It started in the morning as I woke. In a dream before waking I heard a beat, a drum,a march from the first Neanderthal shamans through the Vedic seers and all the patriarchs.There was a sense that no one could stop it.
— Michael Murphy, Jacob Atabet
We hear it time and time again: lack of motivation keeps folks from working out, sabotages their gym participation, thwarts following health care advice to be active. Much is written about motivation, including how to ‘motivate’ people. Discussion of lack of motivation remains largely ignored. Is motivation the villain or a convenient straw man preventing analysis? What if motivation is a symptom with upstream causes, hence not a primary obstacle? What might motivation or lack of motivation be a symptom of?
None of us came into this life with a user’s manual. I’ve yet to meet anyone exposed to health education in grades K-12 sufficient to instill life long fitness motivation. Undergraduate education does not include health education in core curriculum. As a nation, our education and socialization excludes fitness literacy and fitness fluency. In fact, we’re a sedentary literate, sedentary fluent nation. Change in health care liability protection mandating informed consent by medical experts accustomed us to responding with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to various recommended care options which hopefully will return health to normal: in practice, informed consent didn’t increase health literacy, instead it strengthened detrimental reliance on experts and further disenfranchised patients. Our cultural lack of empowering fitness literacy undermines motivating action: we’re not only sedentary but passive as well — why do anything if you don’t have to. Things haven’t always been that way.
The Axial Age
Between the 8th-2nd centuries BCE something spontaneously stirred throughout the ancient world including the Mediterranean Occident, China and India. A new breed of human emerged, one seeing through and rising above uniformity, advocating independent individuality. The Pre-Socratics and Socrates in Old Europe, the Upanishads and the Buddha in India, and the originators of Dao and Confucianism in China all voiced independent declaration of individuality as necessary for truly being human. Individuation requires strong inner-directness since the task demands gaining independence from the momentum of mediocrity governing membership in human society’s culture of conformist sameness. The Axial Age gave birth to a new guiding image of humanly ennobling independence of mind and spirit.
Pioneering figures of the Axial Age are generally noted as the first to exercise philosophical analysis promoting breaking free of blind acceptance of conformity to popular social norms in order to become master of one’s life. Wider consideration of their times demonstrates new self-determining programs and movements of physical fitness in the yogas, martial arts, contemplative transformational disciplines, arising of the Olympic games, public celebration of athleticism, and art celebrating fitness as the aesthetic and erotic ideal for men and women. Individuality limited to mere philosophy devoid of equal maturity of body and emotion creates a truncated, incomplete human being.
Cultures of the Axial Age expressed a new, dignified image for perfecting natural endowments essential for becoming fully human. In those cultures, there was no discussion of motivation. Sedentariness demonstrated inferiority, marginalizing such individuals as less than responsible or respectable. Those cultures were naturally fitness literate and fitness fluent.
Survival of the Wisest
Dr. Jonas Salk became famous for developing polio vaccine, resulting in stopping one of the major infectious diseases long plaguing humanity. So immense was public gratitude to Salk, he became an instant hero for a major scientific achievement. In short time, jealously of other scientists turned to outright hatred, haunting him for some time. That unexpected, outrageous turn of events became a catalyst for introspection by Salk. By the 1970s, his thinking led to the staggering insight that humanity is at an inevitable turning point mandating a next step — one he named meta-biological evolution.
Earlier thinking divides evolution into two phases: pre-biological evolution and biological evolution. We’re told ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny — from the moment of conception of human embryos through full development as an adult, we repeat the entire drama of evolution from single cell micro-organisms up through all stages until completed as an adult human. Salk’s meta-biological evolution adds a next step, one which might be characterized as emerging from pack animals bound to the rule of the mega tribe of civilization to fulfilling the vision of Axial Age thinkers and doers. For Salk, meta-biological evolution marks a turning point in the human adventure, one in which the ante is survival of the wisest. In Salk’s vision, we become for the first time active agents in the future direction of our evolution by use of our under-developed embodied brain. Inspired by Salk, this Blog’s name is Trans-Evolutionary Fitness, highlighting a new sense of fitness in context of survival of the wisest.
Experts are Clueless
On April 26, 1986 some during a systems test on one of the nuclear reactors of the Chernobyl power plant, a sudden power surge leading to an emergency reactor shutdown occurred, followed by a more extreme surge, leading to what became an explosion and fire releasing large quantities of radioactive contamination eventually spread over much of Western USST and Europe. It remains the worst nuclear power plant accident in history.
