The Importance of Brain Tech and the Limits to Acquiring It

Near my desk there is a stack of unread books (And ebooks). They taunt me. What ideas are they holding, eager to be assimilated and used, but stagnant until I can find the time to read them, tease out the knowledge, and add it to my mental toolbox? There are limits on acquiring brain technology, and it seems they are presently difficult, if not impossible, to overcome.

This is not my stack! — Creative Commons License photo credit: Annie Ominous

There’s an idea articulated in Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon that goes something like this: imagine there is a project that will take five years to complete. Imagine further that a technology that could be developed in a year would, once acquired, enable the project to be completed in only two years. Thus, rather than use existing technology to complete the project in five years, it makes more sense to acquire the time-saving technology first.

Reality is considerably less predictable than this simple example allows, but it still illustrates a useful idea: acquiring the right technology first can save time and effort later.

This idea seems most relevant to acquiring brain technology, which I’ll define as the sum of useful ideas, useful paradigms, and knowledge. Modern-day prosthetics, also known as our mobile phones and laptops, are rapidly eliminating the need for this last bit of brain tech. The rote knowledge we need is almost always a google or two away (See the recent grind skill discussion on maximizing Google search). However, these prosthetic devices can’t yet do the work of a useful idea or paradigm.

Functional ideas and paradigms are the programs by which our brains process data. The better the programs, the faster we can process problems and the better our answers will be. The better our brain technology, the better our lives. It is for this reason that I take measures to acquire as much brain tech as possible. This is why I read books, blog (On the power of blogging), and follow my curiosity. It’s all in an effort to boost my brain tech, which I hope will improve my life as it improves my ability to solve problems and understand the world.

It seems simple enough but there are problems: (1) it takes a long time to acquire brain technology, it’s difficult or impossible to know what it is we should be seeking to know (2), and it’s hard to know when our existing brain technology is obsolete (3). I have no good ideas on how to attack the second problem, which is Black Swan-esque and thereby unforeseeable. Awareness that it exists may mitigate our base ignorance but then again, it probably won’t. Regarding problem three, seeking out new brain tech as well as simply sharing our own brain tech with others may help — as far as mundane tasks go, that is driver behind writing about Grind Skills.

I’m left to dwell on the first problem. My solution here is to filter through as much information as I can manage and mine out the useful ideas and paradigms. By filtering information, I usually mean reading books and blogs. On the blogging front, a feed aggregator is a must-have. And as far as reading books, get thee to a library (or!

Reading provides a starting point, but even here there is a problem. The volume of information that must be mined to find a single useful idea is immense. There is a brain bandwidth problem: I can only read so fast. Furthermore, even supposing I’m maxing out my reading speed*, I will inevitably read books and blogs that have broken ideas and paradigms (or none at all). How do I reduce the risk of wasting time and energy spent reading empty datasets (books/blogs)? I don’t know.

One workaround to my own bandwidth limitations is to leverage the bandwidth of others. I do this by surrounding myself with others who similarly seek out useful ideas and paradigms and are eager to share what they know. As far as the Internet goes, there again we see the power of blogging and the importance of a good, share-friendly feed reader. In real space, I think Nassim Taleb’s suggestion to “go to parties” is astute. Socialize (Don’t isolate yourself!)! Otherwise, observe others and ask questions.

These are ground-breaking insights, I know. I’m mostly just articulating a problem that has been on my mind. It’s great that modern technology has improved our understanding of the world and enabled us to outsource at least some of our brain functions to our gadgets (Thereby freeing up some bandwidth). However, it seems to me that the age-old ways to acquire wisdom, which is all brain technology really is, are the only ways we’ve got. Read as much as you can and share your tech with others**. And that’s what I’ll be doing until some other tech comes along and renders this brain tech obsolete.

* Speaking of brain tech, I’ve previously attempted learning to speed read. I’ve had no success with it though.
** I’m optimistic that this latter method (sharing) is being accelerated via the Internet.


Transcending the Authority Complex

In researching Erwan Le Corre’s MovNat (Ref: Le Corre Link Repository) I continue circling back to two related concepts. The first is the idea of the “guru” and the second is human tendency to defer to authority, a problem I’m calling the authority complex.

We homo sapiens—enlightened apes—face a dilemma of awareness. The more we know about the world, the more we realize that we are little more than the by-products of our DNA’s self-perpetuating existence on a tiny planet that could disappear tomorrow without any noticeable impact on our galaxy (to say nothing of the Universe). There’s a sense of futility that arises from this awareness, our existential angst, which is probably why we so rarely think about it.

So we shelve our angst and continue living. It is our biological imperative, after all. It is in this living that we seek answers to all sorts of questions to improve our lives. Do I have kids? How do I best support my family? How can I be a better parent, friend, spouse? How do I increase my wealth (Some ideas)? What should I do with my career? What should I eat? How do I find happiness? What is my purpose? How should I live?

Our hunger for “the” answer to any particular question leads us to seek out gurus. A guru need not be a spiritual leaders (even as many “experts” often a distinct “spiritual” flair); today “guru” means more “expert” or “authority” on any given subject. On the Internet alone, I have plenty of go-to gurus on health, fitness, politics, and economics, all of whom I “follow” on a regular basis via Google Reader. It seems that gurus like to blog.

