Sunday, 16 February 2014


In Philosophy there are a considerable number of problems (and I do not mean the problems of being  dominated by sexist men or analytic philosophy) but instead there is a HISTORY of problems that take on new forms in various epochs. FREE WILL is one of the big ones!

But the Harris - Dennett debate is a little different. They are both determinists and so it is not as simple as discussing 'freedom' in the broad sense. For example, what they are not arguing over is whether we make existential choices in the world, or if we are predestined like Calvinism claims. 

Because they are both 'determinists' are they are not really arguing over if man is free from the deterministic nature. They are arguing over 'moral responsibility' and how and when and if someone should be accountable. 

They both say something like "since the big bang, stuff has been happening in a chain reaction, and you are part of that chain reaction, so do not think when you pick your nose that you actually choose to do that, it was just another billiard ball banging into another" This is what science can tell us. 

But many philosophers have gone further and denied our radical freedom to do 'whatever we want'  like the existentialists tell us we are thrown into the world with being asked (Heidegger) or how we are part of a huge socio-economic order in which we are slaves (Marx) or how only with the rise of modern liberalism do we even have the idea of an 'individual who thinks for himself" (Foucault) which comes out of empirical philosophy, (like John Locke and David Hume)  and was needed to push the economic philosophies of capitalism and free market competition at the time. To make everyone see themselves a lone ship- and Adam Smiths "a high tide raises all ships' meant that everyone would do well in a "competitive" marketplace that created the conditions for profits.That is why today we have a huge class of "working poor people" BUT, BUT, BUT corporations now have RIGHTS! In case you did not know, corporations have the same rights as you! Are they free to choose? I guess that depends on how you define "are" "they" "free" "to" "choose"? Since Dennett seems to agree with Harris - were not for the semantics they both choose. 

Finally, (and I suspect Harris finds some inspiration here) is the Buddhist idea of 'no self" (very similar to David Hume's ideas on the self)  and the idea that we are all 'robots' going through motions set up by lots of different factors. So Buddhists as questions like "what was your face before you were born" or "show me the REAL you -inside you" which can be interpreted to mean they are pointing at a type of "eliminative materialism" like Dennett and Harris suggests. This form of ontology sees the human being as a type of 'empirical shell' and it is kinda cool concept. 

BUT the best explanation of 'eliminative materialism' is by Thomas M here and I find the idea a philosophically fascinating one. 

 Basically it says that a 'self' is just a collection of senses that exists only when you are conscious. So you 'self" turns on when you wake up, if you take away the body that generates the senses then you take away the self. SIMPLE. However they will go as far as to 'eliminate' any sense of '"you" which some people find silly. Many people like to counter this idea with the idea of 'qualia" or the qualitative aspects of you self- like what it feels like to be you, how beer tastes, how love feels and all the stuff that makes life "human". They think of eliminative materialists as lazy thinkers who cannot separate the mind of Bach from the behaviour of 'The Walking Dead' (pop culture reference -check) 

Definition of Determinism: the theory that everything in the cosmos is subject to 'causal laws' - and therefore it is a 'physicalist' theory. 

premise one: no action is free if it must occur 
premise two: for any event X there are antecedent causes that ensure the occurrence of X in accordance with mechanical causal laws. 
 conclusion: Therefore, no action is free. 

It is related to the mind-body problem because it denies the "mind" and only recognizes the body or the physical, measurable organism, as having causal influence. 

(but that is another debate for another day)

SO :

Dennett is a 'soft determinist' or a 'compatibilist' while Harris is a plain old 'determinist'.

This means:

Dennett thinks that we can have FREE WILL and DETERMINISM since they are psychological and political ideas and make no claim to 'metaphysics'. In classical Greece and Rome- this was the STOIC approach to the world. 

Harris thinks that there is only DETERMINISM and we do not choose. Using this logic, one should be able to predict all human behaviour like we can predict the weather- just watch and record and boom we know what you were about to think? (does this sound reasonable to you?) 

SO THIS IS the DEBATE- there is no clear answer, only arguments for each side. 

Personally I am not a determinist like Dennett and Harris and no one should think that the only rational option for an intelligent person today is to pick a side of their present debate. Perhaps one of the two will 'give in' to the other side or they may have a 'near death' experience and change their story altogether, it happens! 

However a SUPER SMART PHILOSOPHER - KANT objected DETERMINISM altogether a few hundred years ago. By basically saying:

  • Persons are things, like rocks, and are subject to physical determinism. SO a rock or a person is pushed off a cliff and both fall down and not up. 
  • But persons are also not like things because they are conscious of the operation of these laws and the rock has no awareness of these things happening. The rock does not understand gravity or wind resistance or east versus west, or who Einstein was. 
  • When someone wonders, should I jump off that cliff- they are not working in cause and effect anymore, but rather REASONS. Like I put weights on my back and do squats because I have a REASON  and that is "a better QUAD sweep" and not because a star bumped into a bigger star and blew up 300,000,000,000 years ago. 
For me, I agree with Christopher Hitchens and others who think "we have no choice but to have free will" and in a sense I think this absorbs the deterministic aspects of humans, while recognizing that this same determinism gave us "intelligence and reflective consciousness" and that the 'game changes' when humans can rationally reflect on their behaviour and choose. HOWEVER the idea of knowledge equalling virtue does back to Socrates and I personally do not agree that it is so simple. I agree with Aristotle and a point I argue academically is that people are good or virtuous only after the proper EDUCATION. Or in simple terms:

Humans evolved under deterministic conditions, but consciousness is a new X factor in human choice. But this consciousness needs to be cultivated so that people choose the 'best' ways to react to situations. How we improve the human being and make them more compassionate and loving to other human beings outside their little circle of family and friends is a true challenge for humanity! I think debates like Harris and Dennett get people talking about this stuff and that is what is important, that people keep questions and working for positive change, even if it means challenging common wisdom and convention. 


