Carving nature at the joints
The piece of writing you are about to read is the first article that I feel could be posted, and relevant, both on my philosophical blog http://www.straightblastgym.com/blog/index.html , as well as my training blog http://aliveness101.blogspot.com/ . For me, this is a bit of a personal victory.
For more then a decade now I have been interested in what the philosophical implications of the Aliveness method might be. Their practical, functional use within combat sports and martial arts is at this stage, past the point of contention. In the last few years of teaching, and in the essays I have written over that time frame, I have fleshed out all the concepts anyone would need as it relates to functional, efficient training. My last Aliveness blog essay went into comprehensive detail about all the methods of drilling, and what the Alive process itself entails. The evidence for how these methods work is overwhelming. And, to date there remains no rational arguments left unexplored, or yet uncorrected, related to how, and why, Alive training functions the way it does.
However, to be able to link a process that is completely functional and empirical, Aliveness, to something that also applies to other aspects of human life, to objective questions from other fields of knowledge, and to have that something also be a thing that gives the maximum amount of space possible for human creativity, intuition, and dynamic quality; and to have these two things, once linked, turn out to be one and the same ‘thing’, that is to me what Aliveness can, in it’s best uses, represent.
What exactly that linking point is, has probably occupied more of my thinking and contemplation over the last few years, then any other single topic. And now that I am comfortable stating what I believe that connection to be, I find it is time to connect these two bridges, the tool of Aliveness, and the tool of critical/rational thinking.
The irony for me is this, now that I have connected these two methodologies, using the argument I detail below, I finally feel free to separate these two aspects of interest into different infrastructures. Through SBGi I plan to continue teaching, writing, and exploring the combat sports. At this stage of my life, I gain more personal satisfaction from coaching and watching my students grow and achieve, then ever before in my career. And through my gym, my seminars, my teaching, the Aliveness blog, and other media we produce, the SBG will remain a combat sports and martial arts organization.
In addition, and completely separate to the SBG, I will also be starting the Aliveness Foundation. The Aliveness Foundation is a vision I have had for a long time, and now that this final connection has been made, I feel it is time to put it into action. It will serve as a non-profit group, with advisors, experts, and authors from various fields. And it will focus on activities, events, media, and overall support of critical thinking, rational problem solving, and the Aliveness method as applied into other fields outside those of the martial arts.
I will detail more about the Aliveness Foundation in the coming months.
Now onto the connections; in order to make my full argument I will need to describe what I consider to be four different methods of problem solving, or for lack of a better term, answer giving systems. The first is the Aliveness method, the second is the more traditional martial arts method, the third is the scientific method, and the fourth is the method of superstition, or religion. As with any argument, we must come to a consensus on terms before we can really move forward. So here are my definitions, ones that I think many, if not most readers will find recognizable.
Let’s start with Aliveness. In short, Aliveness is a process for the discovering of truths. And in the specific case we are using right now, Aliveness is a training method used within martial arts. Within that realm, Aliveness is the key to being able to discern fantasy from reality, function from mere display, and truth from fiction.
For something to be considered Alive within the martial arts or combat sports world, it needs to contain three key elements. The first is timing, the second is movement, and the third is energy. By timing we mean to say, unpredictable. If it is in a pattern, or a repeated series of sets (kata, form, or djuru), then it is not Alive. In these cases it would contain no timing.
Movement means, not static. This often translates as footwork when standing, and body movement on the ground. It is pushing, pulling, moving, clinching, and releasing, if it does not involve movement, then it is not Alive.
And finally, energy, which in this use means simply, resistance.
This is all well known information by now, but if you have not previously read the Aliveness FAQ found at http://www.straightblastgym.com/aliveness101.html or the Aliveness 101 blog found at http://aliveness101.blogspot.com/ then you will want to review those first.
Over the years I have heard, read, and answered all the arguments that people will attempt to throw up against Alive training. Fallacies such as, it’s too dangerous, you can’t just throw people into sparring, some people need dead patterns, you can’t just start with resistance, it’s just for the young and healthy, or the dead patterns are for ‘self perfection’ falsehood, have all been asked, answered, and dealt with in great detail. As have dozens of others. So with this article I am going to be doing something else, I am going to be comparing it to it’s practical and philosophical opposite, as well as it’s intellectual counter-part.
I should also be specific here as to what exactly I mean when I use the term ‘scientific method’. This is a quote that illustrates my larger point:
"The real gulf is not the gap between the arts and the sciences, but the canyon between those who practice genuine scientific thinking (whether or not they have a scientific background) and everyone else, including many scientists and engineers highly trained in narrow specialties." - Lewis Jones
What Jones was talking about there is a rational, skeptical, critical thinking point of view that focuses on actuality. A form of naturalism that doesn’t seek to invoke anything superstitious, or super-natural, without solid evidence; and as Carl Sagan so aptly said, “extraordinary claims, require extraordinary evidence”. What I am talking about is ceasing to pretend to know things, which we do not know.
I am talking about applying an evidenced based approach, to our answer-seeking method.
It is worth pointing out that even highly educated scientists, can often be easily fooled, through various forms of simple trickery. The past history of frauds like Uri Geller, and the SRI tests, are classic examples. The British writer Jon Ronson (author of ‘Them’, and ‘The men who stare at goats’) has also documented this sort of goofy lunacy, as has Michael Shermer (why people believe weird things), and many others. It should be noted that in my writing here, I am using strong critical thinking skills, and the term ‘scientific method’, interchangeably. That does not therefore mean that all scientists have at their disposal strong critical thinking ability. Much of science is highly specialized, and they can be as susceptible to magical wish thinking, and superstitious ideas as the rest of us are. Here is a brief clip by James Randi that illustrates my point perfectly:
Now that we have the definition of Aliveness out of the way, and a broader meaning given for the term scientific method, let’s look at the other kinds of answer giving systems. One of the best ways to understand both traditional martial arts, and Aliveness, is to compare the two side by side. In that way, the methodology of both tends to stand out clearer.
Aliveness is not a noun. It is a process, a verb, a method designed to help us discover the most effective curricula. The truth of what works, and what doesn’t in a given set of circumstances. Traditional martial arts, is not a verb but a noun. It is a fixed bit of curricula, set in time, and unchanging.
Aliveness always involves some form of competition, some level of resistance. What is done is tested. What is functional becomes apparent. And the form will follow the function. A traditional martial art requires no competition, and resistance is often simulated in patterns, rather then done in real time. The function is based on the form, or style, and the style is passed down from successive generations.
Alive arts like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Boxing, etc, evolve. They evolve in terms of training methods, curricula, and understanding. Traditional martial arts place a value in the length of time a particular pattern of movement, a dead pattern, has remained unchanged, the older, the better.
The scientific process is not a noun. It is a process, a verb, designed to help us discover the veracity of a particular thing, phenomena, or objective question; a method for getting at the truth in actuality, which is often referred to as, reality.
All forms of superstition, and by definition religion, is a fixed bit of suppositions, unchanging, and unsupported by evidence (if they are supported by evidence they become science).