To some extent, I play the role guru (Don’t we all?). People ask me about diet, the economy, and technology. It feels good to be considered an expert, even as I secretly confess how very little I really know.

Whether we get answers directly from observation of the world combined with introspection/reflection or we turn to others—the gurus, experts, or authorities—our questions will get answered, and this can sometimes be a problem.

“If you meet the Buddha on the way, kill him!” — Zen proverb
Creative Commons License photo credit: woordenaar

If it is answers we want, then it is answers we will receive. Of course, many of the answers we receive from consulting authority, which includes not just the gurus but also established traditions, religions, science, theories, etc., will be right. Unfortunately, many others will be wrong, and the trouble lies in telling the difference.

The tendency of deference to authority is what I’m calling the “authority complex*.” I think we are all affected by the authority complex. We’ve all drank the “Guru-ade” from time to time, and our only assured defense against this problem is awareness that it exists. It reminds me of an idea (probably a bad one) for a bumper sticker stating the imperative to “Question Authority!”

Why? It always comes back to this.

As much as we all want to find truth, many of the most important questions are simply unanswerable with any certainty. Even when we think we’ve figured things out, it is often only a matter of time and testing before our understanding is refined, corrected, and improved. This unanswerable quality applies to all understanding, be it scientific queries or more philosophical questions such as ascribing meaning to our lives. Beyond many questions just being unavoidably open-ended, there is the sense that whatever answers you seek are intrinsically dependent on you and not things that can be prescribed by some one-size-fits-all authority. Even supposing truths are discovered, how likely is it that an authority will be able to convey clearly to others the knowledge they’ve acquired from a lifetime of experience and learning?

Question authority. That is the imperative that arises from awareness of the authority complex. More pointedly, we must be critical of gurus and authorities who claim to have the answers because scarcely any claim is more telling that these so-called experts are no such thing. If you find the buddha, kill him (Nietzsche said something similar in Thus Spake Zarathustra as I recall). The point, as I take it, is that when you think you have all the answers, you most assuredly do not. Any philosophy, religion, or other authority that fails to account for the authority complex is at best incomplete.

Question authority! Question everything. Even if our questions remain forever unanswered, it is the asking that works to define our lives.

Finally, to bring these thoughts full circle, Erwan Le Corre is an emerging guru who seeks to rehabilitate humans suffering from modern day domestication, which is to say he seeks to set human beings free. I wonder if the authority complex is the fundamental barrier to human freedom. Perhaps if we can transcend the complex, even as we fail to find our answers, we might find a freedom that brings us peace.

* My first blog was “autodogmatic,” which is a made-up word that essentially captures the problem of human tendency to defer to authority.

Erwan Le Corre, MovNat, Methode Naturelle, Georges Hebert Link Repository

I’ve been knee-deep in reading everything I can find on Erwan Le Corre’s MovNat, which is an extension and expansion of Georges Hebert’s Methode Naturalle.

In a fantastic example of how the Internet makes our worlds smaller and builds community across large geographic boundaries (See The Power of Blogging), I’ve been able to dialogue with Erwan over email. I can’t attest to his physical fitness (though plenty of others have!), but I can attest to his genuineness of purpose as a philosopher who seeks to understand and express our true nature as human beings. I think I’d say I’m seeking the same thing.

  • More Insight on Erwan Le Corre and the Methode Naturalle — Saved material from a blogger who trained with Le Corre and has a background in parkour (and also CrossFit). Interesting reflection on the core idea, which is natural movement and being a athletic generalist.
  • Reverting to “Le Corre” of Things, Our Nature — A fantastic interview with Erwan Le Corre by Conditioning Research; here, we get some background on Le Corre’s training, the “zoo human” concept, his thoughts on evolutionary fitness, and the social aspect of his philosophy, which is the importance of cooperation (as opposed to isolating/insulating oneself from others). Erwan makes the point that humans didn’t compete with each other in a “survival of the fittest” sense — we existed cooperatively in tribes. De Vany has made this point, as well, which is that in a band of humans, each person had their important role to play as part of the group. It’s interesting to imagine that sort of purpose and compare it to our Corporate-leaning cog-like modern existence.
  • MensHealth covers Erwan Le Corre’s MovNat — Perhaps the article that has spurred the greatest interest in Le Corre and MovNat in recent days, the Men’s Health article titled A Wild Workout for the Real World discusses the concepts behind Le Corre’s MovNat and is told from the perspective of someone who traveled to Brazil and trained with Le Corre.
  • Wikipedia entry on Georges Hebert and Methode Naturelle — As usual, wikipedia offers a nice primer on Methode Naturelle which was a movement started by Georges Hebert, a French navy officer, back in the early 20th century. This covers the basics and is a pretty useful overview of the precursor to Le Corre’s own advancement of the ideas he calls MovNat. Of note, the motto of Methode Naturelle is “Être fort pour être utile”—”Being strong to be useful.”
  • The MovNat website — Obviously, this is the hub of Le Corre’s public MovNat presence. It’s a nice website and I look forward to when Erwan gets a blog up and running!
  • The MovNat video on YouTube — be sure to hit the “HD” button to watch the video in high quality. Anyone want to go to Brazil?!

