How Soon Until I Notice Changes?

The first question from every fitness novice when they first start a new training program is, "How long will it take to see results?" The question comes from a good place, but hinges on what counts as "results."

What most people mean when they ask this question is usually something along the lines of, "The whole reason I started dieting and exercising was to make my body look more attractive; how long will it be before I notice that my body looks more attractive?" The answer to a question like that is entirely subjective. In truth, the question is unanswerable. No one else can tell you how long it will be until you've changed enough to notice it. Some people work out for years and never "notice" anything, no matter how much their bodies actually change. Other people swear they see a difference after just three days, even though no one else can see it. Who's to say what the truth is? The Beachbody people have the right idea in that they recommend doing a basic fitness test and taking comprehensive photos before starting every new workout program, and at various checkpoints along the way. Your eyes can fool you for a long time, but there is no arguing with photographic evidence. For people whose goals are mainly aesthetic, I recommend Beachbody's approach. Just take photos every 30 days or so and call it macaroni.

For people whose goals are non-aesthetic, or whose aesthetic goals are incidental to their non-aesthetic goals, the question runs a little deeper. It might begin with the bald, empirical question. "How long will it take before I run X seconds faster per mile?" "How long will it take before I can bench press my body weight?" "How long will it take before I'm ready to summit Mount Rainier?" These are good, specific questions whose answers are, unfortunately, uncertain. A sixteen-week training schedule will improve your race time, your bench press, or get you in better shape for a big expedition, but there is no guarantee that doing X, Y, or Z over the course of sixteen weeks will result in a particular improvement. That is, if you engage in a good training program, you'll improve, but there's no telling by how much you'll improve. You just have to keep at it until you reach whatever goal you're aiming for. And if your goal is to do something like summit Mount Rainier, then you might just have to give it a try and see if you're ready.

But that doesn't mean there won't be any observable changes. The truth is, exercise produces a lot of observable changes in a relatively short span of time, and most of these are changes people don't expect. Some they even possibly ignore completely or thoughtless attribute to other factors.

Let's talk about some of the changes you can see when you start to exercise.

Six weeks of exercise is enough to create a statistically significant difference in a patient's microbiome. If you ask me, though, two or three days is enough to observe microbiome changes. Pardon my bluntness, but after taking on a new and vigorous exercise regimen, you should notice changes to the frequency and consistency of  your stool in as little as a few days. Confirm this for yourself. The above link goes on to state, "Further, the genetic expression of the bacteria changed so the bacteria produced more short-chain fatty acids, which reduces inflammation in the body and enhances metabolism." This means that it's not just that your microbiome consists of new bacteria; there are also felicitous physical changes within the old bacteria.

One to two weeks of exercise is enough to notice your changing relationship to food. I don't mean that your diet will suddenly become successful or that your cravings will disappear. What I mean is that bad food like pizza and french fries will start to noticeably slow you down. Where you might have once had little problem with a night of greasy pizza, once you take on an exercise regimen, you'll notice that you need good fuel to keep your training up to snuff. The day after pizza night will feel like a total drag compared to the day after lentil soup with fish and vegetables. Again, don't take my word for it; confirm this for yourself. You'll see.

One to two weeks of exercise is also enough for you to notice that beer and serious training is almost completely incompatible. I first noticed this phenomenon while training in college. I noticed that I wouldn't make any significant progress during the first week or two of any training schedule unless I eschewed beer. If I did, everything would be fine. Now, one or two beers every now and then might be alright, but even those one or two beers is enough to make you feel sluggish the next day, ditto for spirits. Wine, by contrast, seems to have little impact on training, so long as you (I?) don't drink more than a glass or two with dinner. Part of this is dehydration: As you tear up old muscle tissue and rebuild it with stronger muscle tissue, your body craves water to feed that process. Still, if this were solely a matter of dehydration, all alcohol would impact the body differently, and it is clear enough to me that wine impacts things a little differently. Wine is known to aid digestion, especially the digestion of meat; perhaps that and the changes to your microbiome account for the difference. I don't know. Your mileage may vary here; try it and find out for yourself. All I can say is that I can drink moderate amounts of wine while training, but drinking any other kind of alcohol is like putting my muscles in a blender.

One week of exercise is enough to increase your insulin sensitivity. This I know firsthand for obvious reasons. Just yesterday I ate a meal with in excess of 45 grams of net carbohydrates, not counting the wine or the tomato sauce that surely involved at least another 10 grams. This is a dinnertime meal that would ordinarily correspond to three units of bolus insulin for me, but due to my increased insulin sensitivity, not only did I go low, but steeply low, dipping down to 50mg/dL of blood glucose for the first time in months; and that, too, after snacking on a few treats because I felt my diabetic body's telltale carb-craving.

Healthy people won't have to worry about hypoglycemia, of course. For you normals, insulin sensitivity is all-upside, no-downside. One week of training is enough to start the process.

A few days, possibly as little as two, are enough to change your sleep patterns for the better. After committing to daily exercise, you'll get more deep sleep and more REM sleep. You'll fall asleep faster, and you'll wake at a time that corresponds more closely to your circadian rhythm (unless, of course, your alarm clock doesn't line up to that). You might even notice that the total hours of sleep you need to feel well-rested decreases as your sleep quality increases. This is certainly true for me. Six to seven hours of sleep is perfectly adequate for me if I am training. Eight hours is what I need if I'm not training.

One week of exercise is enough to make you feel more energetic. This one is a bit of a paradox, since a lot of vigorous exercise will also tire you out. Somehow, though, physical fatigue hits you in a way that doesn't decrease your subjective "energy level." You can be tired from exercise without nodding off at your desk in the morning, which is a marked contrast from being tired from a late night or an extended happy hour. A "girls' night out" will have you in bed all day the next day; a long run will possibly result in a nap that afternoon, followed by a surprising readiness for the next adventure, whatever it is.

So, to sum up: How soon will you notice changes when you start a new exercise program? If you include changes beyond just what you look like in the mirror, then the answer is a highly encouraging two days at the minimum, and two weeks at the maximum. That's not a lot of time at all.



Someone recently told me that treadmill running is a lot easier than running outside. He reasoned that, since the treadmill requires a higher speed, and also possibly a steeper incline, to achieve the same calorie burn, the treadmill must be easier

This logic is robust on one level, but not on another. One could argue that cycling is easier than running, since bicycles enable us to use mechanical advantage, and this is strictly true. The problem with that argument is that no one uses a bicycle to cover the same distance at the same speed as they would have done running. With the greater mechanical advantage, cyclists tend to ride faster, right up to the point where they're getting just as good a workout on the bike as they would have gotten running. Cycling is different than running, but for most people, it's not inherently "easier."

The same is true of treadmill running. Treadmill running is biomechanically different from running outside on stable ground, it involves slightly different muscles, and so on. In order to achieve a similar calorie burn, one has to approach the treadmill differently. That doesn't mean running on the treadmill is inherently "easier," only that it's different.

There is another issue at play here, however. If we were to relegate ourselves to only those activities which are more difficult than other activities, we'd never become physically fit at all. That's because training your body involves a diverse set of workouts. Some of your workouts must be dedicated to building muscles, some to learning skills, and some to resting and recuperating. If you were to train at 100% effort, 100% of the time, you'd never get anywhere at all.

