Exuberant Animal by Frank Forencich


Exuberant Animal by Frank Forencich

I read Exuberant Animal by Frank Forencich whilst vacationing in Jamaica and am just now (Actual date, not finish date per this review is July 9, 2009!) getting to review it. I’m going to have to limit my review to a few quotes that I enjoyed from the book, the first of which is one that actually describes the structure of the book:

Being bushy by nature, this book will not give you a linear, step-by-step formula for health and fitness success. IT won’t provide you with a prescription or a checklist. It won’t reveal a secret antidote for aging or a breakthrough discovery for instant weight loss. Instead, this bushy material will open your mind to new possibilities, relationships and ideas that you can adapt to suite your own purposes. Most importantly, the ideas in this book will help you develop a sense of depth and sustainability in your life of physical movement. You’ll begin to realize that the world of the body is far more than one of sets, reps and calories. It is immensely rich and endlessly fascinating-an ideal life-long study.

About two paragraphs up from this one was the following great sentence:

“Specializations have their place, but they inevitably lead to fragmentation.”

I couldn’t agree more. And Exuberant Animal takes you on a “bushy,” generalist route through the mind and body. Each chapter essentially stands alone, so the book reads a bit like a series of articles. It’s a great primer for anyone interested in getting back to the core of being human — a core that is fundamentally animalistic, and, well, exuberant!

Another quote I liked from a chapter titled “Learning learning:”

“I hear you,” agreed the philosopher. “The specialists have run amok. They do one thing really well, but they can never get to the other side of the oscillation. Fragmented disciplines, isolated studies. One trick-ponies. No one goes meta anymore. Conservatives are tightening the screws at every level. Multi-disciplinary studies are out of fashion and so no one can see the big picture. When you’re a specialist, taking the big view just isn’t part of your job description. and if you can’t see the big picture, you’re not going to adopt a rhythm. More likely, you’ll live and teach in a rut.”

And finally a quote from a chapter titled “Stop Drawing Horses:”

Find out your awkwardness. Figure out what you’re good at and then—Just Do the Opposite. Go towards your awkwardness, go towards your fear, go towards your instability, your errors and your ignorance.

All “bushy” quotes, no?

There’s a lot more in this book, and I’m giving this review short shrift simply because if I don’t get it out there, I’ll never get it up. If you’re at all interested in getting in touch with your humanity, I recommend picking up Exuberant Animal, a book about a holistic, mind-body life philosophy.

Frank Forencich has been at the forefront of the movement for humans to get in touch with their nature, and if you just want to plug in to what’s up to, be sure to check out his website:

http://www.exuberantanimal.com/

Nassim Taleb is no friend of academics

http://www.fooledbyrandomness.com/notebook.htm

Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s latest from Opacity, no 114 titled “Where is the evidence?” launches into Nassim’s current interest in how we know things given the lack of evidence (That is probably summed up poorly, but it is a focus on the absence of evidence/evidence of absence problem and humanity’s gross ignorance. Taleb mentions the concept in the hour long podcast at EconTalk if you’ve got the time to listen to it).

Taleb’s admonition of academia is brutal — he basically says Ben Bernanke and Larry Summers are “arrogant, formal-thinking civil servants, and Ivy-league semi-retards.” Don’t pull any punches there Nassim!

I’m still not convinced the admonition about negative advice is exactly right, but why quibble? (See prior discussion on Nassim Taleb and Expert Advice)

Finally, I’ve ordered two books by John Gray, who Taleb cites as the “greatest living thinker.” And to think I hadn’t even heard of the guy.

Note: If you are like me, and wants to be updated on Taleb’s latest posts to his non-feed-friendly blog, feel free to use this change detection RSS feed I created: Taleb’s Opacity Change Detector Feed.

I leave aside the confusion absence of evidence/evidence of absence–and the misunderstanding of the very notion of “empiricism”. It is a fact that in the real world of our daily decision-making 1) we do not have much evidence of most relevant things, yet we need to take action; 2) in most situations, “true/false” is never symmetric (one side is more harmful than the other), so the burden of evidence is one-sided. Which is why once these fakes “doing science” lose their tenures after the endowments (and charity) run out of funds, they will be barely fit to do anything in the real-life ecology. I wonder what you can do with an unemployed, say, academic orthodox economist. You could do better with non-post-academic cab drivers. Clearly those the most fit at dealing with “just evidence” will be idiot savants outside their evidence domain.

And I can expect that with the SP500 about 20% lower than here, you will see tenures unexpectedly evaporating. The silver-lining of the crisis, perhaps, with the de-academification of society.

So let me take this into more interesting territory, and express my anti-social-planner views. Even more that in Hayek’s days, the ecology of the real world is becoming too complex for Aristotelian logic: very, very little of what we do can be safely formalized, meaning asymmetries matter more than ever. Which puts the Western World today at the most dangerous point in its history: unless we get the Bernanke-Summers crowd out of there, it will eventually be destroyed by the machinery of arrogant, formal-thinking civil servants, and Ivy-league semi-retards.