The scientific process is a form of competition. In this case, a competition of ideas, proposals, hypothesis. Through repeated experiments, peer review, and various forms of competitive resistance by other experts in the field, a hypothesis goes through a series of battles before it ever becomes a theory.
Religious dogma is by definition the opposite of this; unsupported by evidence in the actual world in which we live, it is passed on through means of “faith”, which in this case is simply belief without evidence. Superstition is by definition, belief in spite of the evidence, rather then because of it. And religion is by definition, that.
Science evolves in terms of method, curricula, and increased understanding. Religion places a value in the length of time a particular supposition has remained unchanged, the older the better.
It is in this sense more then precise to say that traditional martial arts, is religious-like dogma, in physical form.
It is a dead pattern, and one supported by the exact same arguments, and using identical forms of spurious “evidence”, as people adopt when attempting to defend any other form of superstition, or religion.
And likewise, it would be equally proper to say that Aliveness is a process for discovering truth in physical combat, in the same sense that science is the process for discovering truths as they relate to the natural world. Both are answer-giving systems that rely heavily on evidence, and this evidence is gathered through experimentation, through resistance, through self-correcting mechanisms, through competition.
One word you will see repeated a lot as I write this is, competition. It should be noted that when I use that word in this piece I do so according to its original meaning, com (more then one), petition (to grow), com-petition, to grow together. That process of growth occurs only through resistance, through struggle. This competition needs to contain a self-correcting mechanism, one that is based on empirical evidence.
And that is exactly what both Aliveness, and the scientific method embody.
Before we start looking more at what the result of applying that self correcting mechanism is, lets look at the various types of arguments people use in order to rationalize both dead patterns, and superstition. Generally speaking I have only ever seen three arguments used to defend these bad theories. Here they are:
Argument one, it is true. Or as it relates to martial arts, it works.
Argument two, it is helpful. It should be noted here that this is an entirely different, and unrelated argument to either it is true, or it works. In this case the person may well be conceding that okay, it is not real, it wont work, but. . . .insert reason why it helps a particular individual anyway. We will address this idea as well, but please note it is a completely different form of apologetic.
Argument three, attack the messenger. In this case the individual avoids defending the superstition all together, and instead looks to attack the opposing point of view. i.e. science is just another form of religion, or you Aliveness guys are so arrogant, etc. This is usually the easiest argument to deal with, because it contains within it, its own admission that their position is indefensible through rational argument.
If anyone can relate a fourth form of argument that doesn’t fall into one of these three categories, I would love to hear it. But as of yet, and looking through the historical record, this is all that has come up. I am going to deal with all three arguments, but let’s start with the argument that what is being proposed is true, and/or, it works.
The argument that something is true within the natural world, or that something works within the natural world; in other words any proposition that makes empirical claims about the nature or reality, is by definition, testable. It can, theoretically, be proven, or disproven through experiment. This is a key point to remember.
Throughout history members of the various priesthoods have always tried to claim that certain areas of thought, or knowledge, or human interest, were by proxy off limits to rational experimentation. They were the realm of cultural superstition, of religion, the pastor, the witchdoctor, or the shaman. They were not to be questioned. This ban was enforced, and still is enforced, through various methods. And these methods fluctuate in severity based on the culture, tradition, and age.
For example, the reading of certain books, by certain Christian sects within the USA is often highly discouraged. The claim that a book may be ‘demonic’, or lead to some form of sin, has often been used as a tacit form of censorship. Another method is the excommunication of members, which can often have severe and damaging effects on families. Cults like the Mormons, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as many fundamentalist sects still practice this. Churches, and “faiths” of all types have always tried to restrict access of their members to contrary points of view, and certain facts. Whether it was done by torture, the burning to death of dissenters, the threat of mortal sins, excommunication, or just an overall cultural aversion to opposing points of view, the objective is always the same. It is about enforcing a certain amount of ignorance on its members.
The more dangerous the religion, as an example fundamentalist Islam, the more important the enforced ignorance of its flock becomes. What educated, or healthy woman is going to agree to wear a bee- keeper suit for her husband, or find it acceptable to walk ten paces behind him in public? What informed youth would choose the story of a talking snake and magical fruit, over the rational, beautiful, and factual reality of evolution through natural selection?
In traditional martial arts, this same form of enforced ignorance is critical.
Should the students be allowed to spar, or attempt the movements they are being taught under resisting circumstances, the illusion that they work tends to disappear really rapidly. As such, a litany of various excuses has been developed to prevent, or at least delay, this from happening. The adage that the particular martial art is “too deadly”, or too dangerous to be used against resisting attackers is a common one. Anyone who has spent one day in a gym that practices an Alive method knows this fallacy to be absurd. I am sure many of you reading this, can think of a few more excuses you may have heard over the years. They are worth noting, the similarities between these apologetics, and those found within religion, tend to be identical.
This brings us to the distinction between the two methods.
When using a rational, scientific method for answering an objective question, you might start with a clarity of purpose, as it relates to what you are attempting find out.
For example, the question “should there be chairs in the family room?” is more of a subjective question. Though I do believe that even here, rational thinking will likely provide the best answer. It is safe to say that two reasonable people could have differing opinions on this particular question, and both may be able to draw up valid points in their positions favor.
Where as with the question, “are there chairs in the family room?”, it is safe to say that should two people have differing opinions on this subject only one will be right, while the other must be wrong. * And it is with these kind of empirical questions that the scientific process has proven itself beyond all doubt, to have absolutely no equal.
*(If you disagree with the proposition that there is such a thing as an empirical question, one that has a right, and a wrong answer, then this is the wrong article for you. I would stop reading now, and head here: www.elsewhere.org/pomo )
My argument from this point forward is fairly straightforward. Should a form of superstition, or religion, make empirical claims about the nature of reality, which upon investigation and testing turn out to be accurate, then they eventually become part of science.
Likewise, should one of the tools, or methods, used in traditional martial arts prove to be functional, after being tested, then you will find they become adopted by the combat sports that use that delivery system, or range.
If a scientist makes the claim that he or she has evidence of a worldwide flood within the last ten thousand years, you can bet it will be scrutinized. Should it turn out to pass the test of evidence, should other experts in the field be convinced by the evidence found in the various scientific fields (geology, etc), then science will change its operating paradigm. That is perhaps, the most beautiful thing about science. Its adherence to the truth, its self-correcting mechanisms, tends to punish those who make claims unsupported by evidence. However, should the evidence turn out to actually be there, then it eventually becomes accepted, taught, and built upon by a successive generations of humans. This is precisely how we as homo sapiens have advanced from the brutality of the stone age, to our own modern era.
Alive arts operate in the same way. For example, you cannot fake talent at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, anymore then you can fake being able to speak Spanish, or playing the guitar. These are testable claims, and one need only ‘roll’ with a BJJ instructor to know whether he or she really knows the art form. The Alive method, in this case a ‘roll’, operates as a self-correcting mechanism, which will not allow the deception to stand.