A good training regimen involves two or three days of muscle-building. For example, the typical marathon training schedule will have you doing interval training twice a week; P90X and similar programs dedicate three days a week to lifting weights. The rest of the time, we train at lower levels of effort to achieve different, but no less important, goals. Runners will use one day a week for a long run and the remaining days running in active recovery mode. P90Xers will find their remaining days dedicated to plyometrics, yoga, and flexibility. Failing to do these "easier" activities means not getting enough rest, or getting too much rest; it means not gaining the benefits of balance exercises and increase flexibility.

As a final dynamic here, note that most training schedules involve relatively easier workouts in the beginning, building to progressively more difficult workouts toward the end, and then culminating in a de-training week or two in order to reduce fatigue and "peak" for a race or final weigh-in. Few would argue that the beginning of a training regimen should be loaded up with the most difficult exercises; that's just a recipe for injury. Fewer still would argue that great athletes should not attempt to plateau for competition; no one would perform at their peak if their muscles were tired and sore.

So, in the big picture, we must utilize more- and less-difficult workouts at different times to achieve long-range results. The immediacy of the comparative difficulty of a thing is really just a minor concern. Every moment in your long-range training regimen serves a purpose in the broader context. Increasing your cognitive time-horizon to include harder workouts as well as easier ones will make you a better athlete. Increasing your cognitive time-horizon alone will make you a better person.


Cowen On Happiness And The Internet

Tyler Cowen has a piece worth reading in Bloomberg about how the internet influences human happiness. His basic idea is that the internet incentivizes us to seek momentary happiness at the expense of long-term memory formation. That is, the internet tempts us to waste many hours scrolling through social media and cat videos when we ought to be spending those hours on quality time with friends, family, the community, and so on:
Consider the time I spend on Twitter. I can take a peek and have some fun pretty much anytime I want, and for free. Yet never do I think that I will someday look back and reminisce about all that time I spent scrolling through tweets.
 In contrast, I look back fondly on my time in high school, and how my friends used to ride bikes to each other’s homes to hang out and listen to record albums. I’m no longer sure how much fun it was at the time, or even if that matters — the glorious memories are in place. The same is true for the good travel experiences I have had, even (especially?) if at the time they were quite stressful or simply involved a lot of tedious legwork.
I have read other critiques of the internet and social media in the past, and one set of commentary that always arises in response to the critiques is this: Mostly, it's Baby Boomers and old people who struggle with social media use. Young people have no such problem. That response always rang hollow for me, but reading Cowen's piece, it finally sunk in. Maybe there's something to that criticism, after all.

For example, Cowen writes, "Online life is inducing us to invest less in our memories and long-term sense of satisfaction. It is pretty obvious from human behavior that, right now, the internet is doing more to boost short-term pleasures."

This is written from the perspective of a man who mainly uses the internet for the purposes of Twitter, blogging, and research. What's missing from this perspective are the opinions of those who use the internet to keep photo albums of all their most treasured memories. Or, how about people like me, who use the internet as a way to log exercise? Cowen actually uses exercise in his article as an example of long-term memory formation, but I just blogged the other day about how the internet and social media has inspired me to train harder than I have in years. That effect is real.

Long-time readers of Stationary Waves will even recall that I used the internet to help teach myself Bangla, and just yesterday, I started Hindi lessons on Duolingo. None of this would have been possible without the internet, of course, and all of it represents long-term undertakings toward the formation of memories and skills that can potentially last a lifetime.

Throughout the Nineties (for those of you who don't remember), we were frequently told that the Information Age was bringing with it untold economic growth, that that growth was real output, and that the world was changing in ways we were only beginning to understand. I'm not sure I believed it back then, but I do believe it now. More to today's point, though, is the fact that all this growth came with an absolutely enormous consumer surplus in the form of free maps, crowd-sourced information, product reviews, and so on. We have access to so much of the world's information now, without having to go somewhere and look it up, that the benefit to each individual is incalculable.

But I don't think Tyler Cowen is the kind of person who would attempt to learn a new language on the internet or take on a half marathon training schedule simply because it came pre-programmed into his smart watch's app. Not that he ought to be that kind of person, just that he isn't. Someone who doesn't use the internet in ways that facilitate long-term projects, someone who uses the internet mainly to "tweet," is bound to underestimate the internet's contribution to long-term happiness. I don't think a younger writer would have made the same mistake.


Careful Wording

One of the things I've learned relatively recently, say, over the past two or three years, is the value of phrasing things carefully and not overreaching in my arguments.

I think David Henderson is particularly good at this, and one of the reasons I think he is so careful in what he says is that his style of persuasion is extremely modest. He doesn't try to turn a non-libertarian into a libertarian. Instead, he focuses in on a narrow but important point, and finds something about that point that his interlocutor can agree to. This is almost never enough to win over someone completely to his point of view, but it's usually enough to get someone to think twice their own position. That alone is a very powerful thing to do, and one shouldn't miss out on an opportunity to do this in a futile pursuit at arguing against a person's entire ideology. Don't let the good be the enemy of the perfect; keep your eye on the prize.

This endeavor is not without its own set of pitfalls, though. For one thing, people can be suspicious of my motives. If someone knows that I'm a libertarian, they can be highly suspicious about my reasoning for making a modest point, and thus refuse to give any ground at all. If I make a point that tax collection rates don't respond much to increases in tax rates, for example, my interlocutor may be reluctant to admit that this is true, even though it is a well-documented empirical fact. My interlocutor might mistakenly believe that if he/she gives even a little bit of ground on the modest point, I'll have a death-blow waiting right behind it. It's not as if a simple fact about tax collection rates completely refutes any argument for higher taxes, but some people approach debates from the standpoint that they must win every point in order to win the whole debate.

I have two responses to this. First of all, that's an awfully Manichaean way of looking at the world. In reality, a belief I favor is often mostly good and always involves a few negative trade-offs I'm willing to bear. Nothing is one hundred percent perfect, so we shouldn't expect it to be. We ought to seek out the negative trade-offs of a strongly held belief and be forthcoming and realistic about dealing with those trade-offs. Second, it's childish not to be willing to give any ground or concede any point whatsoever. Those who choose to behave that way are, ultimately, doing their position a severe disservice by making it appear to be unrelenting. Nice people, friends and family, who discuss and debate any sort of issue, large or small, will tend to want to give their friends and family credit for making a reasonable point. It's the mark of someone who doesn't care at the moment to be particularly nice who refuses to concede any point at all.

Meanwhile, what one discovers when one focuses on careful wording of modest claims is that most people who passionately argue for or against something argue against the "larger something," not the "smaller something." That is, people who, say, favor higher tax rates argue for higher tax rates in a "macro" sense. They will take any excuse to make these arguments, and a carefully worded, modest claim will only serve as a springboard to get them going on their "larger something." Again, such people aren't interested in truth-seeking, they're interested in forming a diatribe. They're entitled to do so, but we don't really learn new things that way.

What new things do we learn when we make carefully worded, modest claims? Well, mostly we learn the best reasons underpinning our beliefs. We learn to discard the bad reasons, the poor arguments, and the false claims. We gain a little good faith with members of the opposition, who might start to view us as being more pragmatic and less quixotic. And we gain a great deal of confidence in our own position, since we know exactly how far it can be taken.