Finally, beyond the current mess, I see no way out of this ecological problem, except through that tacit, unexplainable, seasoned, thoughtful, and aged thing crystalized by traditions & religions –we can’t live without charts and we need to rely on the ones we’ve used for millennia.

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.

being
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 amazon.com)!

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.

Follow-up

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.

Buddha
“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!

Reverting to “Le Corre” of Things, Our Nature

http://conditioningresear…n-le-corre.html

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

MensHealth covers Erwan Le Corre’s MovNat

http://www.menshealth.com…1eac____&page=0

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

Richard first introduced me to MovNat in his post titled We live in a Zoo. Here’s the MovNat website. And be sure to watch the video here: YouTube – click “HD.”

What is MovNat? From the website:

We live in a zoo.

The “zoo” is a modern, global and growing phenomenon generated by the powerful combination of social conventions, technological environment and commercial pressures. Increasingly disconnected from the natural world and their true nature, zoo humans are suffering physically, mentally and spiritually.

Are you experiencing chronic pains, are you overweight, do you often feel depressed or do you suffer from frequent illnesses and general lack of vitality?

These symptoms indicate that you are experiencing the zoo human syndrome. Modern society conditions us to think that this is normal and unavoidable.

We don’t think so. Our true nature is to be strong, healthy, happy and free.

Beyond all of that source material, there is a great article on Erwan Le Corre’s MovNat in MensHealth (H/T again to Richard). It is well worth the read — follow the link above and click on the print icon to get it all on one page.

Some quotes:

“I meet men all the time who can bench 400 pounds but can’t climb up through a window to pull someone from a burning building,” Le Corre says. “I know guys who can run marathons but can’t sprint to anyone’s rescue unless they put their shoes on first. Lots of swimmers do laps every day but can’t dive deep enough to save a friend, or know how to carry him over rocks and out of the surf.” . . .

“Being fit isn’t about being able to lift a steel bar or finish an Ironman,” Le Corre says, watching with satisfaction as Zuqueto finally makes it onto the pole and pumps a fist in the air like he’s won his third world championship. “It’s about rediscovering our biological nature and releasing the wild human animal inside.” . . .

Hebert [A French Navyman who created the predecessor to MovNat, Methode Naturelle] was celebrated as a hero, but he couldn’t help focusing on all of those who’d been lost. When he returned home to France, he looked around and was dismayed to see how many of his country-people reminded him of the victims he’d watched die in Saint-Pierre. How many of these Parisians, he wondered, would be able to carry a child on their backs? Or trust themselves to leap over a 3-foot gap? Or take an elbow to the face but manage to keep their balance and continue running for their lives?

The modern world, Hebert believed, was producing hollow men who focused on appearance and forgot about function. At the same time, they stopped exercising with the wildness of kids and instead insulated themselves from risk. The cost, he felt, was far more destructive than they might think. . . .

“This guy is really onto something,” says Lee Saxby, P.T., a London-based physical therapist and the technical director of Wildfitness, an exercise program built around an evolutionary model of human performance. For years, Saxby had been teaching his clients that the key to overall health is a workout system that mimics the diversity of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. When Saxby stumbled across a YouTube video of Le Corre (MensHealth.com/LeCorre), he’d found Exhibit A in the flesh.

“What impresses me most about that video is Le Corre’s athleticism,” Saxby says. “It drives me crazy that men think being in shape means being big. But the best athletes don’t look like bodybuilders. They’re lean and quick and mobile. Le Corre demonstrates real functional fitness — the opposite of what they teach you in the gym.” . . .

You won’t have a spotter to ease the bar off your chest, no volunteer handing you water at the 20-mile mark. A group dynamic may be our natural impulse, but in a pinch, count on being alone. The only thing you can rely on is the ingenuity programmed into your system by 2 million years of hope and fear. . . .

“Ah, you learned my secret!” Le Corre calls from down below. “The best secret of all — your body always has another trick up its sleeve.”

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

Letters from a Stoic by Lucius Seneca

Letters from a Stoic by Lucius Seneca

Seneca, like other Stoics, has a doctrine of nature that is remarkably close to that of Emerson or modern American environmentalists. The wise man (sapiens) will never be bored when contemplating the simple things of nature. The natural beauty of the countryside and the healthful action of the waves can have a calming effect . . . He also believed in the simple and strenuous life and the avoidance of luxury and decadence, and there are numerous passages . . . which decry the ostentatious, self indulgent practices of his contemporaries . . . Seneca has no patience for philosophy as a word game or a practice of engaging in hair-splitting arguments for their own sake. He rather sees it as a practice or way of life that all those who seek the good should investigate and adopt.