Related Link on Human Nature and our Hunter-Gatherer, Non-Specialist Evolutionary Roots

I’ll be sure to update this repository if I find anything else.

Update: I’ve been informed that Kevin, a fan of Erwan Le Corre and MovNat, has created a site dedicated to Hebert’s Methode Naturelle. Check it out!

More Insight on Erwan Le Corre and the Methode Naturalle


For all things Erwan Le Corre, MovNat, Methode Naturelle, Georges Hebert that I’ve been tracking, be sure to see this Link Repository

Searching around for more information on Erwan Le Corre, Georges Hebert, the Methode Naturale, MovNat, and parkour led me to extensive and informative post by Rafe Kelley written in August of 2007. Rafe trained with Erwan Le Corre in France and has a background in many athletic endeavors including CrossFit and parkour.

Kelley’s experience in CrossFit is of interest to me because CrossFit is often billed as a generalist fitness regiment. However, my four month CrossFit stint was enough to tell me that, as much as CrossFit may be better than any number of other training styles, it still misses the mark as far as a wholistic, generalist training regiment. Perhaps what bothers me most about CrossFit is the combination of a handed-down-on-high workout routine (centralized, highly structured model) with an ostensibly generalist slant to training. In other words, there’s a dogmatism and borg-like quality to CrossFit which is a huge put off to me. I’d be incredibly curious to know if there are serious athletes who aren’t in some way vested in the CrossFit infrastructure who have converted entirely to CrossFit. It just seems to rigid and one-size-fits-all to me. Sure, one-size may fit most, but I wonder if the rigidity of CrossFit is more about converting the masses and expanding the franchise. Just feels like something got lost in the mass expansion.

Excuse the tangent. The meat of his post is Rafe Kelley’s, which I am heavily quoting below:

This is the post I intended to open this blog with a statement about what I know about the Methode Naturelle as my training in Methode Naturelle is going to be the focus of this blog. Up until this spring my primary training focus had been parkour dating back to march of 2005, before that it was gymnastics though with substantially less dedication, and before that it was basketball and before that martial arts. I am now at the point that I can say that the Methode Naturelle has superseded parkour in my training as parkour superseded gymnastics, for me it is more primal more vital more complete like when I started training parkour I have the feeling of how in the world did I miss this before. Why didn’t I ever follow through on my desire to mix parkour training and self defense and why did I yearn for barbells, kettlebells etc when I had so many rocks and logs available to me, what possessed me to waste beautiful sunny days inside training crossfit?

So I am at the point were wish to dedicate my training to the Methode Naturelle and I wish to also help other people follow the same or a similar path. The complication though is that my understanding of the Methode Naturelle is still very incomplete I hesitate to call my training Methode Naturelle, I think of it rather as Methode Naturelle inspired. Imagine for instance you wanted dedicate your life to Muay Thai training but had only had a four-day seminar on it to base your training on. I do think that the Methode Naturelle is bit easier to explore on your own, the principles are relatively simple though the degree of depth possible is seemingly limitless. So the purpose of this post is to explore what I do infact now about the Methode Naturelle. …

The idea of training to have the essential capacities of our hunter forager ancestors had appealed to me ever since I started parkour. It was my goal to eventually open a school teaching what I saw as the original warrior arts. …

The aim of the Methode Naturelle is to develop a complete and healthy human being physically, mentally and morally through the training of the vital natural capacities of the human species that were necessary for our survival as hunter foragers. … The motto of the Methode Naturelle is etre forte pour etre utile meaning be strong to be useful. The training of the Methode Naturelle is not to reach an aesthetic goal or to win an athletic competition it is to prepare the individual to be a strong useful person capable of helping him or herself and the others around them in wide variety of situations.

The vital movement capacities of the Methode Naturelle are to walk, run, jump, climb, quadruped, balance, swim, lift, carry, throw and defend.

A Methode Naturelle training session should be between 20 and 60 minutes and include as many of the natural capacities as possible (generally). The ideal conditions for Methode Naturelle training are in a natural environment with as much of the body exposed to the elements as possible while maintaining modesty. Which is not to say you cannot train the Methode Naturelle in the city or a gym or with shoes on only that this training is not the ideal.

Training should be daily or close to it.

A Methode Naturelle session maybe natural or methodically which is to say one might simple start moving through there environment looking for ways to practice all of the natural capacities for a given time period or one might instead plan out specific route hitting specific capacities or even build a specific course to train each capacity. The obstacle courses seen throughout the world in military training are derived from this last method.

Training each of the ten capacities alone is not sufficient one must be able to chain them together. That is to train one capacity directly after the training of another capacity so that there is no rest between them. so the body is forced to learn to adapt to moving easily between different capacities. This can be very challenging; each capacity has specific physiological demands, which must shift when moving to a different capacity. Furthermore one should be able to mix capacities to be able to run, swim and balance while carrying for instance, or defend yourself while balancing, or swimming, or while climbing this of course adds yet another layer of challenge.

