wisest of the wise have advised throughout the ages, “Know yourself,” because in doing so, one will be a highly-motivated expert of his own life and times.

Unfortunately, contemporary education teaches us that personal experience is not important but that generalizations are more valid than one’s own, personal experience, which causes a lot of problems for those who fall out of the range of “average” in anything. On some scale, everyone is exceptional in some, if not many aspects -- which was virtually an obscure but in the long-run, most valuable observation of the time -- made by a biochemist who noted the tremendous variability among people to the extent that it was proper to speak of those differences not in terms of percents, but folds. That is to say, that what one person might find annoying and another not notice at all, there might be one exceptional individual, who might actually die from that exposure.

This was in a time in which researchers quite confidently and smugly pronounced, “There is no intolerance for dairy products -- or aspirin.” And then for that matter, the fitness levels of everyone could be definitively measured by their performance on a treadmill stress test. It didn’t seem to bother the developers of such an idea that most world-class athletes (which should be a standard of something), almost always fell out of the range of normal -- because they were exceptional. But in the new social engineering, the average became the normal, and then the ideal. Thus the mediocre became the standard -- rather than the exceptional and extraordinary.

So while researchers were determining conclusively what was the average, they showed little interest in what produced the exceptional, which might have been a more valuable, significant finding. The mass media, guardians of popular culture, promoted the average as the ideal, into the tyranny of the consensus, majority, mob rule. What the average person thought, was more important than what the best ideas were. In every case, the best ideas should submit to the most popular notions -- whether they were valid or not. It was truth by whomever could sell their idea the best, and control the thinking of the majority, of which they found themselves conveniently in control. It was a temptation too great not to abuse.

The popular media became too powerful -- and that became the seeds of its own destruction, arrogance and abuse. It never learned to handle power responsibly -- which is always fatal. That may be one of the great lessons in disciplining oneself for athletic participation -- that one learns about his own power, and can control it. Very powerful individuals are especially proud of their “gentle touch” -- their delicate control of prodigious power and skill. A weakling will think that a show of brute force, intimidation, bullying is all that is required to appear to be powerful.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Telling the Truth

Some people’s idea of “telling the truth,” is saying anything they think they can get away with -- relying on other people not to be able to tell the difference. Unfortunately, that is especially true of those who work “in the media” -- primarily functioning to propagate that information, disinformation, or ignorance. The kind of people drawn to such positions, and the need to relentlessly compete against every other for fickle public attention, is not conducive to thoughtful reflection and unpressured independence and integrity of judgment. In fact, it may be the ultimate herd mentality, the need to conform, as the arbiter of truth. That manner of determining, assures that the most improbable and outrageous assertions cannot be tested for truth and therefore will be accepted as “fact,” because nobody will bother to dignify and dispute it.

Thus, it will be accepted as an unchallenged truth in that way -- because it is so outrageously ridiculous as to escape sober and rational examination, substantiation and verification. Demagogues, recognizing that vulnerability, know then that the more ridiculous and preposterous their claims, the more they are likely to defy refutation. Then the popular dialogue and conversation is dominated by the absurd, the ridiculous, the preposterous -- while self-evident truths are derided as too simplistic to be sophisticated, and complicated enough to be proof of superior intellect. Of course those suffering from inferiority complexes are easily cowed and impressed. They fear being the first to admit their ignorance -- of that which intelligent people know as patently false.

In a den of thieves, the biggest liar, the greatest con-artist, the most ruthless, is king. In many professions now, that is the criteria of success in that field -- which ultimately must undermine the whole endeavor for legitimacy and credibility. One should be able to be well-informed without being vulnerable to all the nonsense that those clamoring for unfair advantage are corrupted by. Rather than investigative rigor, many reporters are intimidated into accepting the untrue because of their inability to determine the truth for themselves -- and are at the mercy of their informant, to be fair with them. That gullibility is exploited by the unscrupulous.

The ultimate quality of information is limited by the audience it is communicated to. Good information is of no value, or no difference to the undiscriminating. They will believe whatever they are told to believe. It does not even occur to them that they can question authority and validity. That may even be “somebody else’s job.” In many instances, it turns out to be nobody’s job. So the integrity and validity of information is largely dependent on the mutual respect of the informer and the informed.