Running On A Budget

I'm certain I've blogged about this before, and possibly recently, but here's a reminder in any case: Thirty years ago, distance running wasn't glamorous, it wasn't popular, it wasn't pretty, it couldn't get you social media followers, and it was only something that a relatively small number of people did.

The origins of the sport are in somewhat eccentric people who, for whatever reason, like to move as far and as fast and as much as possible. The old guys who created the sport of modern distance running started out in the 1960s and early 70s with nothing in the way of real "running gear." They wore whatever shirts and shoes they could find. When it got cold outside, they put on a sweatsuit. Not "joggers," not "tights," not spandex or dry-wicking material. Plain old grey cotton sweatsuits like you get at Walmart for ten bucks. Interestingly enough, this was one of the fastest periods in American distance running. Over time, more people have flocked to the sport, but those people have not really been faster, there have simply been more of them.

With increasing popular interest in distance running, there has been a corresponding increase in the supply of peripheral running merchandise. Some of this has been great: specially designed running-specific shoes have been an incalculable benefit. Dry-wicking materials and clothing tailored to a runner's specific needs have been less beneficial, but still important, especially if you live in a place that experiences climactic extremes. I can't imagine that running in Hawaii is very much fun in plain cotton clothing; nor would it be possible to run in the Canadian winter without special cold-weather running gear.

Still, there is a big difference between what is available and what is necessary. When I lived in Canada, I had to laugh at all the expensive crap people wore while running. The simple fact of the matter is that when it is cold and dry outside, a plain cotton Walmart sweatsuit is perfectly adequate for winter running. Even in the Texas summer heat, a cotton tank top and a loose-fitting pair of shorts will get you through your workout. And while I'm a fan of my $120 running shoes, I also discovered that I can be happy in a $20 pair of Payless running shoes, too.

It's fun to spend money on fancy running luxuries, but you don't need them to enjoy running. Running is a simple sport that is financially accessible to everyone. Let's compare me, a middle-class running enthusiast, to someone looking to get into running at the lowest possible expense.

Ryan's Running Gear:
  • Nike Air Zoom Pegasus running shoes: $110
  • Puma athletic socks for running: $15 per 8-pack, or $1.88/pair
  • Nike running shorts: $25
  • Dry-wicking athletic shirt: free with $35 10K entry fee
  • Adidas running hat: $10 on clearance at Costco
  • Garmin Forerunner 645 running watch: $350
  • Garmin chest strap heart rate monitor: $60
  • Nike running jacket for cold weather conditions: $80

My total expense for running: $685. This is cheap, compared to skiing, golfing, or cycling, but it's easy to see how a low-income kid would have a hard time affording this stuff. So let's take a look and see how cheaply such a kid could get into running.

Running on a Budget:
  • Champion power-knit runner: $35
  • Puma athletic socks for running: $15 per 8-pack or $1.88/pair (same socks!)
  • Athletic shorts: Real Essentials athletic shorts: $33 per 5-pack, or $6.60/pair
  • Athletic shirts: 5-pack dry-wicking athletic shirts from Amazon: $30, or $6/shirt
  • Marathon by Timex digital watch with chronograph: $15
  • Hanes Ecosmart sweatshirt for cold weather conditions: $10

Total required expense for running: $88. True, a very low-income kid might have to save up in order to afford $88 worth of running gear, but we're talking about a few weeks of savings, not something completely out-of-reach. An enterprising young person could think of ways to earn $88 in a single day, by taking on a little extra work one weekend.

Here's the important part: There is no diminished "running experience" if you go the budget route versus the fancy luxury gear route. It's not as if rich people have more fun running in their $80 jackets as compared to people running in $10 sweatshirts. You can be just as fast and have just as much fun while spending $600 less on running gear.

True, GPS running watches bring a lot of fun to the table. I won't deny it. But I say that after having run for twenty years without any such contraption. A chronograph is the only absolutely necessary thing, and a repeating countdown timer is a little better - but both of those things are available in the $15 watch and the $350 watch alike. If you run with a group of friends, you'll get your "social media fix" without having to get involved with Strava or Garmin Connect or any other GPS-based social medium.

I think it's important for people to understand that running does not have to be -- nor really should it be -- a rich person's status sport. Running is as fundamental, as accessible-to-anyone, as virtually any other sport. Anyone can do it. Anyone should do it. It's incredibly fun. Please don't let the supposed high cost frighten you away.

On Series

The benefit of creating a series -- either a book series, or a movie series, or a game series, or etc. -- is that the creator is allowed to develop the story's setting in greater depth. The audience not only gets to enjoy the world in which the series takes place, they also get to explore it right along with the series' creator. Perhaps, for example, we see or hear about a far-away mountain range in the first episode of the series; in episode two, we actually get to go there. The sum total of both episodes is a richer understanding of the series' "world."

You could compare it to traveling. Suppose you spend a week in Costa Rica. For the first couple of days, you hit the beach, and it's quite nice. From the beach, you can see various islands and nearby shorelines, but in your microcosm on your current beach, they really just seem like picturesque details to your current setting. The next day, you take a big boat tour during which your boat travels to the very shorelines you saw from a distance. Now you get to see them up close. You see people milling about on those beaches, you see people's houses and gain a little insight into their lives. Now, when you see those faraway shorelines from your hotel, they're not picturesque details anymore. Instead, they're real places where real events take place, and you understand them a bit. You look at them less in awe and more in wonder. The next day, you take a day trip into the mountains and rainforests, and a similar phenomenon occurs. When you first arrived, your experiences felt like the photos on your hotel's website: glamorous, picturesque, but ultimately a little hollow. By the end of the week, your experiences add up to a rich impression of the whole country. Costa Rica isn't just a collection of Instagram photos for you anymore. It's a country.

A second benefit to creating a series is that the creator can create more character and relationship development over the span of several episodes than he/she can over the span of a single story. A character who started out wide-eyed and naïve can grow into a capable, knowledgeable, experienced veteran. Two characters who started out hating each other can eventually become good friends or passionate lovers. This sort of thing can happen in a stand-alone story, too, but in a series the transition can be slower or it can be more meaningful. Character development is more believable and realistic if it happens in conjunction with a multi-faceted storyline. In a stand-alone story, the character's development usually is the story. In a series, the story is the sum total of all events; the character's development becomes one dimension of that, as opposed to its main focus.

Despite these strengths, series are a challenging way to tell a story, owing to the fact that so many different things have to happen. So many events must occur that, if the storyteller doesn't take the time to place each event in the context of the greater storytelling objective, each individual event starts to lose its impact. A great car chase, for example, can be a thrilling climax. But if a series includes three or four car chases, then each individual car chase loses some of its thrill. If characters in one fantasy novel must go on a long journey, that can be interesting. If characters in a series of fantasy novels go on many several long journeys, then the overall impact of "journeys" is lessened. One shootout can be amazing; fifteen shootouts become "just a lot of gun-fighting."