The Methode Naturelle aims to develop a generalized physical capacity not specializations. That is to say to it is the belief of the Methode Naturelle that the athlete who is able to run fast, but also far, to lift very heavy weights but also to climb, to defend himself but also to swim is more useful then the athlete who is peerless at any one of these activities but incompetent or even just less competent at the others. The Methode Naturelle is expressly non competitive because competitive sport is seen as not useful, friendly games are fine but the expression of excess that is modern sport is contrary to the goal of usefulness both in the aim to win at all costs and in the requirement for excessive specialization. The Methode Naturelle athlete, will never run with speed of the sprinter nor the endurance of the marathoner, he or she will never develop the upper body strength of the gymnast or the fighting mastery of the martial artist, he chooses instead, to be as good as he or she can at all of these things and more because he or she never knows what capacity will be called on, for him or her to be useful. According to the Methode Naturelle the generalist is the most useful athlete.

It seems to me very easy to adapt the Methode Naturelle towards developing specific attributes. I am not sure how Hebert approached this, however Erwan talked about seeking to always train the areas were you are weakest. I think this applies both to a specific capacity and also the duration, volume intensity of the training, so one might need to work on their overall running capacity or might specifically need more endurance, or more speed. This can be adjusted by including shorter or longer periods of relative rest (walking, balancing etc) the key is not to stop moving or rest completely. A Methode Naturelle session composed of lots of relative rest, and many short high intensity movements will develop strength, speed, and power, one were the pace is relatively constant and as hard as possible for the given session will develop cardio respiratory endurance, and stamina. My impression is that the later style of training is considered the more basic and important. The amount of relative rest and intensity of work is just one of the many ways in which you can vary your stimuli to develop a broad overall capacity. For instance perhaps one is very strong but lacking in accuracy and wishes to work on the throwing capacity, for this individual finding the heaviest rock he or she could and throwing it would be much less beneficial then finding rock that was much lighter and casting it at a challenging target. In the Methode Naturelle one should always adapt ones training in such a way as to strengthen your weaknesses.

One of the things Erwan often said about the Methode Naturelle was it was not a conditioning program like Crossfit, or RKC or similar functional fitness programs. The Methode Naturelle is an entire method for the development of the human animal. In modern athletics we often dichotomize practice vs. conditioning, one develops technique the other develops physical attributes. This dichotomy is false though, doing precision jumps will develop strength, power, and stamina for jumping as well as correct technique, while doing dead lifts or squats will not only increase the strength of the legs but also will develop a specific lifting skill. I believe this dichotomy arises because of specialization, for instance sprinting is to specific a physical capacity to develop the entire ability of the human being so in order to be the best sprinter one must also lift, and jump and do various other drills but when one trains for a complete physical adaptation the distinction between skill and condition disappears almost completely, when your goal is simply an overall adaptation does it matter if your ability to climb is more due to finger strength or more due to correct technique? If one continues to train correctly both skill and condition should advance together.

… What I have seen consistently though is that the athlete with a highly developed overall physical capacity will need very little time to learn the skill of the athlete who focuses on technique. Traceurs often seem obsessed with developing the saut du chat technique for instance and there are constantly questions on how to do it. I train gymnasts though and they will do this technique very well with absolutely no training at all simply when given an obstacle to overcome were this is an appropriate technique. In short fundamental training proceeds technical training in importance.

Related Link on Human Nature and our Hunter-Gatherer, Non-Specialist Evolutionary Roots

Making the Most of Google Search [Grind Skills]

Creative Commons License photo credit: TheGiantVermin

Background: the Importance of Search

Excepting the ability to read and write, perhaps the most important skill in our modern digital life is the ability to search the Internet. Using search engines has become an integral part of our day-to-day existence. It’s hard to remember how we got along without the ability to find the most obscure answers to our questions by merely typing a few words into

Though there are competitors to Google Search, Google is so pervasively used that you’ll often overhear someone responding to a spoken question with, “Did you google it?” There’s even a snarky website that generates queries to send to apparently clueless Internet noobs: check out “Let me google that for you.” Yahoo search comes in at a distant second place whereas Google search dominates: some 72% of U.S. searches went through Google in January 2009.

Of course, we so frequently google to find the information we need that we hardly think about how we could be doing it better. Thus, the grind skill (What are “Grind Skills?”) of the day is maximizing Google Search.

Confessing Ignorance and Requesting Help

Before I explain how I make the most use of Google search, I need to reiterate the purpose of discussing grind skills. Grind skills is about show-and-tell: by blogging what I know, you see both what I know and more importantly, what I don’t know. I blog about “grind skills” to encourage a collaborative effort of knowledge-sharing, the end goal of which is to save everyone time by spreading the best practices about the mundane tasks of everyday life.

If there is a Google search technique that you find particularly useful, please tell me about it in the comments to this post or email me at I’ll make updates to this post as any new google search grind skills are suggested!

