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    Archive for the 'cognitive psychology' Category

    Sprinting to Enlightenment

    Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

    I was recently asked why I haven’t done much with the Anti-Guru blog lately. My answer was, “I think I’ve said everything… at least twice.” I’m not that interested in beating the same horse, dead or alive, over and over, repeatedly, time and time again, ad nauseum, once more.

    So, it’s a rare occurrence that something pops into my brain and bounces around my cranium loud enough and long enough that I feel the need to write about it.

    This is one of those times, apparently.

    Let me start here: I’m an unusual person.

    I don’t mean that I’m better/worse than others. And I don’t mean it in any “we’re all special” way. I mean it as a statement of fact. I can do a few physical things that a small sub-set of other humans can do. There aren’t a lot of All-American gymnasts or All-American sprinters out there… and an even smaller group that are both. I’m one of them.

    I say this not to toot my own horn (beside, if I could toot my own horn, I’d never leave the house… oh, wait, different joke), but to let you know where I’m coming from when I launch into the following:

    Sprinters are born, not made. Sprinters are different than non-sprinters. Non-sprinters have no clue what real sprinting (running at 23 mph+) is, but sprinters can and do know what long, slow running is like (and we HATE it). Running as fast as you can… if you’re not a sprinter… is NOT sprinting.

    So what? you may ask.

    And what does this have to do with the personal development biz? you may wonder.

    I’m getting there.

    What set me off on today’s diatribe is the straw that broke the sprinter’s back, the umpteenth time some fitness “guru” said, “If you want to be lean and muscular, look at sprinters!” implying that if YOU want to be lean and muscular, all you need to do is the same thing that us sprinters do. Simple.

    And it sounds like it makes sense.

    Until you go back to my “sprinters are born and not made” argument.

    These fitness guys have it backwards. You don’t look like a sprinter because you sprint. You sprint because you’re one of those people who can/does look like a sprinter (and there are those who have the same look who can’t sprint).

    The direction of causation is upside down, or backwards, or inside out, or reversed… it’s WRONG.

    Sprinters look like sprinters, not because they sprint… but because they’re born sprinters (and because they sprint, which brings out the best in their body).

    Oh, the other thing about those buff sprinters — they do a lot of weight lifting. REALLY HEAVY weight-lifting. That’s an even bigger reason they look the way they do. AND, the weight lifting has the muscle-building effect it does, NOT because weights make you lean and buff, but because weights make born-sprinters lean and buff. How big/not-big you get from lifting is also genetically limited.

    By the way, this whole conversation about lean, buff sprinters is really only relevant for sprinters in their 20’s and 30’s.  Go to a masters track meet and look at the sprinters in their 40’s, 50’s and beyond… the number of really lean and buff people plummets (and those that are still packin’ on the muscle are often also packin’ in the “supplements.).

    Okay, what’s the connection between sprinting and spirituality?

    If we can accept that some people are different — sprinters — and that non-sprinters will never achieve what sprinters can do (did I mention that, at 48, I’m still faster than most high-school runners?), then why do we think that it’s any different for other aspects of our lives, like: the ability to meditate, your general outlook on life, whether you’re “grounded” or “ethereal”, how well you function in relationships, your willingness to take risks, whether you’re entrepreneurial… shall I continue? (I won’t, so don’t answer that).

    Why do people believe the classic self-help guru — or guru guru — pitch: “If I can do it, you can too!”

    Why don’t we see those people, and their professed state of whatever, and, assuming they actually do have what they claim (most — maybe all — do not), think “sprinter”?  IF they’ve achieved anything special (and, again, that’s HIGHLY arguable… as I’ve done throughout this blog), then let’s just chalk it up to something other than whatever technique they’re teaching. Perhaps, in fact, the only thing that sets them apart from the rest of the pack, is the ability to convince large groups of people that they’re special… maybe THAT is their version of being a sprinter.

    That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice and enjoy running as fast as you can (meditating, or whatever)… but maybe you’ll cut yourself some slack if you don’t become “enlightened” because you’ve gotten causal direction correct (meditating doesn’t make you enlightened — whatever that is/isn’t — but people with a natural propensity toward that state — whatever it is/isn’t — also tend to meditate).