The old broadcast model of information and communication is almost totally controlled by the informant -- without regard for the capabilities and input of the informed. In fact, that relationship may even be adversarial -- each undermining the other, until all exchanges are counter-informative. In such an adversarial relationship, the interaction destroys the capability of the information receiver rather than enhancing their capabilities. It is a negative-sum game. The less one knows of that kind of “information,” the better off one is.

Friday, September 09, 2005

The Problem of Education

Modern information and communication technology has made traditional education modes obsolete -- because now, the learner can dictate the pace of his own learning, rather than that being controlled by the “teacher,” whose self-interest and orientation is to make a short story long. The student-learner, on the other hand, wants to learn as much as possible in as little time as possible -- so there is that basic conflict of interest in the student-teacher relationship. The teacher of course, will try to convince his student that he is forcing the student to do what he really isn’t interested in -- for his own good, as though they knew better, but really, he is merely imposing his own interests over the interests of another. That relationship is not only obsolete but destructive -- but that adopted by many as the popular notion of what good, traditional education is all about -- disciplining oneself to satisfy the wishes of another, as though that were some virtue.

Education has value in that it serves the individual -- and not because it provides lifetime employment security for the teacher. Any self-respecting teacher who understands this is worthy of the title of Teacher. The rest have no business in teaching. They, in fact, have nothing of value to teach -- and their students may spend their whole lifetimes trying to overcome such teaching -- if they ever do. Not only might the information have been erroneous -- but they have also taught and reinforced the resistance to learning any new information that might challenge what they have taught. Students of such education grow up determined never to want to learn anything more once they leave school -- because they have been conditioned to believe that learning anything must be this torturous experience of denying their own common sense and sensibilities, in deference to the alleged superiority of these self-anointed others.

The good teacher understands the disrepute that poor teachers have given to the basic, healthy impulse to learn -- all one’s life. It should not be an extraordinary thing -- but has become so because of poor teachers, or institutionalized education, which merely ensures jobs for “professional” teachers. That designation alone is already an oxymoron -- because learning should be the ultimate “amateur” experience -- beginning with the presumption that one does not know, rather than the categorization of those who know and those who don’t know. What the good teacher teaches, is not what he knows, but how to find out, when he doesn’t know. That requires the beginning admission that he doesn’t know, and will demonstrate how he goes about finding out.

Those who do teach such methodology, are worthy of the title “Master,” as such teachers truly merit the designation. Learning that skill allows the student to become the Master -- the master of his own learning, and life, which is the true purpose of education. One begins by questioning everything, assuming nothing to be true -- until what remains is self-evidently true -- not the overriding of commonsense with theory and ideology, but the reaffirmation and reconnection of idea with experience. That connection has been lost in modern pedagogy when many are now teachers because they’ve simply been certified to teach -- having learned no such mastery over anything else worth teaching. When such “experts” are challenged as to their authority, their response invariably is, “We have to move on; there is so much material to cover” -- which indicates the worthlessness of such an education.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Problem of Aging

At some point in every person’s life, there comes a time at which they notice that they no longer recover as quickly from injuries or exercise as they did when they were younger -- if they even recover at all. Even great athletes notice this deterioration in their familiar responsiveness to all challenges -- which they, more than most, notice as a rapid drop-off in their abilities to remain at the top of their game, in peak condition. Many plunge into a lifelong spiral of depression because they’ve never experienced such an unrelenting deterioration before, and their inability to respond to these changing circumstances. Lesser people are more accepting of deterioration and low performance as a way of life -- thinking rather perversely, that age is a great equalizer in that even the great athletic champions have to bow to the ravages of time.

Or does one have to? All that I’ve discussed previously about the need to exercise better -- rather than simply more, is critical for optimizing health and functioning in the older years. Rather than being an inviolable constant, aging may be the greatest variable that distinguishes well-being and well-functioning, as opposed to disfunction accelerating deterioration.