How I make the most of Google Search

  • Site specific searches — Perhaps one of the most useful Google search features is the ability to restrict search results to a single site or even a single folder on a site. You do this by typing your normal query and then following it with site:[the domain name here].

    For example, let’s say you wanted to find every post on that has the words “evolution” and “carbohydrates.” You’d run this query: [ evolution carbohydrates ]. At the present moment, that query returns about 130 results — that’s not terrible but perhaps we can do better by narrowing down our query even further.

    A quick scan of the top 10 results tells you that can be divided up between the forums at and Dr. Michael Eades blog at Let’s say you only want to see the results on from Dr. Mike. Just change your query to be: [ evolution carbohydrates ]. Suddenly you’ve reduced the results from 130+ to only 56! Even better.

    Staying on the subject of nutrition, I often use site search to quickly consult my go-to health gurus — i.e. doing a mash-up site search on [ insulin sensitivity ] for [ ], [ ], and [ ] all at once by using the string [ insulin sensitivity OR OR ] (Note: “OR” needs to be capitalized!). Pretty nifty, huh?

    Google powered site specific search is incredibly useful. It is a rare day that I ever use a website’s built-in search feature instead of just doing a custom [ site: ] search through google. There are widespread applications of site search and if you have any neat tricks for using site: queries, please do tell!

  • Making use of google’s cache — You may have noticed a link that says “Cached” at the end of your search results. Google frequently caches the websites it indexes. This caching can be useful for two reasons.

    The first is that if you click on the “Cached” link to retrieve Google’s saved version of the page, you’ll find that Google uses bright colors to highlight the terms you were looking for in your search. The cached, Google-highlighted page makes it easy to quickly scan for relevant information without having to use your web browser’s clunky internal search feature (I.e. the one triggered by pressing [ctrl+f]). For an example, let’s say you employ the above-explained site search for [ stochastic ]. From that search, you click on the second hit, which is my post titled Contrarian advice on passion. See if you can find the word “stochastic” in two seconds. Did you succeed? Now use Google’s cached version of the page and try again. How long did it take? Using the highlight feature through Google’s cached pages can save an immense amount of time scanning, particularly on pages where there are hundreds of user comments and discussion.

    The second use of cached pages is that sometimes sites either go down or site owners take down material. Art De Vany had a wealth of public information that I would often search within to find his thoughts on a particular subject. However, around early- to mid-2007 De Vany started changing his site layout, which ended up taking from public view the gross majority of his blog posts. Thanks to Google’s cache of his site, however, I was often able to still get the material even as the original post was no longer being hosted at

  • Math, conversions, and definitions — You may not realize that not only can you type in math equations into google to have them be calculated [ 25*13658945 ] = 341,473,625. You can also have google do conversions between different units: [ 170 lbs to kg ] = 77.1107029 kilograms, or up-to-date currency conversion [ 50 USD to euros ] = 38.1417347 Euros.

    Math and conversion can both be useful, but I use google to define words numerous times a day. To do this, just type [define: (the word) ]; for example, [ define: anthropomorphic ]. Google define can also be successfully used for phrases or idioms: [ define: penny for your thoughts ]. I like using google for word definitions because it typically consults numerous sources and lists the results in a neat, ad-less fashion.

  • Who’s talking about you? — This one is mostly for folks who have their own websites. If you want to find out what other websites are linking to a particular domain, for example [ ]. Like site search, you can get granular and search for specific URL, too.
  • Modifiers you should keep in the back of your mind — You can subtract words from your search by putting a minus sign directly in front of the words you don’t want in your search like [ justin owings -implode ]. Alternatively, you can use an asterisk to signify a wild card such as [ obama site:*.gov ] or use quotes or a plus sign to make sure google doesn’t search synonyms (By default, google will search for synonyms). Good to know in the off chance you’ll need them, these modifiers are all covered in the Google search basics link referenced below.

I’ve a sneaking suspicion there are other techniques I employ with Google search that I’m neglecting to enumerate here. As I think of more, I’ll be sure to update this post.

Are there google search techniques you love but I apparently don’t use? Do tell.

Additional reference documents on Google Search

Grind Skills Reading

The YouTube Demographic for Watching Gross Videos


Warning, the following video is gross.

What feels like an eternity ago (2002) I tried to train my cat to use the toilet. It sorta worked: it’s a long story (See the Link above if you really want to know the details).

Today, the momento of that training lives on in the YouTube video I created back in 2006, embedded above. As of today, that video has been seen by over a million people. Weird.

What I didn’t realize until now was that YouTube has some fairly robust statistics regarding who views your videos. In tinkering around and looking at these stats, I stumbled on this report on the viewer demographics. Note which age-group has viewed the video the most:

The “gross” majority of viewers are between the ages of 35 and 54 with the 45-54 group only barely being inched out by the younger crowd. That means that a majority of people watching Zeke, my siamese cat, popping a squat on my toilet, are middle-aged. That sort of amazes me. Sure, adults are just grown up kids, but I’m wondering if this distribution holds true for other videos on YouTube. Is YouTube’s core demographic the Gen Xers?