Contrast these methods to those of religion, superstition, and traditional martial arts. Where as in science one is severely punished for pretending to know things one doesn’t know; the very definition of religious clergy is in one sense, built on pretending to know things, which we as rational human beings, know they don’t know.
Can you think of any method that enforces a rigorous demand for evidence more then the scientific process does?
Can you think of any field of human knowledge that has less need for evidence when it comes to objective claims about the nature of reality, then religion, or cultural superstition does?
Of course, we know factually speaking, that a worldwide flood never covered the Earth within the last ten thousand years. Just as we know, factually speaking, that no touch knockouts, or pressure point attacks, have as much chance of ending a violent encounter against an aggressive, determined attacker, as prayer does. Which is to say, none.
Any empirical claim about the truth of traditional martial arts, religion, or any other form of superstition, is usually pretty easy to deal with. Whether it is no touch knock outs, young earth creationism, ESP, levitation, demon possession, or the existence of the loch ness monster, you will find time and time again that nothing which could truly be called evidence by educated, or rational people, ever exists.* And this is why those defending superstition tend to use other things they label as “evidence”; three other things to be precise.
*(For those interested in the detailed arguments against those who defend religious superstition as true, go here: http://www.straightblastgym.com/blog/2008/12/sacred-and-superstitous.html For those interested in the detailed arguments against those who defend traditional martial arts superstition as being functional, go here: http://aliveness101.blogspot.com/2005/07/why-aliveness.html
With all three arguments, the it’s true argument, the it’s useful argument, and the attack the messenger argument, there remains only three forms of pseudo-evidence that I have ever seen used. Here are the three substitutes for evidence:
1- The appeal to authority, or to its old age.
2- The use of anecdotal stories.
3- The argument of taboo.
Let’s start with the appeal to authority. In religion it goes something like this, “Mohammed descended to heaven on his horse”. Question, “how do you know?” Answer, “because the Koran says so”. And that is always the immediate end to any rational discussion. Another example is the following proposition; Jesus was born from a virgin. How do we know, because the bible says so; again, no rational dialogue can proceed from there. As has been pointed out by other authors previously, even if we had a time machine and could transport ourselves back to the time and place of the birth of Jesus, it would still be difficult to prove anthropogenesis.
In traditional martial arts the same line of reasoning is used. For example, when it is pointed out that a particular series of movements, or ideas, simply isn’t functional, the reply follows, “Well, Grandmaster X did it that way”, or perhaps “We have been doing it this way for 1000 years, therefore we know it works!”
Of course the grandmaster X argument is identical to the ‘because the bible, or because the Koran says so argument.’ But, the ‘we have been doing it for generations this way’ argument (its age), attempts to bring in another line of reasoning. The fallacy that because something has been done for a long period of time, in a very particular way, it must therefore be true, or work; this is of course false. But it is a common form of argument in both traditional martial arts, superstitious forms of medical treatment, and religion of all types. And it often has horrifying results as it relates to increased suffering of humans, animals, and the ecology in general.
One quick note of interest here, many people falsely assume that for something to remain within a human society or culture for generations, it therefore must have some evolutionary use. This is both a fallacy, and a misuse of evolution. Because something can replicate, does not therefore mean that something is beneficial. As an example, every human culture on planet earth also has the common cold. The human body itself is filled with billions of tiny visitors. Some are useful, some are harmful, and many are benign. The argument that because something is old, it therefore must be, by proxy, useful, or even helpful, is a canard.
What is really fascinating is that many human beings seem to find the ‘evidence’ particularly compelling, when it is set thousands of years in the past. Isn’t that odd?
Traditional martial arts tend to use the same form of daft reasoning. For example, most traditional martial arts come complete with creation mythologies. These usually involve founders with extraordinary powers, or abilities. In the Chinese martial art of Wing Chun, one myth related to its creation involves a blind nun. In this particular case we are being asked to believe that a martial arts system, one that has shown itself to be less then effective when matched against Alive arts like boxing, Muay Thai, or BJJ, or when placed within an MMA environment, becomes particularly deadly when it is practiced by a small woman, who is completely unable to see.
As with most martial arts myths, the more outlandish the claim, the more backwards it is in terms of rationality, the more likely it is to instill a faith like fervor in it’s adherents.
Take for example miracle stories. I will use an analogy given by the author Sam Harris, Sai Baba in India. Sai is a living ‘guru’, who as of now has millions of followers. Over one million people showed up in person to his birthday celebration some years ago. Part of his shtick is the performing of miracles. He heals the sick, materializes objects out of thin air, and has even been said to raise the dead. He has performed all these ‘miracles’ in front of hundreds of thousands of people, literally. And you can bet that many of them would be happy to swear an oath in writing that what they saw was a ‘real’ example of super-natural powers.
Since Sai Baba is a contemporary character, you can find lots of his so called “miracles” on YouTube. I imagine that most of you will find them to be as utterly unimpressive as I do, but see for yourself. To me, these are things that any third-rate magician could easily do. And I can equally imagine that most Christians, Muslims, and believing Jews that are reading this, will find themselves equally unmoved by Sai’s supposed “powers”.
That stated, the believing Christians, Muslims, and Jews will find similar stories about miracles performed by Jesus, Mohammed, or Moses to be exceptionally compelling, even to the point of declaring them as a form of ‘evidence’ for a theological claim, once they are written in a scroll whose date of origination is usually decades (sometimes longer) post event, and whose witnesses have all passed away several thousand years ago.
How many believers have ever really stopped to think about how utterly insane that is?
At this point many religious people will call full stop, and they will play the faith card. The faith card is simply this; it is a matter of faith. And on that note, all possibility of mature dialogue is ended. And that is the moment of admission by them, that there is no evidence for the particular proposition being espoused.
All of us within the world of the rational, reality-based community have a fundamental, and unmistakable responsibility when this happens. It is on us to explain to them, that the faith card simply cannot be allowed in adult conversation.
Imagine the following scenario, I state the following proposition, the Earth is 10,000 years old. You, being blessed with an education, disagree, and state that the Earth is in reality billions of years old. When pressed for evidence of that proposition you present a mountain of data gathered from various scientific fields, geology, archeology, paleontology, biology, astronomy, etc. When I am pressed for evidence for my belief that the Earth is 10,000 years ago, I state the following, the Earth is 10,000 years old because Master X said so. Who is Master X you say? Master X knows all; master X is never wrong, and therefore my proposition is correct.
That, in a nutshell, is the faith card. And as you can see, it should never be allowed in adult, public discourse, be it political, scientific, or social. The moment we allow a belief without evidence, “faith”, to be entered into the public dialogue, is the moment we concede all the advances of the enlightenment, and negligently allow the forces of barbarism and superstition the fuel needed to drag us kicking and screaming back into the dark ages of ignorance, and human stupidity.
In fairness to many religious believers, not all will retreat to the faith-card. Many sincerely believe that they actually do have rational evidence for their belief in the super-natural. It’s worth remembering that as of 2008, more Americans believed in the literal existence of angels, then they do the reality of mankind’s evolution.