(From a helpful Amazon review)

Finished Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic. I’ve only casually understood the Stoic philosophy prior to reading this book. As the above review notes, Seneca is concerned with making peace with death and living in accordance with nature. Seneca frequently cites the benefits of philosophy, which should be practical and useful. Fortune is something that should be looked on with ambivalence — neither should we get enamored when our luck is good nor depressed when bad. Happiness is a state of mind. I’m not positive, but it seems to me that Seneca originated the idiom to “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst” (See the quoted bit below).

The Letters are a quick read at only around 230 pages. If you are interested in some ancient wisdom from a Roman philosopher, you would likely enjoy this book. Below are some passages I particularly enjoyed from the book.

  • “Look at the amount of punishment that boxers and wrestlers take to the face and the body generally! They will put up none the less with any suffering in their desire for fame, and will undergo it all not merely in the course of fighting but in preparing for their fights as well: their training in itself constitutes suffering. Let us too overcome all things, with our reward consisting not in any wreath or garland, not in trumpet-calls for silence for the ceremonial proclamation of our name, but in moral worth, in strength of spirit, in a peace that is won for ever once in any contest fortune has been utterly defeated.”
  • “Well, I don’t know what’s going to happen; but I do know what’s capable of happening . . . I’m ready for everything. If I’m let off in any way, I’m pleased. . . . for just as I know that anything is capable of happening so also do I know that it’s not bound to happen. So I look for the best and am prepared for the opposite.”
  • “Resent a thing by all means if it represents an injustice decreed against yourself personally; but if this same constraint is binding on the lowest and the highest alike, then make your peace again with destiny, the destiny that unravels all ties. There’s no justification for using our graves and all the variety of monuments we see bordering the highways as a measure of our stature. In the ashes all men are leveled. We’re born unequal, we die equal.”
  • “Death you’ll think of as the worst of all bad things, though in fact there’s nothing bad about it at all except the thing which comes before it – the fear of it.”
  • “For those who follow nature everything is easy and straightforward, whereas for those who fight against her life is just like rowing against the stream.”
  • “One used to think that the type of person who spreads tales was as bad as any: but there are persons who spread vices. And association with them does a lot of damage.”
  • “No man’s good by accident. Virtue has to be learnt. Pleasure is a poor and petty thing. No value should be set on it: it’s something we share with dumb animals – the minutest, most insignificant creatures scutter after it. Glory’s an empty, changeable thing, as fickle as the weather. Poverty’s no evil to anyone unless he kicks against it. Death is not an evil. What is it then? The one law mankind has that is free of all discrimination.”

Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

Just finished Starship Troopers, which I was first introduced to a number of years ago by the movie of the same name. Suffice to say that the movie is quite different from the book; however, I don’t think having seen the movie detracts from the book — probably because the book is much more cerebral than the battle-focused movie.

This was my third Heinlein read. My favorite thus far is still The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, but I’m sure I’ll still be reading more of his stuff.

One aspect of ST that I enjoyed was the picture of a world where government is controlled by individuals who are selected for via a grueling process of elimination. I’ve often remarked that the only individuals who’d make good politicians are those who did not want to be politicians. Said differently, anyone who desires to be a politician, wishing to control others, is the very sort of person I do not want to be a politician!

Heinlein solves this problem by creating a society that only allows the military to vote. In this society, those who make it into the military are all volunteers and are held to incredibly high standards where it appears the slightest mistake can be punished by flogging or even death.

It’s an interesting solution — one worthy of some thought. It’s also seemingly at odds with libertarian ideals (which are put forth subtly in TMIAHM). However, Heinlein’s solution is provocative.

Other ideas in ST include the nature of man and the nature of morality. Having recently read Speaker for the Dead, it’s challenging to conceptualize right/wrong with regards to race when there are multiple races throughout the universe. Is it “us” (humanity) or “them” (some other alien race)?

For such a short book (about 275 pages), Starship Troopers packs a lot of punch. I recommend reading it.

Demian by Herman Hesse


Demian by Herman Hesse

Just read Demian by Herman Hesse (buy at amazon). The book is a fictional first-person account of a German youth named Sinclair who is going through a period of awakening/enlightenment, working through issues of good and evil, at the hands of certain mentors (Max Demian throughout, Demian’s mom ultimately).

The book is about 170 pages. It has a mysterious quality to it, and I imagine there are some underlying ideas that I completely missed. The big takeaway to me was that there are those people who examine their lives, live with a self-driven purpose and exist apart from the “herd” and then there’s everyone else. Demian, Sinclair, et. al. seek their own purpose, which is a higher road than the herd. As for tangible philosophical ideas, the book came up short for me. Wasn’t an unpleasant read even still, but then again, if you’re a pretty individualistic person, you’ll find you agree with the general premise of this book — so what’s not to like?

Probably a good read for a 16 year old struggling with the idiocy of high school popularity contests.