A work now online entitled “Chernobyl Notebook” by G. Medvedev, one of the Soviet scientists involved in the accident clean up, was written in narrative style in an earnest attempt to gain understanding of what happened. Pages 28 & 29 takes us into the unfolding emergency drama of highly educated engineers in the control room attempting to understand the nature of the problem so they could shut the system down. Their training convinced them the reactor core was inviolable. First hand investigation of the inner sanctum of the plant revealed large chucks of graphite glowing red hot and suspicious dust everywhere. Further investigation found the same material strewn around the exterior of the plant. The mystery plaguing them was simple: what was that material? With power out, they attempted to manually shut down the reactor. Blinded by the paradigm of an indestructible nuclear core and a system loaded with sophisticated failsafe shut down options, faced with the harsh evidence of explosions from the reactor core recognition of the obvious was simply impossible for them. The entire staff died in short time due to massive radiation exposure.
In Plain Sight
Once or twice weekly for more than twenty years, Hoja approached the border entrance of the adjoining state with his train of donkeys heavily loaded dry goods destined for sale. Always asked by border guards of his occupation, he regularly replied with “smuggler,” leading to full inspection of all his train bore. And each time the guards could find no contraband, allowing him on. Within days Hoja would return home bearing far greater income than could be accounted for by the wares he carried. In time he retired, moving to another land. Among the guards the mystery of an income surely associated with smuggling something had grown so immense that a collection was taken up to send representatives of their own to find Hoja: since he could not be prosecuted, surely he would solve the mystery. The two set out, after a difficult journey found him, then posed their question. “Donkeys,” he replied, “I smuggled donkeys in plain site.”
Paradigms enjoy a life of marked vitality well beyond that of mere ideas one might freely accept or reject. As with both the border guards and Chernobyl engineers, paradigms are that nature of reality for those holding to them. Most challenging for a paradigm shift to occur is our deeply entrenched emotional sense of the dominant paradigm simply being ‘the way the world is.’ Paradigms are the sense of reality we’ve invested in to maintain stability in our lives. Learning something deeply believed is even partially untrue can come at a tremendous emotional cost — a traumatic one, in fact.
The Current Crisis in Evolution
We’re at an immense, unprecedented point of crisis in human evolution, one in plain sight yet unrecognized. Up till now, the innate ancestral wisdom written as our genetic DNA has maintained its integrity across hundreds of thousands of years. An ever exponentially accelerating pandemic of chronic degenerative diseases are sweeping through the civilized world. While it is estimated that a mere 2% of current disease stems from genetic causes, it is also conservatively held that more than 66% of today’s pandemic diseases stem from living in contemptuous opposition to our genetic code. As the situation worsens, exemplified in an ever deepening body of scientific research findings warning not only of the seriousness of the situation but of an impending health care whole systems breakdown, elected officials and corporate health care industry leadership rests content in trivializing the gravity of the situation — there’s apparent content with maintaining status quo.
Diseases of degeneration now thwarting maturation of the young, manifesting at or before puberty, resulting in forecasts that today’s parents of those youth will be the first generation to outlive their children. Orthodox medicine and physiology are hard pressed to recognize an evident drift in age of adult onset of chronic degenerative condition due to the triumphs of 20th century medicine: during the last century, conquest of infectious, communicable disease dramatically increased survival of infancy and lengthening of life expectancy. Life expectancy in 1900 was 49.2 years, dramatically increasing by almost 30 years to 78.7 for 2011. With a senior population outliving those of a century ago, assumptions arose about how aging brings decline and degeneration among seniors. That’s changed: so-called age defined decline onset has shifted downward from the senior years to middle age, as well as growing in onset among children. The facts are in plain site while expert opinion is mighty close to those in charge at Chernobyl.
Health Care Experts Clueless in the Pandemic Era
Decades of political discussion concerning health care in America have bolstered reliance on expert opinion, resulting in a vast series of interconnected medical, pharmaceutical, hospital, equipment, and insurance monopolies. Those monopolies create a generally accepted standard of health care. More explicitly, they’ve created a monolithic monopoly of how we are expected to be dutifully obeisant to their dictates regarding the nature of health care. We are told Americans have the best health care system in the world, ignoring the World Health Organization’s ranking of American health care as 38th in the world, placing us between Costa Rica and Slovenia; moreover, Andorra, Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Jordan rank greater life expectancy than do Americans — the USA ranks 45th for longevity . Of the $1.8 trillion spent annually on disease, less than 2% is allocated to prevention.
The late Johns Hopkins faculty member Dr. Barbara Starfield’s Journal of the America Medical Association article “Is US Health Really the Best in the World?” reports an astonishing 225,000 annual deaths due to iatrogenic causes — deaths directly attributed to medical intervention (JAMA, 284:4, pp 483-485). The Institute of Medicine’s year 2000 report To Err Is Human established that as many as 98,000 persons needless die annually due to preventable medical harm. IOM’s 2010 updated To Err is Human reports astonishingly little improvement. Those and other publications consider error of practice under current medicine as the regrettable generally accepted standard. Is leadership not included in medical curriculum?