As sobering as that statistic is, there is contained in it a small kernel of hope. Of this majority, there is little doubt that most know next to nothing about the science of evolution itself. It’s not as if they have been presented with the actual facts behind the truth of evolution, and chose instead to belief in imaginary flying spirits. Theirs is simply a position rooted firmly in ignorance. Even the religious believers, who ‘think’ they understand evolution, tend to get their information from Christian, or other religious sources, and this propaganda always turns out to be upon investigation, at best a silly caricature, and at worst, just plain lies.
So why the hope, because if they believe they have a rational basis for their belief, if they believe they have something that constitutes evidence, then they can (potentially) be engaged rationally. They have entered the realm of testable facts, the sphere of objective reality. And within that realm, all questions of the Earths age, of the creation of cultural mythology, of the origin of the variations of species, all claims related to the natural world, can be dealt with on a case by case, fact by fact basis. And it is here, that science will have no peer. As long as the individual remains open to the evidence, the broader rational, and scientific method can’t lose.
The same can be said of any traditional martial artist who makes objective claims about the nature of reality. For example, a Kung Fu expert who claims to have developed a method for escaping a particular grappling hold, is making any easy to test, empirical claim. You can bet that should that Kung Fu expert be onto something, every BJJ athlete in the world will want to take a lesson, and gain that advantage. But as all readers experienced in BJJ know, what is more likely to happen is that the above stated Kung Fu expert will find themselves easily, and completely controlled on the ground by any blue belt or better, who is within a reasonably close weight class.
At that point the traditional martial artists, like the religious believer above, is confronted with a choice. A choice that for some, depending on the time invested, the money that could be lost, and even the feeling of embarrassment that is engendered upon admission, can actually be quite hard.
Do they follow the evidence, acknowledge the reality of the situation, and change their belief. Or do they maintain their fallacious ideas, in spite of, instead of because of, the evidence?
Many a martial arts master, and many a dedicated pastor, or priest, has been confronted with this dilemma. And for every one that goes with truth, a few more will find themselves falling back into the Concorde fallacy:
“Name given by evolutionary biologists to a form of suboptimal behavior found among wasps and policymakers. Certain species of wasp are observed to defend their nests with an amount of energy proportionate to the amount they have spent on building the nest. It would be more efficient for them to defend them with an amount of energy proportionate to the cost of an alternative and the strength of the aggressor. Likewise, wasteful public expenditure on the supersonic aircraft Concorde was defended on the grounds that a great deal had already been spent. But this argument is fallacious. What has been spent has been spent, regardless of what happens now. Spilt milk cannot be unspilt. Spending on Concorde should have been judged by the expected value of the extra spending being contemplated, and on that alone.”
“I don’t need faith, I have experience.”
- Joseph Campbell
When it comes to questions of truth, to propositions about whether something is, or isn’t, or how something is, or isn’t, the competitive environment, repeated experiments, and peer reviewed process of science has shown itself to be the most honest form of answer-seeking that we as human beings have.
Although the world is filled with critics of the scientific method, none so far has ever been able to offer a better, or even comparable, alternative method.
Can you find another for of dialogue that enforces accuracy better then the scientific process does?
Likewise, when it comes to the truth in combat, to questions of whether something does or doesn’t work within a given environment, the competitive process, repeated experiments, and over all curricula of progressive resistance found in the Aliveness method has shown itself to be unmatched in terms of producing functional, testable results as it relates to students ability to perform against fully resisting opponents. And although it has its share of critics, none has offered a viable alternative. Can you think of a method that enforces honesty, and truth as it relates to physical performance, more then the Alive method, and its associated arts do?
It should also be noted, that just as there is no Japanese math, or English math, there is really no Japanese Aliveness, or English Aliveness. The science of math, since it objectively true, transcends all cultural boundaries. The science of Alive training, since it is objectively true, transcends all cultural boundaries. Multiplication is multiplication, and a choke is a choke. An experiment set up to determine the validity of say, gravity, should be held to the same standards whether it takes place in a laboratory in Russia, or in Massachusetts. Likewise, a training drill set up to work a grappling skill, say passing the guard, shouldn’t have to vary based on the native language being spoken. As human beings built with two arms, and two legs, the science of fighting, like the science of arithmetic, should transcend cultural boundaries. That is, if it is based in truth.
So as we can see, the argument that something is true within the natural universe, immediately imposes itself upon the scientific method, and the Aliveness process. If it is a claim about natural phenomena, then science can answer it better then any other methodology that mankind has at its disposal. And if it is a question as to whether something works or not within the laboratory of human combat, then it can be tested, and studied through the use of the Alive training methods. And like science, it remains the most viable method we have for determining what works, and what doesn’t against resisting opponents.
If instead of testing these objective claims within the realm of competitive, rational thought, drilling, and experiment, its claimants seek instead to use appeals to authority, or ancient history as some form of pseudo-evidence, then it should be carefully noted, and explained that neither of these rationalizations constitutes evidence. If what they are claiming is true, then it can be tested now, regardless of the culture, or era, the claim is said to have sprung from.
And if they refuse to even enter the realm of rational dialogue, and instead play the faith card, then that should also be noted, and all of us have an important responsibility at that point to exclude that individual from engaging in any further adult dialogue on the topic. At least until such time as they are ready to allow their ideas to be subject to the competition of beliefs that is found in sane, rational debate.
Because master x says so, the Koran says so, the bible says so, your guru says so, or you simply “feel” it to be so, is not in and of itself a valid reason worthy of discussion. And it is certainly never evidence of anything other then your own belief.
It is in reality, a failure to even engage the topic honestly.
“The problem of human suffering is never too much rational thinking, or too high a demand for evidence. But the solutions are. … Reason is nothing less than the guardian of love."
- Sam Harris
This brings us to form of argument number two, anecdotal evidence.
Whenever I had a dialogue with a believer in something absurd, as an example homeopathy, one of the forms of pseudo-evidence that often gets tossed out is anecdotal, i.e. I knew this person, or this many people, and when they came in with such and such illness, I gave them such and such item, and they got better. Ergo, the “medicine” helped the illness.
It is sad to me that in the year 2009, understanding why these stories don’t constitute evidence for anything, is still something that is lost on so many people.
The need for double blind, controlled studies as they relate to medical treatments, and the utter foolishness that is homeopathy, is well documented. And a very tiny amount of research, combined with a little sincere, critical thinking will open up a wealth of information for anyone looking. So I won’t bore the reader too much with these lessons. But I do think it is important to notice that this same sort of illogical anecdotal reasoning is prevalent when defending all forms of superstition, including traditional martial arts, and religion.