It’d sort of make sense; of all the entertainment mediums available for consumption on the Internet, watching videos requires no real tech skills. Perhaps this is just tied to the general population distribution? Or is it that most of this age group is at a desk job pretending to work while actually watching cats poop on the Internet?

Anyone else have video data from YouTube that might shed light on this subject? Other insights?

The Internet is making traditional advertising obsolete [The truth prevails again?]…er-joes-update/

The cheap ability to publish offered by the Internet is incredibly powerful (I wrote at lengthad nauseam about this yesterday in my The Power of Blogging post). In my analysis on blogging, I honed in on the ability of blogging to prevent idea obscurity, encourage idea generation, and amplify the spreading of good ideas. Substitute the word “truth” for “good ideas” and I think Seth Roberts is after the same point, when he discusses how a homemade Trader Joe’s ad posted on YouTube became wildly popular because it tapped into the truth. It captured the widespread feelings Trader Joe’s shoppers have about the positive experience they associate with the grocery store.

You just can’t buy that kind of advertising.

Every publishing mechanism (Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, blogging) that is catching on over the Internet is powerful because it amplifies the ability for good ideas/truth to spread.

Seth’s point about “when science was young” reminds me of what I took from reading Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything; namely, that some of the greatest discoveries in science came at the hands of enthusiasts/hobbyists who were just following their own interests. The decentralization and ease of publishing the Internet provides is bringing that sort of incentive structure back. Corporate-cronies and information protectionistas best take heed.

Here is Roberts’ take. Note the tie-in for self-experimentation:

I think Carl’s commercial is very important as a glimpse of the future. Long ago, only the powerful could speak to a mass audience — and they couldn’t tell the truth, for fear of losing their power. Then cheap books came along. Instantly a much larger group of people could speak to a mass audience — and, having little to lose, they could tell the truth. The truth, being rare, was an advantage. When science was young and many scientists were amateurs — Darwin, Mendel — they could tell the truth. As science became a job, a source of income and status that you could lose, scientists lost the ability to say what they really thought. For example, David Healy lost a job because he told the truth about anti-depressants. Self-experimentation is a way around this problem because, as I’ve said, no matter how crazy my conclusions I can keep doing it. I don’t need a grant so I don’t need to worry about offending grant givers.

Freedom is Found at the Frontier

SFS Interior
Creative Commons License photo credit: patrissimo

I’ve heard it said that the success of the creation of the United States was due in part to the American society being founded on a frontier. Of course the Native Americans were already in North America when the “white man” showed up, but the land was sufficiently “up for grabs” for some element of force and technology to overtake “we were here first.” How that unfolded is unfortunate, but I believe generally moot.

The overarching nature of North America was a place without property rights or government. This frontier paved the way for the establishment of a new form of government, a Constitution, and the United States.

Today, what is left unclaimed? Where are the frontiers? How can we experiment with new forms of government if we have no more frontiers left? I think Patri Friedman has enumerated this problem: lack of competition due to both a lack of options (frontiers) and high transaction costs to changing governments means society stagnates within archaic, increasingly bloated and controlling bureaucracies. We need a lot more frontiers if we want to see alternatives to the status quo. However, all the land save the uninhabitable Antarctica has been claimed, so where can we find any frontier, much less the needed abundance to really see a plethora of options take form? And of the options available, which are actually likely to take form? After all, putting “practicality aside” is easier said than done.

Revolting against current regimes can create a frontier of sorts, but if history is any guide (a poor guide), post-revolution governments (again U.S. being excepted for various reasons) don’t tend to be much better than the one’s they replace. Out with the old boss in with the new boss. To some extent, the New Hampshire Free State Project is taking this approach. I wish those liberty-minded folk the best of luck.

Another solution to the shortage of frontier is to go to the oceans. The oceans make up a huge amount of “unclaimed” frontier. Sure, they are water and not land — slight problem. But there is an ounce of historical precedent to support new sovereign nations at sea: see Sealand. This solution to the frontier-problem is what the Seasteading Institute is pursuing. I’m lending my support to TSI however I can, and I wish Patri the best.

Assuming mankind doesn’t blow itself up and we eventually learn to cheaply blaze a trail through the universe, space truly will be the “final frontier” (Save transdimensional pioneering). There are untold millions of planets out there that are just waiting for bungalows and Wal-Marts. Human existence in space could look something like Firefly or perhaps a new frontier is made from the Moon a la Robert Heinlein. Homesteading space just presents a few teeny logistical hurdles.

So where does that leave us?

What about the Internet? Even having advanced radically over the past two decades or so the Internet is still very much a wild west. Could the Internet be the frontier we have available right now to secure increased human freedom?

The logistical problems are fairly obvious, of course. The internet is virtual and as much as our lives become digitized, we still have to eat and live in real space. However, the government can’t tax what it doesn’t know you have. Encryption creates frontier by obscuring information from the taxman. Further, there’s a natural progression that increases the likelihood we move more of our lives beyond the purveyance of Big Brother: as governments make our existence in real space more onerous, there will be ever-increasing incentives to take life to cyberspace, encrypt it, and thereby restore freedom. For practicality purposes, this may be the best option we have for at least increasing our freedom in the near term. To some extent, it is already happening (i.e. see The Pirate Bay’s fight against the RIAA and MPAA).