    Back in another 4-6 months when something else has gotten my goat… perhaps.

    You’re not intuitive, you’re lazy

    Saturday, November 13th, 2010

    Another bit of dried grass just fractured a even-toed ungulate’s spine.

    I may have to punch the next person who tells me they’re “intuitive.” (Of course, if they’re really intuitive, they should be able to see it coming and avoid the blow… but I’m willing to bet there’s a contusion coming.)

    Why so anti-intuitive, Steven?

    Because I dislike lazy thinking and to call oneself (or another) intuitive, is not descriptive, it’s laziness.

    There are 2 reasons why.

    First, I haven’t met an “intuitive” yet who has kept an accurate “hit counter.” Simple thing, really. Write down every “intuitive hit” you have, as accurately as possible. Then, at a later date, check and see how accurate you really were.

    Now the problem with this method is the “as accurately as possible” part, combined with our brain’s entertaining ability to mis-remember, especially in the wake of information that could validate our beliefs.

    Let’s just say that every study ever done about precognitive dreaming shows that:

    1. When the dreamers were required to write down their dreams, their accuracy dropped to less-than-random
    2. After some event happened, they often misremembered dreaming about it.
    3. There are, of course, millions of events that did occur that they never dreamed about at all.

    So, it’s the same thing with “intuitives.” If they actually checked their batting average, and adjusted for mis-remembering or vague predictions, they’d find they aren’t so Sylvia Browne after all (or, more accurately, they’re EXACTLY like Sylvia Browne! That is, not intuitive.)

    Here’s the 2nd reason.

    Human beings are really good at identifying patterns. Too good, in fact (we “see” patterns where none actually exist).

    When our brain is looking for a pattern, it’s working hard, expending energy. This effort and glucose use takes up valuable CPU cycles that could be used for something else. We’re built to find patterns quickly so we can stop wasting energy.

    And when we “spot” a pattern, we get a nice hit of chemicals and a handful of interesting sensations — sometimes a feeling in our gut, even.

    Circling back: if we recorded and audited our “gut feelings” we’d find that we aren’t as accurate as we thought. But if we do get a hit…

    It’s not because we’re intuitive, it’s because our non-conscious pattern recognizer was working.

    That is, we’re not channeling some disembodied entity who is telling us that you may be coming down with a cold… we’re using our millenia-old pattern recognition circuits that are wired to identify “oncoming cold!”… and it happens below our consciousness.

    In other words, it ain’t magic Houdini.

    Think about this one: We often find it almost spooky that we can tell when someone is looking at us, right?

    Well, first of all, we can’t tell as accurately as we think. If we have no idea if someone is behind us, and we have no idea if they’re looking… we can’t tell.

    But we *DO* have millions of years of evolutionary hardware inside our cranium that responds to images of eyeballs (because seeing eyes could have been a life/death/sex moment).

    When we spot eyes pointing in our direction, we don’t “know” it or “think” about it discursively. The whole thing happens like a reflex. So, it’s not a mystery when we turn our head and catch someone’s gaze. It’s simply that we turned our head in response to a signal we had no conscious awareness of.

    Now THAT’s spooky because it makes you wonder: Hmmm… what else is going on where something automatic in my brain is running the show? Could it be… EVERYTHING?!

    Humans like to ignore that we have some of the same psychobiological history as other animals. We like to think that everything that goes on for us is something we can clearly feel, perceive, conceive and deliberately affect.

    It just isn’t so.

    I’d LOVE to see an example of “intuition” that isn’t covered by either luck, or some form of non-conscious pattern recognition. Just hasn’t happened yet.

    In the meantime, I like to remember a story that Richard Feynman tells about intuition: He was at home one evening and the phone rang and he knew, just KNEW, it was a call to tell him his mother died. He could feel it in his gut and dreaded picking up the phone. But not wanting to delay the bad news, he picked up the phone, ready to confirm his intuitive suspicion and… wouldn’t you know it… telemarketer.





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