Where's my habitat?

TBZKQDAYX5JP In each weekly issue, Sports Illustrated runs a clip called “This week’s sign of the apocalypse.” It’s usually some outrageous gem of stupidity or incompetence, a sporting equivalent of the Darwin Awards. Of course, there’s plenty of material to choose from in today’s world, particularly in the world of “health and fitness.” For this week’s sign of the apocalypse, I nominate Newsweek’s July 28 issue, “The Science of Healthy Living.”

You’ll recognize the issue straight away on the news stand: plastic see-through bodies, entirely without background, context or life support. The cover imagery is ickky enough as it is, but it’s the content, or lack of content I should say, that really tells the story. The main feature, “Keys to a Healthy Life,” is pure boilerplate, a photocopied version of the techno-pharmaceutical model that permeates the world of modern medical “care.” According to Newsweek, the “keys to health” turn out to be tests and screening. It’s all about uncovering incipient disease and channeling people into the care of an expert class for control and treatment. Aside from recommendations that children brush and floss their teeth, there’s almost nothing on lifestyle, behavior or relationship on any level. If people would just submit to full-body scans on a regular basis, they would be “healthy.”

The exercise recommendation is spectacularly uninspiring: A pathetically bored doctor from Harvard Medical School writes of his treadmill-and-TV workout, as if this were some sort of solution to our physical malaise. Apparently, this is as much as he expects from his mind-body and its encounter with the world; just grind out the mileage and hope that the TV will distract you from the unpleasantness of a body in motion.

But the real story in this feature was complete and total absence of reference to earth, land and habitat. Not one word about the living world. Not one word about exposure to the elements. Not one word about forming a relationship with the land that gives life to the body. Not one word about community, tribe or human contact. These things, apparently, are too far removed from the anatomy chart to be taken seriously. According to Newsweek, the body can and should remain in a laboratory where it can be measured, tweaked and manipulated. Then, if we can repair its malfunctions, we can declare it “healthy.”

Newsweek’s take on health and the body is clearly pathological, even insane. No body can live in isolation. No animal can thrive without a life support system. Remove an organism from its grounding habitat–even symbolically, metaphorically and intellectually–and it will begin to feel unease, anxiety and ultimately, disease. The proof is only a few pages away from Newsweek's feature story itself: on page 36 we read about “Death on Our Shores,” the continuing creepy saga about the black hole at the bottom of the ocean.

So the question we must put to ourselves and the editors at Newsweek: How does your body feel when you hear about the devastation in the Gulf and other threats to the biosphere? If you’ve got a pulse and even a modest sense of context, you just might feel it deep down in your gut, in your mind and in your tissue. You can bet that you'll experience changes in your biochemistry, your neuroendocrine profile and your serotonin system. Your plastic brain will change the way it manages your body. Your disposition and attitude will change too, with ripple effects that cascade to the most remote outposts of your body.

This is not some sort of mystical, hippie-quantum physiology. This is a real cause-and-effect process that is backed up by hard-ass, evidence-based research. Mind, body, land and health are intimately connected. You can pretend that mind is separate from body or that body is separate from habitat, but if you do, you'll perpetuate a dangerous falsehood that is profoundly health-negative.

Newsweek has perpetrated a work of spectacular ignorance. The time has come to acknowledge the earth-body connection. The time has come to integrate ourselves back into the fabric of the land. We are of the land. This is where our health begins.