The religion some of my family belonged to would hold yearly gatherings, or conventions, in large public forums. As a child I remember listening to a regular segment that was often labeled “experiences”. Most of the time these were anecdotal stories that were intended to serve as some form of evidence related to the existence of God. There would be some scary situation, being stopped by soldiers, secret police, lost in a jungle, something like this, and then there would be some sort of resolution that pointed towards a personal gods (or angels) direct involvement in the affair. i.e. “Oh my sister was once helped by one of you people, you are free to go”, etc. These were always a bit dramatic, and in retrospect as an adult, a bit silly. Of course these stories were, if true at all, nothing more (even in their best form), then coincidence. And as pattern seeking mammals, especially superstitious pattern seeking mammals, it is no surprise we inject superstitious, super-natural meaning, into what is nothing more then the daily workings of a very small, natural world.
But, that does not mean that most of the people who hear these stories understand the truth, that for multiple reasons, anecdotal stories cannot be considered evidence. It is something that is often worth explaining, step-by-step if need be.
Anytime anyone posits an anecdotal story about something supernatural, bringing in Occam’s razor is not a bad idea. For example, imagine this scenario:
Person A) “I once heard that person X had a grandma, and she said her dog was possessed by a demonic spirit, and the preacher came and he cast the demon out, and the dog jumped in a well and died. “
Person B) “Really? Let me ask you a question, which do you think is more likely, that the story is somehow made up, there was no dog, no preacher, and no demon: or, that the story is true, but the dog happened to have a case of rabies, as one possible hypothesis, a disease we know animals can get, and it happened to fall into a well; or, last but not least, that there is living amongst us invisible spirits called “demons”, which we have absolutely no scientific evidence for, and for which all the stories that involve their supposed existence seem to turn out, upon investigation, at least so far to be, untrue, but, in this one particular instance happened to be real. And in their brilliance, they decided to invade the body of a dog, as opposed to say a playboy bunny, or a race car driver, and that dog, upon hearing some magic words, read aloud, by an old man that happens to also believe Noah’s Ark is a historical fact worthy of study, drove the possessed animal to plunge, against all instinct, to it’s own death at the bottom of a well. . .
. . . now really, which of those three, do you find more likely?”
If person A has ever seen an episode of Scooby Doo, you might be in good shape.
A little humor here is not misplaced. In fact, I think it can be useful. As long as its mixed with a general sense of sincerity, good will, and no malicious intention. Pointing out the derangement of certain ideas, by logically laying them out step by step, by comparing their more likely alternative answers, or by using an analogy related to something equally as insane, is often the most compassionate things we as human beings can do for each other. We tend to spend so much time keeping each other’s costumes on straight, that a little honest feedback is a true gift whenever it is offered freely.
Traditional martial arts are filled with anecdotal stories. Whenever a particular curricula, set of movements, or training method is shown to be non-functional as it relates to resisting attackers; there is always someone with a story about John Doe, who just so happened to use a flying monkey beak, double spinning upside down crescent kick, or no touch knock out to disable an attacker outside a Taco Bell in Fresno California.
The simplest way to proceed here is to explain to whomever is attempting to use these stories, that all forms of martial arts have such tales. No matter how absurd, or how ridiculous the movements are, you can bet that there will be someone, somewhere, especially on the internet, who will swear they know of its practical use on a particular occasion. As such, are we then to fall back to a relativistic position, and conclude that no motions, or methods, are generally more effective then any other? Of course not, that would be as absurd as claiming that witch doctor is just as good at helping patients needing open heart surgery, as a cardiac surgeon is. Nobody can, or should, ever take the all arts are equal idea seriously.
Since we know, factually speaking, that some motions, methods, and delivery systems are more functional within given circumstances, and ranges; the question then becomes one of analysis. This is where the Aliveness method has no peer. Through various forms of resistance, the given functionality of a particular set of movements can be thoroughly put to the test.
Again, arguments about certain motions being too dangerous, or other such fallacies used to rationalize against the use of Alive training, have been thoroughly debunked in my previous works. So I wont bore the reader with re-writing those detailed explanations. But they can be found on the Aliveness blog, in the Aliveness FAQ, and throughout the rest of the media, and materials available at the www.straightblastgym.com website.
In terms of testing, it is worth keeping a few points in mind. In my previous articles on martial arts as they relate to measurement, belts, and drilling, I discussed in great detail the importance of any method, or set of movements, being useful not just to one or two given subjects, or athletes, but to an entire gym full of people. In a good gym, everyone should advance in skill; everyone should be able to see marked improvements in functional performance against resisting opponents. Not just a few star competitors, or exceptionally gifted, strong, or athletic specimens.
Those adopting the Alive drilling methods laid out in my previous training article will find this to be the case. Whether new to the sport, or advanced, whether young, or much older, whether male, or female, whether in Sweden, Iceland, Ireland, England, Canada, or the USA, the success of these training methods over broad populations of subjects, in varying areas across the globe, has been repeated. This is the peer review; experiment repeating process of Alive training.
And this is the opposite of anecdotal evidence.
This process is not just within SBG, but also within the various sports themselves. The fact that all freestyle and folk style wrestlers emphasize the same principles of hip placements and weight placements on various takedowns, has to do with the science behind how the body best works in that environment. Wrestlers, due to competition, have pretty much sorted that out. Likewise, in broader environments such as MMA, you may not see just one delivery system anymore, like wrestling, or BJJ. But you will see the same set of delivery systems used. In particular you will see a boxing, or Muay Thai stand up base, a wrestling form of takedown defense and offense, and the positions and submissions of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu on the ground. This isn’t a coincidence, and it doesn’t vary based on location. You won’t find fighters on the east coast of the USA using primarily wing chun for stand up, while the fighters on the west coast use some form of boxing. In both cases, on both coasts, it almost always involves some form of boxing based stand up. And any exception to that is always the exception that helps to prove the rule.
Of course the reasons these same arts are used by the majority of all fighters, is because this is what works in that arena of resistance. This is the natural evolution of curricula that began the moment Rorion Gracie started this sport in the United States.
So evidence as to a training method, or curricula working, is much the same as any other form of evidence used for an objective, and testable claim about the natural world. It should be repeatable, it should transcend culture, and it should apply to a broad base of subjects from all over the world. And if it is tested in an Alive, competitive, resisting environment, and it meets the above criteria, then you are probably onto something functional; something that can be built upon, a principle, or idea that will advance human understanding in that particular field. In short, you will be onto something, true.
Now that we have dealt with the first two forms of pseudo-evidence as they relate to a thing being ‘true’, the argument from authority or age, and the argument based on anecdotal tales, we are left with the last form of pseudo-evidence true believers will often bring out; the taboo argument.
The argument from taboo is really simple, it goes like this, “you shouldn’t say that, I am offended.” That is it. That is the entire proposition. It fails to address whatever the dialogue is even about, in any way, shape, or form, and instead says simply, we shouldn’t be having this discussion to begin with.
This line of reasoning is strange from the get go, and the more you ponder it, the stranger it becomes. And this is the case for whatever superstition we are talking about, be it traditional martial arts, the belief in ghosts, or religion.