The frontier problem is real, but human ingenuity is vast. Are there other frontiers out there worth pursuing? Freedom where art thou?

Reverting to “Le Corre” of Things, Our Nature


For all things Erwan Le Corre, MovNat, Methode Naturelle, Georges Hebert that I’ve been tracking, be sure to see this Link Repository

Conditioning Research had a fantastic interview with MovNat’s creator Erwan Le Corre, who has recently been in the fitness and health limelight thanks to an article in Mens Health. In this interview Le Corre comes off as more a philosopher than a modern-day Tarzan. Le Corre’s philosophy drives not so much at being able to speed through a jungle but as to our biological, evolutionarily-endowed “true nature,” which he sums up simply as: “to be strong, healthy, happy and free.”

So much of what Le Corre speaks about resonates within me that I need to dedicate my thoughts to their own post. For now, I’m going to link down heavily from the interview because it is excellent and worth further review, particularly since there is an obvious scarcity of material on Erwan Le Corre, Georges Hebert (Methode Naturalle), and MovNat.

Just two last notes. I find it oddly refreshing that Le Corre’s MovNat philosophy essentially skips on including bromides about morality. Why does reversion to nature need to bring with it a clearcut moral code anyway? Does our DNA (life) know any morality other than survival? Perhaps understanding the morality that flows from nature is less a matter of reflection and prescription as it is a matter of practice and action first. I don’t know.

The zoo analogy is fantastic. It is incredibly evocative of The Matrix and is much more palatable than “human domestication,” which is what we’re really talking about. Fitness should be about function. It should be playful and fun or productive hard work — both of these purposes are both means and ends, an ideal marriage. I can’t help but read Le Corre’s words and think about gyms as the wheels on which hamsters run. Is the fact that we all willingly enter such droll rigidity a testament to the state of our minds? Our lives?

Le Corre:

1 Who is Erwan Le Corre? Can you give us some idea of your background in sports / fitness

I practiced a training and philosophy called “Combat Vital” for 7 years in Paris, which had many similarities with the Methode Naturelle. That’s when I started training barefoot. We would train most of the time at night so as not to be seen, climbing bridges, balancing on the top of scaffoldings, kicking walls to toughen our bare feet, moving on all fours, swimming in the river even in the freezing cold of the winter…some kind of “Fight Club” of natural movement if you will! They are unbelievable memories: quite a conventional-wisdom-defying kind of philosophy and practice. …

2 How did this background bring you to your current philosophy and approach to exercise?

The more I was thought about [Methode Naturalle], the more I thought that while the core of the 100 years old method was excellent, an update of the pedagogy and methodology of Methode Naturelle was needed; it also became clearer that my personal approach couldn’t and wouldn’t avoid addressing the zoo human predicament and the many issues modern humans have to deal with regarding their body and mind’s health and quality of life. …

So despite the core practice being natural movement skills, MovNat is not only an approach of exercise but also a more holistic education system. Not a guideline, certainly not a set of morals, but both an experiential and conceptual knowledge: an array of solutions and alternatives people can learn and apply to an extent that is entirely up to them.

3 Your website talks about us being “zoo humans” – far from our natural habitat and lifestyle. How do we start to escape from the zoo – what might be the first steps in this approach?

The first step is a change of perception. It is becoming aware of this predicament, because you can never change something you deny or for which you take no personal responsibility. Understanding what our true nature is from a biological and evolutionary perspective and understanding the workings of the zoo is the first step.

The zoo is not just an environment, it is a phenomenon, a process, which is designed to keep you a captive of both external and internal cages. It is something that conditions many of your behaviours: clearly it is to me a domestication system, no less. The zoo impairs our ability to experience our true nature which is to be strong, healthy, happy and free.

We’re not born to be weak, sick, depressed and enslaved and, more than that, we should never accept this becoming the norm or a “fatality” (our fate). So the first step is a reaction and a form of resistance, it is a life-affirming reawakening. Once your perception is changed and that which is commonly regarded as “normal” is not acceptable to you anymore, it is time to look for rational alternatives, to find ways to apply them in order improve your own experience of life.

It requires critical thinking, knowledge, time, commitment and – depending on individuals – a tremendous courage.

So first step? I would say that being ready to defy conventional wisdom is a fundamental start.

4 “Evolutionary Fitness” has gained some popularity recently, but somehow the prescription often leads us back into the gym, lifting weights, using machines or sprinting to fixed intervals. This seems a long way from nature. Should we abandon the gym and go to the playground?

So it is not the gym per se that is a problem to me, but what you’re going to perform in a gym. Bringing a leg extension machine into the woods won’t make your training more natural, but crawl on the floor of a gym and there you’ll start to unleash your inner animal. Ideally of course, you want to be in touch with nature, breath good air, expose your skin to natural light, capture the energies of the vegetation around, well, spend as much time outdoors as you can. Thing is, it would be really difficult to recreate natural conditions in a gym, such as mud, wet surfaces, unpredictable dangers etc…which are also essential parameters that require specific adaptation.