Technological triage

Computers make it easier to do a lot of things, but most of the things they make it easier to do don't need to be done.Andy Rooney

The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers. Sydney J. Harris

You are my creator, but I am your master. Frankenstein Mary Shelly

You may be surprised to hear this, but I hate my Mac. I hate everything about it. It has all the things I loathe in a computer. It’s fast, it has a huge memory capacity and it runs all the major applications smoothly and efficiently. It hardly ever crashes and I can take it everywhere I go. The battery lasts a long time and I can plug it in and get the Internet just about anywhere. The OS is sleek and easy to operate. “So what’s to hate?” you’re sure to ask. “Isn’t this precisely what people are looking for in a computer?” Actually, the “success” of my computer is precisely what I dislike about it. Not only does it perform the essential functions that I need to make my way in the modern world, it also performs thousands of non-essential functions that I can just as well do without. But it’s all so easy, my laptop sucks me into projects that don’t really need to be done and lures me into tasks that don’t really need to be addressed. It keeps my vision centered on a single point in space and keeps my posture in a static position. Worst of all, it keeps me indoors and destroys my relationship with the natural world. Slowly but surely, my Mac is killing me, sapping my vitality and distorting my relationship with the real world. The first Macintosh was introduced in January, 1984, the first commercially viable personal computer to feature a mouse and a graphical user interface. But now, as we look back, we find that the bright and shining promise of the digital age is turning out to be a delusion and the dark side is becoming more apparent with every passing day. Some of us are now beginning to realize the truth–that the only thing worse that a slow computer is a fast computer. The only thing worse than Windows is Snow Leopard. The only thing worse than Snow Leopard is Word Press. And the only thing worse than Word Press is the iPhone. And the only thing worse than the iPhone is Facebook. And the only thing worse than Facebook is Twitter. It’s all distraction, diversion and delusion.

labor generation

Back at the dawn of the digital age, “visionaries” claimed that the computer would be a highly effective labor-saving device that would free us from untold hours of drudgery. No longer would we be shackled to our desks, writing down numbers and words by hand until the middle of the night. We’d be granted a wide open vista of easy living, free to pursue our favorite leisures, hobbies and fascinations. Boy, were they off the mark. If the computer is anything, it’s a labor-generating device, a labor multiplier. By virtue of its multi-function capability, it actually gives us more work to do than we would otherwise have. All computers have done for us is to replace one kind of drudgery with another, less physical form. Surely some of us have been freed from some types of repetitive labor, but for every case of technological liberation, we’ve created a hundred cases of technological enslavement. As computing technology has invaded every last corner of human activity, even the smallest acts of physicality have been stolen from our lives. Techno entrepreneurs like to call this “innovation,” but its really more of “technological incarceration.” In fact, we can be sure that the felons in the big house actually go out to the exercise yard once a day, while the rest of us stay glued to our screens for weeks, months, years and decades. Computers remove the body from almost every creative process. I could take notes by hand, but the machine is more efficient. I could make a sketch to illustrate what I’m trying to say, but the machine is faster. I could walk down the hall and have an actual conversation with a real person, but it’s easier to simply text. Little by little, our bodies are removed from every process and every profession. As physicality becomes increasingly irrelevant, we become disembodied brains. In the process, our health and vitality disappear. In the end, the “digital lifestyle” is turning out to be more of a “deathstyle.” The disembodying effect of computers becomes ever more powerful as the technology becomes easier to use. Direct mental control of the cursor is only a few years away and then where will we be? No need to even push the mouse; just direct your concentration at the pixels in question. The “innovators” will tell us that this will make our lives “easier” but why should we accept this claim? This “innovation” will be yet one more nail in the coffin of the human body and the human spirit.

amusing ourselves to death

It would be one thing if we had the discipline to use our computers strictly as labor-saving tools. It would be one thing if we used them to streamline our lives and free us to live some authentic dream of true experience. But no, we use our digital devices, not as tools to free ourselves, but as a place to go when the outside world becomes unpleasant, onerous or confusing. Like drunks seeking comfort in the bottom of a bottle, we compulsively lunge for our keyboards, ready to escape whatever it is that ails us. Once logged in, we are free to loose ourselves in a bottomless world of visual distraction. Ultimately, we find ourselves on a path towards addiction and denial of the world around us. As amusement machines, computers pave the way for decreased engagement with the natural world as they distract us from matters of genuine importance. This is a trend forshadowed most notably by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World (1932), but also by media pundit Neil Postman in Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985). Sitting at the computer has become the default position for “work,” or more correctly, the “apparent work.” For those who don’t know what to do with their time but who want to appear busy, the computer is the perfect hide-out. As long as you keep looking at your display, you’re safe. No one can call you a slacker if your eyeballs are glued to the screen and your hand is on the mouse. How many millions of people hide out in front of the keyboard each day? How many hours are wasted in digital posing? Is the computer the new ostrich hole for the overwhelmed and stressed-out modern?