Sunday, 9 February 2014

Fitness is simple (maybe not easy)

My message going forward in 2014 is this! Fitness is simple (maybe not easy) but simple! 


As the Fitness Philosopher I could be accused of being to "ivory tower' at times, but thanks to my recent research into Aristotle for my dissertation, I have come to the conclusion that the average person needs pragmatic and practical advice and does not benefit from too much high minded theory or 'arm chair speculation.' I am inspired by philosopher Peter Singer's work, he was a great Hegelian philosopher (the most speculative of philosophies) who turned to "applied ethics" and now most people know him as the "animal protection philosopher" and I think he is a wonderful human being and helps a lot more by his 'practical work'. Check out this awesome BBC segment from a recently deceased "intellectual Britain" ;)

So I am going "Back to Basics" with my fitness advice. Because at the end of the day, most people just need a moderate amount of exercise, and need not have it take over all aspects of one's life! Fitness should be a foundation for a good life, not the goal of it! 

Humans, as animals, like gorillas, have evolved to be capable of being 'very active' and so when we are 'very passive' we get fatter and slower (excessive calorie storage) and depressed (brain feels like dirty swamp rather then fast paced river). We are not plants, we need to move around, a lot. Simple. Not just human beings though, go to a Zoo and compare those animals with their wild counterparts. Kinda makes you sad.

So, if you sleep 8 hours, sit in a car to and from work, sit in desk at work or just walk around a bit, and then drive home to lay on the couch - then you certainly are not being 'active enough' . If you feel 'too' overweight (because the goal is not to be a underweight or too skinny either but FIT! ) or if you feel "blue" maybe it is resulting from your lifestyle. Remember, it is a lifestyle problem, not your own fault necessarily, but you are part of the problem if you do not work to improve it. WE NEED TO RECOGNIZE THAT THINGS CAN BE BETTER WITH A LITTE EFFORT!

Survival of the Fattest (remember this 'punk' album?) 

SO what am I saying: 

Humans NEED to "move more" just to feel normal. If we do not we will get sick, and that takes various forms. If we want to feel 'extraordinary' we need to really work at it, but most people would benefit from just 'getting back to feeling normal.' :) 

Here are five tricks for beginners or veterans looking to get off the couch and re-claim their lives again!

  1. Go for a 20 minute walk. Do not over think this one. Go outdoors and walk for 10 minutes then turn around and walk home! (Steady state cardio + tai chi equivalent now done!)
  2. Try "couch squats". Stand in front of a couch and squat onto it, into a seated position and then back up again. This is like 'box squats" and in all my years teaching lifts, using a box or bench to squat just allows people the confidence to 'get those hips back" and sit properly. Start out with 2 sets of 12 reps and go from there. Over time try doing it with one leg! (lower body pushing exercise done!) 
  3. Push ups! Do 3 sets of 5 slow push ups- when you think about it! Right now would be good.
  4. Planks- try holding front and side planks for 30 seconds to start and move from there. 
  5. Shadow boxing. Stand in front of a mirror (not too close ) and 'punch dance' to your hearts content! If you 'punch' the air for a minute or so you will be breathing hard and getting some excellent 'upper body based cardio'! Release your inner Rocky! 

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

why I do not promote Transcendental Meditation

The general fitness world is getting more excited about meditation, probably because you can sell "how to do it" easily on the internet.  Charles Poliquin, the Strength Sensei is now promoting TM and regretting not getting into it earlier. So while meditation and relaxation can be good, do we need a specific "brand name" form of meditation like TM is? I say certainly not!

Chuck- the Strength Sensei 

So this is where the fitness philosopher stands apart from the pseudo- philosophers on  the rise these days. All I am concerned with is telling you the Truth!

I have personally experimented with AND researched the theory behind many forms of meditation and mystical practices. AND I wrote a section in my masters thesis on meditation and its multiple forms and at the end of the day you get most of the benefits from taking naps and specifically the method has been summarized by the good dude, Dr. Herbert Benson as the "relaxation response".

In reality TM is an overrated "pyramid scheme" which sold "secret mantras" for thousands of dollars which were based only on your age (they never told people that). The Beatles brought it out and the founder died a billionaire in Holland with multiple Rolls Royces and "his helicoptor". Ask yourself, do I have a helicopter??? So save you money and take a cat nap or do the "relaxation response" exercise for FREE!

OR RATHER: "Meditation is the means for me to get rich off those damn Westerns whose ancestors invaded and colonized India-like Jon Lennon" 

My cat is named "YOGI" because he naturally does all the stuff people pay loads of money to learn these days! ;) BREATH, STRETCH, NAP,  SPRINT, EAT, REPEAT

Just a natural- Yogi my cat- napping and stretching are as natural as killing mice to him!  

To learn more about the "other side' of TM check out these links,