In total, 2,977 people died as a result of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Recognition of external forces jeopardizing American security resulted in massive protective security programs. As a worse case estimate, extending Starfield’s reported 225,000 deaths per annum due to medical intervention over the ten years since 9/11 would result in a death count of 2,250,000 persons. Regulatory and professional agencies have not instituted their version of Homeland Security to deal what must be acknowledged as stealth terrorism due to egregious, unrepentant incompetence. While terrorists are justifiably tracked down and eliminated, our system of health would seem to place itself above ethics, and hence basic humanizing qualities of character.
Not considered in foregoing reports is current medicine’s orientation is toward diagnosis and treatment of disease. Modern medicine originated as a science in the 1860s with Pasteur’s discovery of microorganisms as the agents of infection. The triumph of modern medicine lies in identifying agents of infectious diseases and thwarting them with anti-biotic drugs and vaccinations along with tremendous assistance from public sanitation programs. Current medicine understands health to be an absence of disease — and that’s precisely where it breaks down as a science facing a pandemic of non-infectious, non-communicable degenerative diseases.
Current medicine has not adapted to a quarter century of scientific evidence, instead misapplying concepts of communicable disease to non-communicable, degenerative diseases presumably as its method of self-preservation. Preservation is not evolutionary survival because it fails the test of adaptive fitness. In league with a massive onslaught of pharmaceutical advertising misinformation and disinformation campaigns, the public is kept docile, passive, and blissfully ignorant at a huge cost plaguing the US health care system. A revolution in thinking like that of the Axial Age is mandated to reshape medicine as a science.
Evolutionary Medicine — Caring for Causes, not Symptom Maintenance
Evolutionary medicine and exercise physiology provide important missing keys: diseases of chronic degeneration have roots in social conformity to a standard of cavalier disregard and commercial contempt for caring for the needs of the human genome. Imposing artificial standards sickens us slowly yet steadily, establishing primary disease until those well rooted adverse conditions blossom into secondary and tertiary conditions misdiagnosed as primary diseases — often incompetently characterized as ‘genetic’. Evolutionary medicine comprehends primary genetic based fitness arises from adhering to two genetic requirements: (1) plenty of intense exercise and play along with (2) eating nutrient dense, naturally raised foods.
During its early period of growth, currently orthodox medicine eliminated competition in health care by first removing them from medical school curricula, then dismissively demeaning them as quacks. Included was as physical fitness. Despite marginalization from orthodox health care, fitness grew into our contemporary multi-tennicle fitness industry. Today’s fitness industry has some loose links to the larger, more authoritative health care industry. Both are industries, both emphasizing commercial theories of health and fitness — usually based on half truths, frequently less. While virtually any form of exercise is better than a sedentary condition, coming to honest grips with tangible fitness education has eluded the industry.
One perspective on the current evolutionary impasse afflicting healthy survival lies in the archaeological record: contemporary humans are slower, smaller, and weaker than were tens of thousands of years of ancestral predecessors. Our current state of fitness care has not moved an iota in remedy our evolutionary fitness deficiency disorder — in large degree because the health care and fitness industries are equally unaware of the problem, in part because commercial theories do not lend themselves to problem solving when their proper application lies in sales. The Two R’s drive the fitness industry: membership Recruitment and Retention, suggesting fitness is a hard sale. Devoid of fitness literacy and fitness fluency, the matter of motivation naturally arises.
Survival of the Wisest — Evolutionary Medicine/Evolutionary Fitness
Had you been born with a user’s manual, you would have learned of the accumulated wisdom living your life, a wisdom developed and refined for wellness and survivability, passed down and strengthened in intelligence over millions of years. That wisdom is the substance of the Book of Human Life — The Human Genome. Ancestral wisdom guides every second of the life you were given. While you may be misled to think of yourself as a solid, constant person, at the basis of life you’re a verb, a dynamic, rich array of myriad processes maintaining your existence. The first task of personal survival of the wisest is acquiring guiding optimization of well-being and longevity in harmonious accord with your genomic potentialities. Evolutionary Fitness mandates living within inborn specifications of your genetics to fulfill your natural potential for survival, reproduction, and longevity as a fit member of the human species.