To help maintain the literary impact of each of these events, many series creators tell their stories in the form of a serial, like a comic book or a soap opera. In this case, every event is exciting, but we lose sight of the over-arching storyline. Think of your favorite comic book super hero, say, Batman. If someone asks you the question, "What is Batman about?" you'll have a hard time answering that question except in the most generic terms. Batman is the story of a masked man with a lot of money and technology who decides to fight terrifying criminals. Fine, but what's the story about? There are lots of "Batman stories," because Batman is just a soap opera. There's no real beginning and no real end; if there were, they wouldn't be able to keep selling Batman comics. So, instead of an over-arching story, Batman is just a collection of exciting events. No matter how exciting they are, each event has little if anything to do with any of the other events.

So it is with a series of novels, or movies, or video games. There is somewhat of a trade-off between the ability to have lots of exciting events occur over the span of a series, and the ability to preserve a compelling and forward-moving overall plot. For this reason, the very best stories have always been told in the context of a single book or movie. Stories told over the course of series tend to either be boring, for lack of excitement, or vapid, for lack of contiguous plot.

This is also the reason why sequels and prequels are often disappointing to fans. Storytellers face a choice between creating a sequel that has just as much action, intrigue, or mystery as the original story on the one hand, or creating one that consistently advances the plot of the over-arching story in an intelligent direction on the other hand. The former is often too disconnected from the original story (think Crocodile Dundee 2), while the latter is often boring (think Star Wars 1-3).

It takes a very good storyteller indeed to deliver a series that is consistent in both storytelling and action.


Good Arguments For Healthy Choices

To me, one of the most interesting aspects of health and fitness is the fact that everyone knows what's good for them, and hardly anyone actually does it.

Why not? Clearly the benefits of health and fitness are indisputable. Working out regularly and keeping yourself physically fit will extend your lifespan, protect your body against age-related physical degeneration, preserve your balance and agility deep into old age, prevent dementia, and give you something to do while you enjoy all those extra years tacked onto your life. Eating a healthy diet, by which I mean a diet well supported by the medical literature, such as the DASH or Mediterranean diets, will prevent weight gain and everything that comes from weight gain, including diabetes, heart disease, bad-fitting clothes, premature death, and so on. I'll add that a healthy and varied diet will also expand your flavor palette, enabling you to enjoy a wider variety of foods than you would if you just stuck to chicken nuggets and fries like a four-year-old.

But so what? It's not as if anyone doesn't already know this. The problem isn't a lack of knowledge or a lack of supporting evidence. The problem is that people would just rather binge-watch Netflix series while eating chicken nuggets and fries like a four-year-old, even despite knowing they're killing themselves.

People don't need more or better knowledge to make healthier choices. Instead, they need more compelling reasons to change. Below, I've compiled a list of reasons why I think people ought to eat healthy and work out. Maybe these reasons aren't enough to convince you, but they're the best reasons that came to my own mind.

Do it for the children.

Like it or not, your children are going to grow up to be just like you. So, if you have body image problems, a bad diet, and an antipathy to exercise, so will your children. You, alright? They learned it from watching you!

Children want to do everything their parents do, at least until they discover that it's hard. If you spend your family time watching TV, then that is what your children will believe constitutes "family time." If instead you spend your time hiking, biking, or playing board games, then that's what your children will learn "family time" is. When your child becomes a teenager and doesn't want to do anything but watch TV and play on the internet, don’t ask yourself why your child became such a bum. Instead, admonish yourself for teaching your child that down time means staring at a screen.

As difficult as it is for some parents to believe, children will learn to eat anything that's put in front of them. There is nothing genetic about the fact that Indian kids like samosas and Japanese kids like gyoza and Italian kids like ravioli. Kids around the world come to prefer whatever they eat most often. If you discover that your child only ever wants to eat mac-and-cheese, ask yourself how often you serve mac-and-cheese. Stop serving it; stop ordering it at restaurants; stop allowing your child to demand mac-and-cheese. Then, sit back and watch as your child, as if by magic, learns to acquire new favorite foods.

Furthermore, if your child watches you engage in emotional eating, negative self-talk, binge-snacking, and constant grazing, then guess which habits your child will develop. If instead you choose to eat well-balanced meals at scheduled mealtimes and strictly limit snacks and treats, guess which habits your child will adopt then.

So maybe you don't have enough desire to turn over a new leaf for yourself. But unless you want your child to have all the health and fitness struggles you have, you ought to do it for them.

Being Healthy Is Glamorous.

Pretty much the easiest way to command attention in a room full of people is to be extremely healthy. That might seem surprising to some people, considering the fact that working out takes time and effort, but consider the alternatives. Most people who command this kind of attention do so by being well-respected leaders in their fields, which means they've invested countless hours and dollars in schooling, pursuing perfect grades and a flawless resume, with a good dose of luck along the way, across decades of their lives. Compared to that, going to the gym every day and eating your vegetables seems almost trivial.

Of course, many people are glamorous simply because they're attractive. There is a genetic limit to how attractive a person can be, but every factor that is within your control involves diet and exercise. If you want your clothes to fit better, diet and exercise. If you want to find fancy new clothes that will make you look attractive in public, diet and exercise. If you want to take appealing photos of yourself and post them on social media, diet and exercise. If you don't want to do any of that, and would prefer to simply marry into a glamorous family, well how do you think you'll be able to accomplish that? You either need money, power, or attractiveness. And considering the costs, diet and exercise is the single easiest and most effective way to get there.

Glamorous people, of course, are glamorous even on their days off. They look glamorous when they're wearing pajamas or lounging around in board shorts. How? By diet and exercise.

Any way you slice it, when it comes to glamor, the most effective way to achieve a modicum of glamor without having to invest decades of your life in career success or hitting the genetic lottery is to eat right and exercise.

Being Healthy Is Fun.

Time and again, when I talk to people who resist the idea of diet and exercise, their resistance generally comes down to the notion that eating right and working out isn't as fun as eating pizza and watching TV. I think this is nonsense.

For one thing, I'm not even sure whether it's neurologically true. Exercise releases endorphins, triggers and satisfies opioid receptors, produces endocannabinoids, releases dopamine and serotonin, reduces physical sensations of pain, and increases your sex drive. The combination of all of this is enough to clinically alleviate depression, anxiety, PTSD, and ADHD. How many other ways of spending 20-40 minutes of your time can accomplish all of this at the same time?

But for another thing, consider what this argument implies: It implies that eating cupcakes and spending a night out drinking is more fun than wingsuit diving, downhill mountain biking, open water swimming, mountaineering, ice climbing, skateboarding, intramural soccer, pickup basketball games, and so on.

I certainly understand that there's no accounting for specific tastes. If basketball isn't your thing, that's fine, and also beside the point. I don't know anyone who doesn't envy a wingsuit diver for flying through the air like Rocky the Squirrel. I don't know anyone who wouldn't like to breathe the air of the Himalayan Mountains at least once. I don't know anyone wouldn't like to try riding a bike through the landscapes of Moab, Utah, or going skiing with the beautiful people in Aspen, Colorado. Even if a few of these things don't interest you, there is always something.

There is always something that people desperately wish they could accomplish that involves physical fitness. It doesn't matter which specific thing it might be for you, personally, it matters only that for some people, physical fitness is the only barrier between them and their dreams.

Consider that, dreams! There is no way cupcakes are worth your dreams. There is no way that eating a Baconator-a-week is worth a dream. We all understand this, and maybe achieving a dream is a lot of hard work and involves willpower that many do not have.