Let’s take martial arts as our first example. Any martial art that claims to work, which is the first form of argument we are discussing right now, the it’s true, it works argument, is making what amounts to an empirical claim. So isn’t it odd that many people ‘feel’ it is offensive to have such claims challenged? Imagine instead of martial arts that we were discussing engineering. Let’s say that we are discussing methods for building a bridge. One person claims they have a different style of bridge building, and upon inspection we realize that this method is mistaken, and will likely collapse under the pressure of weight, or certain weather conditions. Would it be impolite at that point to bring up this weakness in the design? Would our fellow engineers storm out of the room and declare, “I am offended, how dare you criticize this bridge building method!”?
It is true of course that some people become attached to certain ideas that they have. And having a mirror held up to them, which shows clearly that the idea, or concept, is in fact wrong, can sometimes cause an emotional reaction. But because some people (certainly not all people), can exhibit a tantrum, doesn’t therefore mean that we should just ignore the correction of bad ideas, in the off chance that people of lesser emotional maturity may find themselves offended.
It is worth adding here that the kind of false knowledge that tends to get people hurt, isn’t always about not knowing something at all, it is often about thinking you know something, when in truth you don’t. And teaching people a form of fighting, that doesn’t actually work in a fight, can in certain circumstances, be as detrimental to human well being as poor bridge design, or quackery based medical treatments.
The scientist, and author Richard Dawkins tells a story in his lectures of an older professor of biology who had been working on, teaching, and lecturing on a particular pet theory he had as it relates to a nuanced detail involved in evolution through natural selection. One day in his lecture hall, a younger, visiting professor gave a talk that point by point, dismantled the older professors theory. After the lecture, Dawkins tells of the entire hall remaining silent, until the older professor stood up, applauded, and congratulated the younger scientist on proving something wrong, that he himself had believed for several decades.
If we are interested in truth, if we are sincere in our dedication to actually knowing what is, then the beautiful example the older professor gave to those students should be the attitude we all strive to emulate.
You can see the same phenomena in action daily, in my own gym. I have watched some of the top coaches share information with each other, and when one athlete has come up with an easier, simpler, more effective method for teaching, drilling, or performing a particular action, the immediate result is almost always one of pleasure, gratitude, and the following “Now I have a better way to do this, thank you.”
Because in both the scientific method and the Aliveness method, what we are seeking after is the most efficient, functional ways to perform things in actuality, the truth outweighs any pet theories any coach, or athlete may have. Changing, and thereby improving how we do what we do, is an ongoing, never ending process. And just as with all fields of science, I fully expect my students to take the art farther then I myself have. This is part of the beauty of reality based thinking process. And this is also what makes it the direct opposite of, religions or superstitious dogma.
The taboo against criticizing religion is in one sense, even stranger then the taboo against criticizing martial arts or engineering. If a religion makes no empirical statements about the nature of reality, or how human beings should behave, then it becomes a non-issue. But, all religion, by definition, makes these sorts of empirical claims. In fact, it’s easy to point out that religion itself cannot exist, unless it does make these sorts of declarations about actuality, or how it should be. And as stated before, the moment a proposition is made about the nature of reality, the natural world, or even how we as animals should behave within it, you have trespassed into the realm of science, and rational thinking. This is why it should be so obvious to every thinker that the late Stephen Gould’s non-overlapping magisteria argument is nothing more then a poorly thought out delusion.
As we speak there are Christian pastors and missionaries in Africa that are actively preaching the ‘sin’ of condom use, in areas that are ravaged by AIDS. There are religious groups in various states that are preparing petitions to ban gay and lesbian Americans from being able to marry each other. There are suicide bombers strapping on explosive vests, in the belief that they will have an amazing sex life post death. And there are millions of women unable to go to school, and forced to wear bee-keeper suits, all because of faith based beliefs which hold no more basis in factual reality then does the idea that Earth rests on the back of a turtle. And because it is all being done in the name of some “faith”, we as rational human beings are supposed to render the topic off limits in terms of criticism, satire, and the reason based debate that we would apply to every other field of human knowledge?
When we really think about this we should all realize, that it is truly demented.
Once any religion, faith, superstition, or cultural myth, seeks to impose some form of behavior, ethic, or claim in, and or about the natural world, they render themselves subject to the same level of rational debate, dialogue, and criticisms that we give every other field of human endeavor, be it engineering, medicine, economics, or psychology.
The fact that some people will cry taboo, and claim that they are offended is never evidence in favor of tempering our criticism. It is in reality, further evidence of the need for more scrutiny as it relates to all such faith based ideas. It points to the possible hypothesis that through natural selection, as well as human design, the virus of the faith meme, has itself promoted this taboo as a means of self-replication. This is a topic I will write more about in the future, but at this point I hope I have made it quite clear, the idea that faith based ideas should somehow be rendered immune to same level of rational dialogue, debate, and criticism that we afford all other empirical claims, is itself nothing more then a erroneous, poorly thought out, myth.
That covers all three forms of pseudo-evidence offered up for the first argument of superstition, traditional martial arts, and religion; the it’s true argument; the appeal to authority or its age, tales of anecdotal evidence, and the appeal from the perspective of taboo.
Now let’s discuss the second form or argument, the ‘it is useful’ debate. As mentioned previously, we need to note here that the claim is no longer being made that the thing being discussed is true, but rather, that it is useful; useful in fact, despite the reality that it may in truth just be a delusion. This is a common form of argument, and can be a little more nuanced then the ‘it’s true’ idea. So let’s get into it.
“For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is then to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”
– Carl Sagan
This form of argument is actually quite common in martial arts, but it is not usually the first argument to pop up, you often have to weed through the first two in order to get to it.
Many years ago I spent an afternoon with a friend who happened to have been a lifelong practitioner of Aikido. I was at the time a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and fairly competent on the mat. The day started off with some sparring, and after a few rapid taps by the Aikido player, it became pretty clear that nothing that could be construed as ‘functional’ was really being displayed from Aikido. His insistence that I pretend to attack him by chopping him on the top of his head quickly fell by the wayside, and every other form of grab, hold, strike, or movement, resulted in predictable outcomes. Fortunately for me I also happened to have a blue belt with me, who was much smaller (maybe 150lbs), and who was able to do everything I did to the Aikido player, though the Aikido player was easily 220+ lbs. This helped magnify the reality of the situation.
To anyone knowledgeable in Alive arts, BJJ, or MMA, these results are absolutely no surprise, and certainly nothing to gloat over. They are a repeatable, and easy to replicate experiment. Any decent purple, or even blue belt would likely be able to perform the same feat, as the Gracies proved time and time again when they first came to the States. There is a very valid reason why the traditional martial arts are not part of the MMA arena; they simply cannot compete against functional arts. Instead of a sport, it becomes a beating, a spectacle.
I want to inject another important principle here; all solid scientific theories should be able to make predictions. And Aliveness is no different. I would propose the following experiment, followed by my prediction.
First I would gather three groups of people, with various ages, weights, and heights. Each group should have the same amount of age, weight, height, individuals, and none of the individuals in the group should have any previous martial arts, or combat sports experience at all, this includes wrestling, boxing, etc.
One group should receive 40 hours of training in an Alive martial art; this could include just BJJ, or an MMA style mix (boxing/wrestling/BJJ).