The overlooked factor in most discussions on exercise is recovery ability. Exercise is a drain on recovery ability -- and so the more energy drained by exercise, the less is available for recovery -- and growth. As people get older, their recovery ability decreases, so even the same amount of exercise they have been doing may require more time to recover and benefit from. Thus, it is critically important to understand that simply more exercise may not be what the body needs. Instead, what it needs is less -- but better exercise, which means improving the economy and efficiency of one’s movements -- most noticeably at the hands, feet and head (face). In fact, how animated and vibrant a person looks, can be determined almost exclusively by noting the expressiveness of these extremities of expression. That is what makes people look old or young -- the degree of expressiveness and articulation in their face, hands and feet.

Exercise physiologists have long correlated body health by grip strength. Most people will notice that too in their everyday lives -- as difficulty opening a bottle, tearing open a candy wrapper, popping a top. Without adequate foot strength, one is vulnerable to falling over, which is probably the greatest hazard to the old. People with superior foot strength, are virtually impossible to knock off their feet! And those who think cosmetic procedures that freeze the face in a youthful constant expression, have no clue that it is the wide range of expressiveness in the face and movement of the head above the neck, that conveys liveliness and vigor -- and not any frozen, fixed expression of unliveliness.

Most, but not the largest muscles of the human body, are located in the extremities -- which is the uniqueness of human beings. That is what they were made to do -- more than any other animal or life form. That’s why we have the great paintings and art of the world. The universally admired physique for most, particularly women, is that of the dancer’s body -- in all its variations. The characteristic thing about the dancer is not how high they jump, or how fast they move across the room, but ultimately, the amount of articulation they express at the hands, feet and head -- with the greatest economy and efficiency of movement. To age gracefully, one’s exercise and life should be like this dance -- and not struggling evermore vainly to beat back the ravages of time.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Will to Change

Once one understands that change is not the arduous and complicated rocket science that self-interested “professionals” would have us believe takes years of their supervision to attain, the remaining obstacle is the will to change. It is a lot like many clamoring for “freedom,” but when they are given it, do everything they can to limit those freedoms rather than to fully express them. Not only will they not express them in themselves, they will discourage anybody else with the impulse to express those freedoms also from exercising them -- because they won’t, and wish to retain the status quo -- of everybody not being all they can imagine themselves to be because of some convenient excuse everybody else will agree to.

It is even fashionable among some people, to claim they would be President of the United States, if the current officeholder hadn’t stolen the opportunity from them. And thus they console themselves with their delusions that there is no need for change or improvement -- but it is the rest of the world that needs to come around to their self-assessment that they alone are perfection, and it is the rest of the world that needs to adjust their attitude to see that. That is their idea of “changing the world” -- and so of course, everything stays the same, because it would be far easier and simpler to just change themselves.

In fact, that is the only way the world ever changes -- when each accepts their own responsibility to do so. But we live in a time and culture that permits those from ever taking responsibility and accountability for their own lives and actions. Undoubtedly there is the 5% percent with “glandular problems” to account for their condition, but far too many also claim such handy self-diagnosis as their own convenient excuses. The capacity for self-deception in the cultural climate was never more supportive for doing so. But the healthiest will not avail themselves of such excuses -- if any other explanation is possible. And one never knows until he runs his own experiment, which in real life, is experience that conveys many unforeseen benefits.

It is entirely possible in this age of media and institutionalized learning, that many do not learn from personal experience any more -- as previous generations may have had to. Thus everything they know, and maybe all they know, is what others have told them is the truth of the world -- and are reinforced and rewarded for agreeing to that conditioning (indoctrination) rather than learning to test the truth of one’s own senses. Therefore, even what they know of themselves, is what the self-designated authorities tell them is how they ought to be feeling and thinking -- that this is the “correct” way to feel and think, and never mind what one really feels and thinks independently.

So the conditioning one seeks, is to empower one to be more independent, more confident and trusting of his own judgment and ability to think for oneself, because that is each individual’s real value for any society -- that he provides information not available to all, rather than the consensus doing so for each of its individual members. That’s how schools of fish or herds of animals move with the intelligence greater than merely the sum of its parts. That is the wisdom of all -- and not setting oneself up against the wisdom of all.