That’s the difference between capability and adaptability. The more your movement skills are adaptive, the more you’ll expand your comfort zone in dealing with a variety of real-world circumstances. So the more varied is the environment where you train, the more you’ll increase your movement adaptability. …

I see this split coming: a so-called “upstream” but in fact downstream, super zoo approach of fitness going on on the one hand, then the come back of an upstream, though so far too often seen as backward, wilder and healthier fitness orientation on the second hand, that will produce new generations of amazing natural athletes or if you will of strong, healthy, happy and free individuals. No doubt. To me, the revolutionary is now in the evolutionary. …
5 I’ve seen your ideas presented as an updating of the “Methode Naturelle” of Georges Hébert. From what I’ve read, his philosophy is holistic – much broader than exercise. Can you indicate some of the wider consequences of the motto – – Être fort pour être utile”–“Being strong to be useful.”

Methode Naturelle was not only a physical but a moral education based on altruism, hence the motto “to be strong to be useful”. But I personally have a problem with morals or ethics when it comes to deciding what is good or what is not good for me, what is done and what’s not, what I should do or what society expects me to do or would like to impose to me as some form of duty.

After all, a tool is useful, a cog in the machine is useful right? I accept no institutional duty. Free will is the most precious thing in my eyes. If I choose to be helpful to others, which I in fact often do because I tend to like others, it is because I decide so and not because I have to. The problem is, many people often think of altruism as sacrificing oneself or one’s resources unconditionally for others, even for those that are total strangers to you or even if it’s going to be seriously detrimental to yourself. I prefer to impose no moral code in MovNat and leave it up to each individual to decide for themselves what is best when it comes to investing their energy or risking their physical integrity for others, because each situation is different. MovNat training will greatly increase your preparedness so that, in time of need, you have the ability to respond efficiently to practical challenges. Now if your goal is to save lives it’s best to consider becoming a firefighter for instance. These guys save lots of lives!

MovNat stands for a different motto which is “Explore your true nature”. First, people undergoing the zoo syndrome shouldn’t think of helping others first but make sure they’re recovering their own strength and vitality before anything. They want to rehabilitate themselves and get stronger and healthier before anything and this should be their absolute priority. They need a training and education that is liberating and empowering.

Again, I am convinced that our true nature is not only to be strong but also healthy, happy and free. If you become such an individual, then there’s many ways you can help others, if such is your intention. It’s entirely up to you. …
6 What implications does your particular philosophy have in terms of diet? Sleep? Posture?

[Le Corre advocates a fairly typical paleo / hunter-gatherer lifestyle approach of natural, pre-agriculture foods (no dairy), plenty of sleep, and an activity pattern that is active]

That’s a few insights, though in my opinion no personal lifestyle should ever become an obsessive application of overly strict rules. It’s all a matter of paying attention, of awareness, and when for some reason you know you’re not really respecting the needs of your true biological nature, make sure you’ll re-establish balance very soon.

7 One of the movement patterns that you recommend is “defence” – grappling / boxing etc. I’ve recently begun to train in Krav Maga and am really enjoying it for the coordinated /useful movements. But the social side is great too – supporting and helping each other in class. Is there a social side to movement that we also need to recover?

Obviously yes.

I believe the self-obsessed, cosmetics-driven fitness practitioner is missing an important point among others, which is a healthy, cooperative interaction with others. The result in thinking isolation is that in addition to isolating your muscles, you tend to isolate yourself. Is there any fitness machine designed for two people to work out cooperatively and coordinate their movements? Now imagine yourself as part of a small tribe 100,000 years ago, would you spend your time figuring out the most efficient strategy to build big guns fast? Or the latest scientific discovery that will allow you to get six-pack abs in no time?

No, you would rather find ways to work cooperatively with other members of the tribe and would expect all tribe members to do so!

It would be a matter of survival at individual and collective level. A lack of cooperation could have you banned from the band …….and an isolated individual would have been so much more vulnerable. Not the smartest type of behaviour.

Thank you Chris for doing this interview. Fantastic, thought-provoking stuff.

Related Link on Human Nature and our Hunter-Gatherer, Non-Specialist Evolutionary Roots

Can Blogging Make You Happier? [Research]…ke-you-happier/

I can’t say any of this comes as a surprise — some recent (2009) research has found that blogging can result in greater feelings of connectedness and social bonding which can improve one’s sense of well-being.

Yeah, that sounds about right to me (See my post on the power of blogging).

The researchers found support for deeper self-disclosure from bloggers resulting in a range of better social connections. These included things such as a sense of greater social integration, which is how connected we feel to society and our own community of friends and others; an increase in social bonding (our tightly knit, intimate relationships); and social bridging — increasing our connectedness with people who might be from outside of our typical social network.

They also hypothesized and found support from their data that when these kinds of social connections increase or grow deeper through blogging, a person will also feel a greater subjective sense of well-being or happiness.

H/T to Seth Roberts.

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