One group should receive 40 hours of training in a traditional martial art; this can be the above-mentioned Aikido, Kung Fu, Karate, Silat, etc.
And the third group, should receive no training whatsoever.
At the end of the 40 hours, the groups will be gathered for the first time together, at which point each member will be matched with a height/age/weight member from the other group, and they will be asked to spar in an MMA style environment according to various criteria that would have been pre-set prior to the experiment. Of course safety would be a prime consideration, but using the modern technology of training equipment, it is reasonable to say we could create some fairly realistic full contact scenarios. A simple one would be a single 5-minute round, or to submission or knockout. All matches would be recorded, and available for public view. As would be all the previous 40 hour lessons from both the traditional, and Alive training classes that lead up to this point.
Here is my prediction, the group trained using Alive training methods, will dominate, by all means of measurement, the group trained in traditional methods. And, no matter how many times this experiment is repeated, the majority of matches will be won by the group trained with Aliveness.
Furthermore, I have a second prediction. The group that receives no training whatsoever, will do as good, and perhaps even better, against the group trained using Alive training methods, as the traditional martial artists did. Though in the end, no matter how many times the experiment is repeated, the group trained with the Alive training methods will always win the majority of those matches as well.
Back to the Aikido situation, what is interesting is the conversation that followed this encounter. The battered ego of the Aikido player could no longer rationalize the practical use of the movements, though a few attempts were made to state that some ‘master’ somewhere would likely have fended off the attack, upon sincere reflection it became pretty clear that this also, was nothing more then a pipe dream. This man had spent more then a decade faithfully learning Aikido from many of its top proponents. There was simply no place left to hide for an argument based on the arts actual use against a resisting attacker.
And this is when the conversation turned from it works, to, it’s useful.
And this brings me to why I needed to describe the results of the physical performance of the art first. Only after being faced with the truth of the situation, did the practitioner then move on to this second form of argument.
The Aikido player began to try and describe the other benefits of the art, starting with increased self-esteem, and confidence. I was tempted to ask how his confidence felt now, after the thrashing he just experienced, but my sense of empathy got the better of me. I figured he was already having a hard enough time wrestling with those results, considering he seemed to believe sincerely at the start of the morning, after having invested more then a decade of his life, that he had some useable skill. And now that it was lunchtime, that had all been suddenly, and dramatically been shown to be otherwise.
So instead I asked him this, what benefits as they relate to increased self-esteem, or personal confidence could one gain from an art like Aikido, that one could not gain in even more abundance from an art like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? Especially considering the fact that BJJ has one huge advantage, in the actuality that it also happens to be true. It is real; having skill in BJJ means something functional, in the same sense that having skill at playing basketball, or tennis means something functional. It is a testable skill that can be demonstrated under fully resisting circumstances, against non-compliant opponents.
At this point I did bring up the mornings events as an example. Surely the confidence of my 150 lb blue belt friend had been bolstered a bit, due to the fact that he had easily, gently, and totally dominated a much larger man who was resisting to the best of his ability. While, at the same time, surely my Aikido practitioner friend must be feeling at least some sense of loss as it relates to confidence, based on the fact that he started the morning quite sure he was capable of something, directly because of his Aikido skills, and ended the morning having to face the fact that he couldn’t do that same something, despite all his Aikido skills.
There was a lot to ponder there, and after some awkward silence the rationalizations resumed, “well” he stated, “Aikido is a healthy form of exercise, and I have met many friends through it. It is a great social network.“ And here I don’t disagree, except to say that having observed his Aikido class, it was pretty obvious that a BJJ class, or any Alive art, provided a better workout. And, that this social network certainly exists in Alive arts as well. In fact, in many ways it’s magnified. You may find police officers, doctors, lawyers, construction workers, and students, all rolling competitively with each other, against each other, on the same mat. It’s quite remarkable in some ways, and it would be hard for me to imagine more of a social meritocracy then can exist in a well-run BJJ school.
And, I added, all this has the additional benefit of also being done in the name of skill set that is actually functional, that has the added benefit of being true.
And this is where my Aikido friend left the ‘it’s useful’ argument, and ventured into the last pseudo argument possible, and usually the last one used, the attack the messenger technique.
The conversation usually goes something like this, “Aikido teaches humility! And you guys are all jocks, the values of humility, and respect found in traditional martial arts are just absent in what you do. All you guys care about is being able to beat people up.”
I would like to note here, that this is an argument I do take seriously. There are many things far more important then being able to fight well. And if learning that skill set also came with, by proxy, bad social habits, poor attitude, or an overall vulgar effect on human decency, then it wouldn’t be of interest to me. But having been involved with martial arts all my adult life, and having been involved with the combat sports prior to the inception of MMA, I know full well, based on experience, that Alive training and respect for other human beings, and yourself, are never mutually exclusive things. In fact, I would take this one step further. Done correctly, Alive training is vastly superior to anything found within traditional martial arts, as it relates to positive effects on peoples characters, and lives.
Watching my friends Aikido class that evening, I noticed a few things. Besides the plethora of Birkenstock sandals found outside the door, there was a pretty intense, almost palpable air of self-righteous arrogance. It’s the kind of atmosphere I had experienced in many a traditional martial arts school. Those who had been there longer had a social class that was set apart, there was a tremendous amount of posturing, and the Instructors, when demonstrating on their students, used unusually rough treatment. In fact, I couldn’t really imagine using that much force on a partner who isn’t resisting at all, but rather doing everything possible to play along with choreography (after all, it doesn’t work, if they don’t). In short, I have always heard that traditional martial arts led to a certain sort of humility, but having been around many traditional martial artists, and traditional martial arts schools, I have to admit, I have never witnessed this effect.
For contrast, we need look no further then a well-run BJJ school. Because Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu uses Aliveness, there is a level of enforced humility that is impossible to bypass. At least so far as it relates to your ability within that art. Everyone, and I do mean everyone in BJJ, must tap out. In fact, it is impossible to achieve any level of measurable skill at all without being tapped out hundreds of times. This is the reality of the art, it can’t be faked anymore then you can fake speaking French. And that reality can have a dramatic, and truly healthy effect on human beings; true confidence, one based on measurable skill, growing awareness of ones body, of what its capable of, and more importantly sometimes, what it is not capable of, can all have really positive, healthy effects on the human psyche.
A traditional martial art can never offer these potent benefits, even if it wanted to. Because in order for these healthy by products of training to manifest, what you are doing has to be real.
In fact, because the entire affair of traditional martial arts is built upon a false-hood, the idea that it is functional in a fight, those that remain within it find themselves over time having to defend positions of authority that in actuality, are based on a lie. And this can make people who otherwise somewhat insecure, and uncomfortable in their own skin, highly insecure, and really uncomfortable.
We also have to be honest and state that you can certainly have thugs, who also get good at BJJ. And you can have very kind, decent people, who find themselves wrapped up in the world of traditional martial arts. But in both cases I would argue that they exhibit the behaviors they do in spite of, not because of, the art itself. And we can certainly see the truism, that Alive training, and the high human values of respect, love, and kindness, are never mutually exclusive.