But to argue that smoking cigars and being 300 pounds is more fun -- as several of my acquaintances have argued -- than eating right, exercising, and being able to skydive or hike to the top of a mountain in Jasper, Alberta is complete and utter nonsense. Doing the things that you can do when you're fit is the most fun you will ever have.

People Remember And Value Experiences Over Things.

I don't remember where I was when I ate the best pizza I've ever had. In hindsight, there are a few restaurants that might be able to claim the title, but I have no way of knowing for sure, short of retracing my 40 years of pizza-eating across countries and continents and then trying to remember it all again. The truth is, the best pizza-related experiences I've ever had had nothing to do with the actual pizza. I loved The Factory in Logan, Utah because my sister recommended it to me, and my friends and I had a lot of fun hanging out there. I loved Pizza 73 in Lethbridge, Alberta because they had funny cooks who made jokes with me when I placed phone orders. I loved Lorenzo's Pizza in Ottawa, Ontario because my wife and I used to go there when we were dating. Every great pizza has a corresponding fond memory that has nothing to do with pizza.

Which means, my love of pizza has nothing to do with pizza. You could have taken away the pizza, replaced it with oatmeal, and let the memories play out otherwise the same way, and my love for pizza would become a love of oatmeal. (Actually, I do love oatmeal!)

There is nothing you remember having eaten and loved that is not in actuality a memory about the people you were with, the peripheral experiences you had, and the time of your life in which you experienced it. This is, after all, the reason addiction specialists insist that recovering addicts get new friends. It's not merely that the old friends are bad -- often they are perfectly good people -- it's just that addicts have to learn how to have experiences without associating those experiences with the addictive substance.

And people who are convinced that Thanksgiving is wonderful because of the food are idiots. You can buy turkey and serve pumpkin pie any time you want to. Why, then, do you reserve it for a special occasion? The answer is, of course, because Thanksgiving isn't really about the food at all.

Compare that to getting in great shape, buying a daring bathing suit, and going to Cancun where you can show your body off. Again, it's not the bathing suit that you'll remember, and you'll probably not really remember what Cancun was like, either. But you'll remember being in great shape, you'll remember turning heads, and you'll remember any passionate night that came from that.

And suppose you opted instead to summit Everest or run in the Boston Marathon. You'll remember those experiences, those sets of experiences, far more than you'll ever remember The Greatest Doughnut Anyone Ever Brought To The Office.

If you want to fill your life with great memories, skip the doughnut and train for the beach. Or the marathon.


The Power Of A Watch

As of yesterday, I'm training for a half marathon.

There is no great story or project attached to this. It's quite simple, really. I bought a new running watch, and I'm having lots of fun with it. Part of the functionality of the watch is the ability to import training schedules from Garmin's online platform to the watch. I searched for a half marathon training schedule that seemed to work for me, found an upcoming half marathon to train for, scheduled the workouts, exported them to my watch, and away I went. Really, it was just another way to play with my new watch.

What I think is great about this is the fact that virtually anything can be a good excuse to try something new. If something as silly as a new watch can get me excited about running a race, well, that's just fine. I love little motivating things like this. I've heard stories about how certain famous songs were written, and they often begin with the songwriter having been out somewhere, having seen something that stuck out for him/her, and having decided to write a song about it. We often get the impression that people who do things do them for grandiose reasons. I wanted to accomplish something great! I wanted to set a world record! I wanted to give the world a powerful message! That can be very inspiring, of course, but it's just as fun when something meaningful grows out of a simple experience or observation.

Not that training for a half marathon is extremely important or meaningful. On a personal level, it will take a few weeks of time and effort on my part, of course, but it's not something that anyone else necessarily ought to care about. It's just something I've decided to do, inspired by something relatively meaningless, and that makes me laugh a little.

This "Level 3 Half Marathon" schedule, made available by Garmin's affiliates, is a relatively challenging schedule. It's rare to come across schedules that are designed for people who are better-than-beginners. This schedule seems quite good, actually.

One thing I noticed about it is that, since it is designed around timed runs and heart rate zones, my weekly running mileage will probably increase. I've been going out on fast, five-mile runs, 32-33 minutes at a time. Those are fun runs, of course, but when my schedule tells me to go for a "40 minute run in Zone 2," that's still five miles or more, but it's a recovery run. I come out of a run like that feeling much more refreshed and ready to do more. Consequently, the schedule has more to do: Tuesdays and Thursdays are two-a-day running days, with a recovery run in the morning and a speed workout in the evening. And then, of course, we have a weekly long run. So, that's still six days of running per week, which is what I generally try to stick to, but it's eight workouts instead of six, and very comparable per-workout mileage. I might end up running as much as 50 miles per week under this schedule, which is about a 15-20 mile lift.

I may have to cool the P90X a bit while I do this. Training hard as a runner makes it hard to also train hard as a Beachbody enthusiast. But in a way, that's what the shorter P90X programs are there for. I intend to try to keep up with a P90X3 regimen -- the 30-minutes-per-day version of P90X -- while I do this. That ought to keep me in good muscular shape, with good flexibility and balance, while I train harder as a runner.

All this, because I got a new watch.


The Pedant's Fallacy

When you're trying to be persuasive, the best way to tell whether you're up against insurmountable opposition is to analyze the points on which people disagree with you. If people stay mainly on-topic, then there is hope of having a productive conversation with them. If people stray from the topic at hand and instead focus on disputing the particulars of your arguments, then you may as well stop talking and go for a soda.

I'll call this "the pedant's fallacy." The pedant's fallacy occurs when someone attempts to defeat a narrower aspect of an argument in order to discredit the larger point.

The classic example of the pedant's fallacy is when someone harp's on another person's spelling or grammar in an online debate. This happened in a debate I was a part of the other day. One person made a claim; a second person said, "That makes no since;" and a third person chimed in only to correct the second person on his spelling of the word sense. The third person was committing the pedant's fallacy. The second person's argument might be right or wrong, but the veracity of his argument has nothing to do with his accidental use of "since" in place of "sense."

Another common form of the pedant's fallacy is to dismiss an argument if its supporting evidence is supplied from Wikipedia.
Person A: "Wikipedia tells me that eating mustard oil causes heart disease."
Person B: "Well, Wikipedia isn't a reliable source of information!"
Notice that Person B didn't address any argument about mustard oil or heart disease, he simply started a new argument about the integrity of Wikipedia as a source of information. If Person A allows herself to be drawn into that new argument, she'll soon discover that if she loses on that one point, Person B will assume that he's proven something about mustard oil and heart disease. But he will not have done so, and this is precisely what makes his argument fallacious.

Keep in mind, however, that there is no point telling the pedant that he has committed the pedant's fallacy. Most likely, he'll just argue about that, and then you'll be even further away from the topic you began discussing in the first place. It's absolutely vital to understand this. People who commit the pedant's fallacy are not interested in the core argument you're making. What they're interested in is shutting you up and making you feel wrong.