With emergence of evolutionary medicine and exercise physiology, scientists began to understand that a fundamental shift in the nature of human health has occurred since World War II. With the triumphant conquest of infectious disease, infant mortality has drastically decreased and we’ve extended life expectancy to close to 80. With extension of longevity by several decades in the past century, we had no baseline understanding of healthy aging. The dramatic post WWII increase in longevity matched with exponential development of degenerative conditions seen among the aging was taken to be a normal decline in function as bodies wear down and out. Several factors interceded to question that view. First, degenerative diseases occur at younger and younger ages, now including middle school children: clearly, aging alone does not explain their onset. Evolutionary medicine brought about revelations threatening to upturn the legitimacy of orthodox medicine: rising tides of degenerative illnesses bringing disability and death in pandemic proportions are unnatural — they are associated with modern industrial and high technology civilization, not found among traditional extant hunter/gathers. Civilization is killing itself.
Since its first emergence in the mid 1980s, evolutionary medicine has grown, inspiring associated work in genetic, molecular biology based exercise physiology. Evolutionary medicine’s roots in medicine and the various fields of anthropology discovered that only in the last 11,000 years have humans grown smaller, weaker, slower — less fit, less human. Diminished human development is not due to genetic mutation, instead due to accrued developments of civilization. Your genes are ever ready for fitness even if your civilization holds you back. With ancestral nutrient rich foods and robust activity, signals are sent to your genes for them to instruct the operations of your body to be fit and healthy. Conversely, feeding on the popular diet of denatured foods combined with inactivity signals messages to your genes resulting in physical and metabolic breakdown. It’s that simple. Survival of the wisest is innate, embodied wisdom.
What Your Need to Know
Survival of the Wisest is necessarily present and future oriented, yet with an eye to learning lessons of the past in order to prevent repeat catastrophes. Mythologist Joseph Campbell time and again reminded us that a culture without a guiding mythic image is a dying culture. What mythic image guides us today, calling us to rise above ourselves, calling us to actualize dormant, seemingly heroic powers of character and purposeful will? None! Ancestral wisdom of the human spirit is held in myths guiding us to awaken and actualize dormant potentials awaiting expression as a mature, sage adult. In myth, first hints of a larger life are embodied by a miracle calling us to action for an adventure. Campbell was fond of repeating an Arthurian legend exemplifying the ennobling life. On one occasion the knights were gathered at the Round Table for a feast. Arthur postponed eating until a miracle occurred, resulting in a vision of the Holy Grail in veiled form seen by all. His nephew, Gawain proposed an adventure: each knight was to go forth in quest of the grail for a period of a year, each individually entering the forest where it was thickest, darkest, and there was no path. In other words, quest of the Grail — the supreme divine intelligence — must by sought alone within the wilderness of your spirit. To do otherwise would be ignoble!
Paradigm pioneers of the Axial Period transmuted ancestral wisdom embedded in its harbingers of fuller expression of the human genome — hunters, warriors, and shamans — taking their respective survival fitness a quantum leap forward. While regarded as philosophers by academics, sages of the Axial Age upgraded inherited cultural wisdom to a new vision embodying a new breed of human — one both spiritually independent of social mores, and one announcing a new vision of the possible human. Axial Age genius took us from tribal complacency to a new vision of inborn potentials. It offered practical methods of rising above them, giving birth to a form of mastery of the most basic of human rights — your existential, baseline human condition.
Motivation starts with you gaining an irrevocable skill in fitness literacy, becoming fitness fluent in order that Survival of the Wisest becomes alive and well within you. That will result in a new fitness, what I call fitness with an attitude. As an unshakable understanding, fitness is an attitude or orientation embodied as the life you live. That attitude rubs off on others — people feel the presence of a fit attitude. Becoming a person characterized as fitness with an attitude, you’ve gone beyond the obligatory habit of training and eating correctly ‘because it’s good for you.’ Taking the evolutionary adventure to the core mysteries of fitness, you no longer blindly lead your life as a habit. You’ve awoken life-values, or what Maslow called B-values (Being-values). That gives you an attitude of irrepressible, indestructible knowledge. With that you understand evolutionary fitness to mean far more than the ‘better sameness’ of the health and fitness industries addressing people who don’t know what they need yet will unquestioningly follow orders — for a while — and so under-value fitness they measure it by standards of ‘better, faster, cheaper’ while wishing they could pay someone to train for them. Becoming one of the Survival of the Wisest means you value revolutionary evolutionary change. The task of Wise Survival means you have to go beyond better sameness. The biggest challenges beget best work. Intelligent people rise to the occasion. And intelligence means changing your mind, gaining evolutionary fitness confidence — freed of the motivation dilemma, the joy of play is born. You know in your bones you’ve gained strength and freedom not found in the institutions of health and fitness care because you’ve penetrated to the core of evolutionary fitness, now freely embodying it as an ennobled, fully human being.
Copyrighted © 2011 by Ken O’Neill. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited: all rights reserved by copyright holder.