After observing the Aikido class that evening, I pointed out to my friend that despite the realities of the afternoons event, none of the Instructors on the mat seemed to be informing the students that what they were doing was actually just for exercise or ritual purposes, and actually had little to no benefit as it relates to actual self defense. This, to me, seemed obviously duplicitous. “They (the students in this case) all know that.”, he stated. So I asked the following, how do they know that, when most have less experience with this art then you do, you have been practicing for over a decade, and until this morning you didn’t seem to know that?
At this point I had exhausted his patience as it relates to having his own dissonance placed in plain view, and his closing words to me were the following “Well everyone has to figure out the truth for themselves!”
And there you have it readers, that, in a nutshell, is how a ‘sophisticated’ clergy class is created. You will have a group of reasonably intelligent people, who upon receiving an education, realize that what they are teaching, preaching, or repeating, is anything but ‘true’, at least as it relates to the factual use of that word. And as a means of self-preservation for their position, they adopt a relativistic view. One that allows them to continue the deception, while at the same time blaming the parishioners themselves for being too ‘simple’.
How often do you hear of a high ranking member of any church, standing in front of his congregation and explaining truthfully that the genesis story, with its talking snake, and Noah’s flood, is not a literal truth? These same men, when pressed in debate, laugh away those who naively believe these things to be literal, but within their own denominations you will almost always find a large majority who do take it literally. A majority that does reject the reality of evolution, and that does think that the garden of Eden was a real place, which housed two people named Adam and Eve. Who is responsible for that? Does the clergy that otherwise claims to know better, hold any responsibility whatsoever as it relates to being honest with their flock?
Does the traditional martial arts ‘master’, who knows what he is offering is anything but functional, have an obligation to his students to explain that?
That is the final point as it relates to the attack the messenger argument. I do believe they are half right, it is true that we shouldn’t be the ones to point out to their flocks, their students, their congregations, that what they are learning isn’t true, or isn’t real. But not because it is wrong to do so; but because it is they themselves, the traditional martial arts masters, the clergy, the pastors, and the clerics who should be the ones doing this. And when those same ‘masters’, or clergy men point their angry finger at us, in an attacker the messenger sense of the word, feel free to explain to them they have every right to point that finger of responsibility, and every right to be angry. It’s just that it’s pointed in the wrong direction; it should be aimed at their own selves.
So these are the three arguments for dead patterns, be they religious, or physical:
It is true, real.
It is helpful.
Attack the messenger
And these are the three forms of pseudo-evidence for each:
The appeal to authority, or to its old age.
The use of anecdotal stories.
The argument of taboo.
Before moving on, lets take a little deeper look at the ‘it is helpful’ argument, as it exists within religious communities. Speaking for myself, I take this line of reasoning far more seriously, especially as it relates to social well being, then I do the ‘its true’ idea. The idea in 2009 that any particular religion, Christian or otherwise, is actually true, is so far out there in terms of plausibility, that I think humor is often the best way to deal with it. In other words, the belief that Genesis is a real account of our origins isn’t something that should keep anyone up at night in contemplation. Nor are silly proclamations of end times, or the lunatic ramblings found in Revelations. This is true regardless of how many inane television shows pollute the airwaves with ‘prophecy’ specials, or 2012 prediction episodes based on Mayan calendars, that some how get aired on the very poorly named, “history”, channel.
However, pulling the rug out from under people who otherwise might find them selves badly needing to believe in a delusion, despite the fact of it being a delusion, is something that all thoughtful humans should probably take seriously. In fact, to date this is the only valid rationale I have ever seen for religious superstition. And what it boils down to, once you wade through all the attached cultural ornaments, is the human connection that comes from a shared experience with a social network of likeminded people.
As homo sapiens, we evolved as social creatures. And loneliness, as well as the fear of death, can have frightful, and life-altering effects on even the most rational people. None of us, atheist or otherwise, should callously disregard this notion.
The work of Ernest Becker (The denial of death), as well as the more recent studies on what has become known as ‘terror management theory’, all have things to say in this regard. Though I am not positing the truth or falsity of Becker’s overall thesis, recent studies do seem to show that humans, once reminded of their own death (even at a subconscious level), tend to show altered behavior patterns. And in that sense much of the ritual we may find within certain superstitions, may in fact be a cultural response to this fear; a form of terror management. And, as mentioned above, the social networking that comes from the gathering of human beings on a regular basis, seems beyond much doubt, to be something we as social animals need in order to maintain an overall sense of well being.
So the question for all free thinkers is this, does science, or history itself, show us that we need to have the specific form of superstition known as ‘religion’, in order to maintain this social network, or cultural ritual, aimed towards increased human well being?
I think that answer to that question is a resounding, no. But, at the same time I think it then becomes our responsibility to make sure we inject as much healthy family, social, and tribal networking as we can. In other words, it is on us to replace the institutions based on superstition, with their sane secular counter-parts. To that end I have composed a list of qualities I think a healthy social network, or event, should incorporate:
It should be, authentic
It should be, challenging
It should be, joyful
It should be, creative
It should be, egalitarian
We, as creative, intelligent, and free thinking individuals are more then capable of creating institutions, organizations, and social clubs that include all of the above listed attributes. And we never need to lie to our children about where we come from, or why the world is the way it is, in order to do it.
History is replete with brilliant, noble, and brave human beings, who managed to face the harsh reality of existence, without falling back on fantasy based superstitions, or mythological tales taken literally. The revolution of the enlightenment was in and of itself, proof of the human ability to bring light upon our own existence. We need not languish in the dark recesses of super-natural apprehensions, or age-old cultural fears. The reality of our own existence, indeed of the existence of the universe itself, the amazing truths science can tell us about it now, are so powerful, so beautiful, so awe inspiring, that the only way anyone could find themselves drawn away from their verity, and pulled back into the shadowy recesses of religious fabrications, is to remain woefully, or willfully, ignorant. Because when compared side by side, the claim that all religious theory appears impoverished, including that found within the east, isn’t just an understatement, it is an inevitability.
In closing I want to quote from a book that every time I read from it, makes me want to give up writing non-fiction. The lucidity of thought, and careful, surgeon like precision of word use, is something I can only hope to aspire to. The book is Daniel Dennett’s ‘brainstorms’, and in this particular passage he is discussing how he came to his theory of consciousness. His approach was a bit different then many of his philosophical contemporaries. Rather then follow out each line of reasoning developed over the centuries, and look for the perfection of words that might prove one true over its counter-part; he instead dove into what modern science said about consciousness, and he modeled his thinking around that.
Otherwise stated, instead of the traditional method of following a form to determine a function, he let the function, determine the form of his theory. He states it brilliantly here:
“Since I think my theory carves nature at the joints, I am inclined to claim that it is the traditional pattern that is misshapen.”
And that, in summation, is exactly how I feel about Aliveness.
- Matt Thornton, December 26th, 2009