By contrast, people who actually want to have a discussion with you will have no problem staying on topic, because they're interested in the topic itself, even if (or possibly because) their position is opposite yours. You never have to worry that someone who is enjoying the conversation will harp on your spelling or the integrity of your sources until that becomes material to the over-arching debate. Then and only then will they bother to make a big deal of it. They'd rather just respond to your material arguments with material countervailing arguments of their own. That's how a good discussion unfolds.
Person A: "I don't think America will build its immigration wall, because as Churchill said, 'Americans will always do the right thing, eventually.'"
Person B: "I think America will build its immigration wall, because populism is at an all-time high and anti-immigrationists are electing more Congressmen these days."

Person C: "That's not what Churchill said! You got that quote completely wrong."
Needless to say, only Person A and Person B are having a real conversation here. Person C is just an asshole.

It's important to acknowledge what drives a person to the pedant's fallacy. Mostly, it's a form of laziness. It takes hard work and careful thinking to construct persuasive arguments that overturn someone else's carefully constructed, persuasive arguments. It's much easier to harp on their spelling and grammar, the historical accuracy of one of their points, and so on. It's easy to be tempted into the low blow when you're not really committed to the discussion in the first place. If you don't have the time or attention to give to someone's argument, you might be tempted to defeat them the easy way and get out clean before you sink all your time into a protracted debate. But you'd still be committing the pedant's fallacy.

It's also a snarky way to appear very clever. If someone produces five different scholarly journal articles that substantiate their point, and you find a problem with one of the sources, you can certainly bring it to their attention. But to use that one bad source as a refutation of the other person's entire argument is pedantic and mean. One bad source doesn't defeat a good argument. Furthermore, it's not enough that even all of the sources are bad if you haven't taken the time to put forth good sources and a good argument yourself. This kind of snarkiness enables a lot of bad arguments to persist. If you're so clever, then you ought to be able to defeat an argument on the merits of your own position, not on the questionable sources of the argument you're responding to.

If someone says, "Based on Source X, I believe that Statement Y is true," it's not enough to say, "Source X is a bunch of crap." That doesn't respond to the person's argument. You could instead say, "Source Z refutes Source X for the following reasons, and these reasons support the rejection of Statement Y." That's a material objection. Or, you could say, "Source X seems to say the opposite of what you're saying; why do you think it supports Statement Y?" That's a material question. But to object to Source X without any further argument is stupid, even if Source X is ridiculous.

So, there are some attractive reasons to resort to the pedant's fallacy, but we should still resist the urge. If you disagree with someone's argument, you should choose to engage them or not. What you should not do is engage them only on some narrow act of pedantry and disregard the broader part of the argument. That's not a nice way to talk to people.


Run Fast, Run Safe, Be Social

I've said many times that running faster is safer and causes less injury than running slower. From the beginning, my rationale has been that slow running, or "jogging," is an unnatural gait that, because it is so unnatural, puts strain on the body while you run. Awkward movements tend to be riskier than intuitive, natural movements, and thus put the runner at greater risk of injury.

Now, Runner's World magazine summarizes recent physiological research that finds slower running makes stress fractures more likely. The reason isn't the "unnaturalness" of the gait, per se, but rather the fact that slow running corresponds to higher ground contact times. Higher ground contact times correspond to more frequent stress fractures. Here's how the article puts it:
The researchers found that it wasn’t running at fast speeds that causes the most tibial load. In fact, it was the slowest-paced running that resulted in the most strain. That’s because when the runners went easy, they took shorter strides, and thus were on the ground more often than when they were going fast. That meant that there was more opportunity for impact, since the runners were hitting the ground more often.

Running at a normal, or moderate, pace actually caused less cumulative tibia load than running the same distance in fast or slow speeds.

Everywhere I go, people try to tell me that running is bad for bones, joints, and ligaments. The research, however, is absolutely clear. High impact exercise, like running, increases bone density; running strengthens the ligaments and attached muscles, too, making them more durable and less prone to age-related atrophy. And runners experience no greater incidence or severity of joint degeneration compared to non-runners. Every argument against running as a supposedly "dangerous" or "harmful" form of exercises has been exploded by science.

Meanwhile, researchers consistently find that fast and natural running gaits minimize the risk of running-related injury for runners of all ability levels. The bottom line is clear: If you take the time to learn how to run properly, it is an extremely safe and healthy activity; perhaps even one of the healthiest.

And the great thing is, running is cheap and accessible to anyone. Unlike other endurance sports like cycling, would-be runners don't need to invest thousands or even hundreds of dollars in running before getting started. There is not much in the way of required equipment. A $25 pair of Payless running shoes and some Wal-Mart workout clothes can get you going in under $50 of overhead. And if you already own a smart phone, then you already have all the technology required to enjoy some of the deeper and geekier aspects of running, such as GPS tracking and social media.

Now might be a good time to remind readers that you can access my Strava profile via the "How's My Pace?" box on the right-hand panel of this blog (add me!); you can access my SmashRun profile and get one of your own at this link; you can access my Garmin profile and join one of my Garmin groups here. I'll also add these links to the About Me page for ease of future access.

Run fast and be social, folks!


Physics In Fantasy Novels

Open nearly any fantasy novel, and one of the first things you'll see is a map of the territory. These maps are usually divided into the relevant domains: either they will show each kingdom or nation within the novel, or they will show various landmarks and places where "the elves" live, and "the dwarves" live, etc.

What strikes me about these maps is, although they cover the full world relevant to the novel you're reading, they don't depict a world. That is, they do not depict a planet. The concept of a planet is non-existent in fantasy literature, of course, because the idea of a planet is out of scope. The characters have no intention of sailing around the globe like Ferdinand Magellan, so all the maps really need to show you is where the elves live, how far that place is from the farm where the main characters grew up, and perhaps a few mystical, magical landmarks they are sure to encounter as they travel. It may also be of benefit to show where the evil demons come from, far beyond the great mountains to the north, or whatever. But there is nothing beyond the elves, and nothing beyond the demons, because anything further than the boundaries of the map is outside the scope of the novel.

This should work out fine, all things considered, except for the fact that fantasy novels are usually about the fight between the Most Evil Thing In The Whole World, Who Is Trying To Conquer The World and the good guys, whoever they are. If your story is about an evil thing that's trying to take over the world, and your map only covers a small area that can be spanned on foot or perhaps horseback, there is a gap in your story, comprised of the whole entire rest of the world. What happens over there? Why isn't the great final battle between good and evil happening over there, off the map? And if nothing's happening way over there, then why not? Why aren't those people suffering from the evil that's trying to take over the world?

Meanwhile, the characters still chart their directions using the stars. It's not as if this is an imaginary flat Earth. They're obviously making some use of planetary alignment; there is still a sense of physics going on. The authors merely pick and choose which laws of physics can be obeyed and which cannot.

This is not inherently a problem, except for the fact that if one's book isn't written well, then violations of the laws of physics start to seem arbitrary. If the Great Evil One has cast the land into permanent winter, and there exists a whole society flourishing on the other side of the furthest ocean on the map, we're left wondering why those folks don't just send some help. If the good guys can travel through space using a magic doorway, why do they ever bother walking anywhere at all? If magic can heat and light and heal, then why does anyone bother farming, chopping firewood, lighting torches, etc.? What determines the rules that must be followed in order to account for both great power and the rarity of that power? If the answers to such questions are too arbitrary, then the story itself becomes disappointing and unrealistic.

But, it's a catch-22. After all, it's not the business of a fantasy novel to build an alternate physics. That's more like science-fiction, and there is clearly a difference between fantasy and science-fiction. Besides that, some mystery about how black magic works makes black magic more appealing. If you understand exactly how everything works, then it's not compelling anymore.

What determines the right mix of world-completeness and fantastical mystery? How much of the responsibility is on the writer, and how much on the reader? It's a difficult balance to strike.


Libertarian Fairness

Classical liberalism arose in an era in which kings ruled and everyone else simply obeyed. Rulers and royalty believed that they had a divine right to make all the decisions within a society, and everyone else was resigned to curry favor in order to extract what little bit of self-governance they could squeeze out of the king. As philosophy and economics developed, it became obvious to the learned that leaving people alone to pursue their best sense of wellbeing just so happened to make any kingdom more prosperous. Eventually, the rulers of Western Europe realized that leaving their subjects to the greatest level of freedom possible also happened to produce the best and most prosperous outcome for the rulers themselves. We all know this story relatively well.

We could also tell a story about the same set of events using the lens of "fairness." In a world in which the subjugated are idiots and only the royals know what's best for society, the fairest outcome is that in which the rulers make the best and most reasonable proclamations. As subjects become more educated and less idiotic, fairness demands that they also enjoy some participation in the decisions of a nation. As the education and capability gap - and indeed even the wealth gap - between ruler and ruled becomes even smaller, then fairness demands that all people face more or less the same laws as all other people. Hence the end of monarchy and the rise of egalitarian democracy. Liberalism isn't only more prosperous, it's also fairer.

This brings us to about the 19th Century, when humankind started to apply concepts of fairness to concepts of prosperity, i.e. economic equality. Many people believe it to be unfair that some of us end up millionaires while others remain working-class. Few of us pity the middle class, but the middle class will always have expenses to worry about, while it is the perception, at least, that millionaires don't have to worry so much about expenses. (I think the point at which a person no longer has to worry about money is actually several million dollars into it, but for now let's concentrate on popular opinion rather than absolute accuracy. It is enough to say that there exists a class of millionaires who do not have to worry about money, unlike the middle and working classes.)

So, some of us have to worry about money a lot, while others of us do not have to worry much about money. Part of this comes down to different life choices; for example, someone who becomes a school teacher will never make as much as someone who becomes a heart surgeon. In a fair world, we're allowed to pursue different life choices as long as we are willing to live with the consequences of those choices. But another part of our wealth differences comes down to heredity. Some of us inherit an awful lot of wealth, and thus begin their lives with more prosperity than working class people will perhaps ever be able to earn, even if they make nothing but good choices for a hundred years straight. This inequality over the luck of being born doesn't seem fair to most of us.

When that unfairness is coupled with great financial hardship - such as crushing medical debt or the inability to afford decent housing - it's natural for some people to consider the merits of wealth redistribution. Perhaps taxing the very wealthy for the benefit of the very poor could alleviate more suffering than it causes. If so, society can gain, both in terms of fairness and in terms of prosperity. If it were possible, it would be a win-win: the poor would have much of their suffering alleviated while it would cost the wealthy comparatively little, and yet poor and wealthy alike would stand to gain from the benefits of a more egalitarian society, and perhaps a more prosperous one.

In the abstract, that all seems right. In the real world, however, we already live under a well-established regime of progressive taxation and wealth redistribution. This is true in every country I am aware of. Despite that fact, in every country I am aware of, there exists some debate about whether "the rich" should pay even more taxes and whether "the poor" should receive even more redistribution. The best answers to these debates, in my opinion, appear to be empirical. That is, we can analyze with reasonable accuracy the impact of variously imposed tax rates on economic behavior and determine relatively robustly which tax and redistribution rates are better, compared to others.

None of those economic analyses, however, can address the question of fairness.

For about a hundred years, libertarians and their precursors have been alone in the opinion that the wealthy should have some say as to the fairness of any wealth redistribution proposal. Most moral analyses will tell you that it's only morally fair to give money to a beggar who asks; it is only libertarianism that is willing to consider whether it might be immoral of the beggar to ask in the first place. It is most certainly only right-leaning strands of libertarianism that would suggest that the person being begged-from has a moral right to refuse.

This moral right to refuse is something that gives libertarians a bad name. We're often thought to be heartless and cruel because we believe that it's not fair to demand that the wealthy pay literally any tax rate approved through a democratic process. It's not that libertarians think that the poor should suffer, of course, it's just that many of us don't think it's fair to subject the rich to literally any tax rate, no matter how high.

Even some libertarians are uncomfortable phrasing it that way. Many would prefer to talk about the deleterious effects of high tax rates on the economy, or the non-existent benefits and ill effects on the labor market of wealth redistribution. They would much rather say that wealth redistribution is harmful rather than simply unfair.

The cynical explanation would be that libertarians are greedy knaves who want to keep all their money for themselves. This explanation fails mainly because few libertarians are millionaires, and the vast majority of millionaires are non-libertarians. There is something about libertarians that makes us keen to defend the rights of those whose tax burden is steepest on grounds of fairness.

What could it be?


Book Review: Robert Jordan - “The Path of Daggers”

As in the previous installment of the series, “The Path of Daggers” is noteworthy mainly for how little actually happens in the book. In particular, the first 200-300 pages of the novel are excruciating, as we wait for an event that probably should have happened at the end of “The Crown of Swords” instead. I understand the need for suspense and build-up, but that’s not what’s going on here, and hence the frustration of almost everyone who reads this book. This isn’t 200-300 pages of character or relationship development, it’s 200-300 pages of utter poppycock.

The book does, thankfully, get a bit better after that, although I repeat, nothing much happens in the book. Rand becomes monomaniacal, Min behaves well, Faile behaves badly, and women in general stare pointedly at each other and sniff.

That latter thing is becoming ridiculous. There are two main sources of conflict in the Wheel of Time series. One conflict is “the Dragon Reborn versus the Dark One.” The other conflict is “women acting haughty and mean, staring at each other until one of them cracks, and plotting against each other.” I like intrigue, and some of the earlier novels were interesting in that regard. But it grows tiresome to read about a staring-match between two haughty women on virtually every page. Not every female-to-female conflict in the real world is haughty or catty. Not every woman in the real world is plotting against all the other women in her life. Not every conflict between women can be resolved by having them stare at each other until one of them sniffs or loses composure. And yet virtually every such conflict in the Wheel of Time series plays out that way. What was a strange aspect of Aes Sedai culture in the first couple of books has become a pervasive and crazy depiction of all women everywhere. It unfortunately serves to undermine the credibility of every female friendship in the novel. I keep wondering what Elayne and Nynaeve and Birgitte and Egwene all even see in each other, because there is very little actual friendship depicted between any two of them. And it’s boring, besides.

There are some bright spots here. I enjoy the relationship between Min and Rand, because it seems genuine and it seems they both really do enjoy each other’s company without one of them always yelling at the other. (Guess which gender is always yelling at which.) Despite Rand’s growing foolishness - and who in the world wants to read about a foolish savior? - it is still fun to read about magic and great battles. Perrin is still a great character, and I enjoy reading about him, too. 

Still, if someone were to ask me, “What is ‘The Path of Daggers’ about?” I’d be forced to say, “nothing much.” Seven hundred pages of nothing much. When do we get to meet more of the Forsaken? When do we get to find out the difference between the True Power and the One Power? Why is that one female character capable of using saidin? What happened to Mat? All of these questions should have been either answered or addressed in this book, and they simply were not. What a waste.


Frameworks, And Their Problems

As a long-time blogger, I have more than my fair share of experience with frameworks. For my purposes here, I'll use the word "framework" to apply to any systematic conceptualization of an issue. A framework is any structured way of looking at anything at all, any narrative that does the job of conceptualizing the matter in a way that makes it easier to think about.

To use plainer language, human beings have a tendency to do their thinking via the use of stories. The Big Bang Theory isn't just a set of laws about physics, it's a narrative that tells the story of the creation of the universe in a way that can be absorbed by ape brains. Before we had the Big Bang Theory, we had other theories about the creation of the universe, and most of them really were stories, written in storybooks, which characters who said dramatic things like "Let there be light!" Over time, as we learned more about the universe, we spent less time on those stories, and eventually replaced them with a new one. It would not surprise me at all if we were eventually to replace the Big Bang Theory with a new narrative, one that does a better job of narrating the earliest moments of the universe. Should that come to pass, it, too, will be told as a story.

Stories are useful for what they describe, and useless for what they do not describe. This sounds obvious, but the importance of it is not obvious at all, so I will illustrate with an example: Comic books from the 1950s are really useful for telling cool stories about magic superheroes; but they're really awful, completely useless, for telling stories about how men and women should treat each other. Comic books from the 1950s are broadly sexist, by today's standards, and possibly even by the standards of the 1950s. People still read those old comics from the so-called "Golden Age," but they don't read them in order to learn about gender relations. The only reason anyone reads old comic books is to enjoy cool stories about magic superheroes. These comic books serve that purpose very well; but we shouldn't use them to explore civil equality unless we're looking for a What Not To Do manual.

*        *        *

Back to my main point: frameworks are useful for describing what they describe, and useless otherwise. Yesterday, I mentioned a possibly racist Scott Sumner blog post. That an example of a framework poorly matched. The "strongman" hypothesis of Donald Trump's political success may be a useful framework for analyzing the current presidential administration - it's not my preferred framework, but I have seen people use that framework to make good points. But the "strongman" hypothesis is not a good framework for describing the results of public opinion polls among Hispanic Americans. It's important to use your framework only for its purpose, to avoid extending it beyond its usefulness, and to only apply it to new subject matter experimentally. (That is, maybe it would be interesting to apply the "strongman" framework to a physics problem or a problem in psychology - but also maybe not; feel free to experiment, but remember that it is only an experiment, and be ready to reject what you find as readily as you might accept it.)

Being wrong is one way that a mismatched framework can cause problems. Being confusing is another way. This latter thing is arguably much worse. For example, this AOC congressgirl recently presented a policy wish-list that attempts to apply the Socialism framework to the Environmentalism problem. One reason this attempt is problematic is that it is wrong: there is probably not enough taxation and redistribution in the United States to change the course of global climate change, especially considering that the major polluters today are in other countries, such as China and India.

Like I said, the mismatched framework is bad because it's wrong. But more problematically, it's bad because it's confusing. If people come to believe that climate change can be solved by merely passing legislation then we won't stop climate change at all. Climate change is not a political problem, of course, but a science problem. It may also be an engineering problem, since technology must be invented to clean our air and our oceans and to establish more environmentally sustainable ways of housing human beings and processing our waste. It might even be true that legislation can help direct us toward addressing the science problem or the engineering problem - the reader knows where I stand on that, but let's concede that it's possible. Even though it's possible, climate change is still fundamentally a science problem that must be conceived of in a scientific framework and solved through a story about science. Not a story about legislation. Our environmental problem is not that too few people understand politics; it's that too few people know how to do the kinds of science and engineering that we need to stop climate change. We'll never get there without the right framework, and time spent on the wrong framework is confusing us.

*        *        *

We also experience frameworks for dealing with our every-day lives, and thus we experience the same kinds of pitfalls as they pertain to our individual relationships.

Take your sibling, for example. Early on, you developed a framework for understanding the thoughts, feelings, and actions of your brother or sister. To the extent that this framework was accurate and did a good job of explaining your relationship, it was useful. One day, though - or, more accurately, over the course of many years - your sibling grew up and became a new person. It would be foolish to attempt to explain the actions of your adult sister by referring to a childhood framework about her motivations, based on how she once played Monopoly with you.

That's extreme, but we don't have to rely on extremes. It would be foolish to apply the framework you built that explained your brother's drive to be a high school varsity football player to your 40-year-old brother's recent divorce. If you want to apply a framework to your brother's recent experiences, then you need to learn about what he's been through lately and find a framework that explains those experiences. In short, you need to accept that your adult siblings are not exactly the same people you grew up with, that they have been shaped by the years, and that the old frameworks never apply.

Failing to do this will cause relationship problems. The map has to match the territory, as the saying goes.

*        *        *

An additional problem arises when we try to apply macro-frameworks to micro-problems. Consider how wildly inappropriate it would be to analyze your relationship with your sister using the framework of climate change! It sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?

Why, though, do we not hesitate to apply the feminist framework to the child-rearing problem? Why do we become so entrenched in our feminist framework (or, equally, our anti-feminist framework) that we work to make our children an incarnate representation of our beliefs about gender equality?

Why do we attempt to indoctrinate our children in any such ideology, forcing them to behave in accordance with what we see as universally and morally right? Why do we pat ourselves on the back and tell ourselves that we're good parents when our children repeat our own nonsense back to us for approval? Why do cry out in anguish when our children grow up to develop their own ideas about morality and behave in accordance with that new set of morals, so different from our own? Why do we consider that a failure? Why do some parents consider it a failure if their children grow up to gay, or Democrat, or atheist, or a lawyer, or…?

The answer is simply this: We've mismatched the framework and the problem. Child-rearing is not an ideology problem, and so should not be understood using an ideology framework. Parent-child interaction is not political, and so it should not be understood using the framework of politics. Indeed, I'll even go this far: raising a child is not a spiritual problem, and thus cannot be understood using a religious framework.

I'm not saying ideology, politics, or religion are bad; I'm saying that those frameworks only apply to ideological, political, or religious problems, respectively. Using religion to understand child-rearing is as erroneous as using religion to understand a physics problem, and the results will be similar.

Nor can you use these macro-frameworks to solve any of your other micro-problems. You can't get a promotion at work using an ideological framework; how would that even work? You can't mend fences with an old friend using a religious framework; god may have told you to forgive, but nobody told you to steal his lawnmower. You can't pay your weekly grocery bill by thinking about red states vs blue.

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Frameworks are highly attractive, because narratives are the way human beings understand the world around them. Despite all that, the application of frameworks comes with deep pitfalls with respect to matching the correct framework to the correct problem. Not only must we choose frameworks that accurately reflect the problem we're trying to solve, as measured by the usefulness of the framework to describe that problem, we must also apply the right level of framework to the right level of problem. At best, choosing the wrong framework will result in a wrong solution, and your problem will go unsolved. At worst, though, choosing the wrong framework will cause persistent confusion that will render your problem unsolvable.