opportunity costs

Computers are bad enough in what they do to us directly, but they also extract a toll by displacing vital, health-giving life experience. Like junk food that displaces genuine nutrition, computers displace essential human experience and engagement with land, animals and people. Even if computers were entirely neutral in their effect (they are not), they would still harm us by taking us away from our bodies, the natural world and face-to-face interactions with real people. In the world of economics, opportunity cost is the value of the next best alternative that is forgone as the result of making a decision. If, for example, you spend time and money going to a movie, you cannot spend that time at home reading a book. If your next-best alternative to seeing the movie is reading the book, then the opportunity cost of seeing the movie is the money spent plus the pleasure you forgo by not reading the book. All decisions have opportunity costs, computer use included.

“smart phones” aren’t

Of course, no diatribe against computers would be complete without a shot at the so-called “smart phone” industry. Supposedly, these devices “liberate” us from our desks and the need to be “tied down” to any particular place. But connection to place has been an integral part of human experience for the vast majority of our time on earth. Every primal culture has embedded itself in land and habitat with sensation, action, narrative, song and culture. Separating ourselves from the land is a radical act, an experiment, a shot in the dark. We simply have no idea what “freeing ourselves” from the land will do to body and spirit. Epidemics of attention problems suggest we are making a big mistake. We can observe the dislocating effects of “smart phones” by watching the spectacular inattentiveness of pedestrians on the street. Cell phone users become nearly blind to their surroundings, oblivious to danger, sight and ambient sound. Public health officials have now documented an increasing number of cases in which pedestrians have been involved in auto accidents, their spatial and situational awareness blinded by the cell phone. Just as the desktop computer sucks the life out of our muscles, “smart phones” suck the life out of our senses, our awareness of place and our ability to interact with other people in face-to-face settings. The actual damage may seem insignificant, but the displacement costs are immense. Every hour on the “smart phone” means one hour less in conversation or engagement with the real world. It means one hour less experience in realms that have defined human life for millions of years. And in this respect, these digital devices steal our humanity and our lives.

warning labels

The time has come to re-classify the computer industry and label it for what it really is. Some nutritional activists have advanced the notion that high-fructose corn syrup and trans-fats are “the new tobacco.” Maybe so. But it’s time to realize that computers belong in the same category. Apple, Google and Microsoft are wrecking our bodies just as efficiently as RJR Reynolds and Coke. Maybe we need to start talking about “digital tobacco.” Instead of worshipping Apple, Google and Microsoft as our saviors, maybe we should start talking about the hazards of “Big Digital.” And yes, maybe it’s time to start organizing a class action suit against corporations who peddles these products to consumers, with harsh penalties for those who promote “the digital lifestyle” to kids. This is not hyperbole. This is not satire. It is no exaggeration to say that computers constitute a genuine public health hazard. And so, the comparison becomes inevitable: All computer products–hardware and software alike–ought to come with warning labels: “Long-term use of this product will cause sedentary behavior and will contribute to a host of lifestyle diseases including obesity, diabetes, heart disease and physical apathy. Use sparingly.” You think I’m kidding? The day will come.

computer ed reconsidered

When we take a hard look at the pathological effects of computers, we begin to realize that our educational institutions are completely missing the point. That is, most schools and colleges now operate under the unquestioned assumption that it is essential to “teach students how to use computers.” And so we see entire curriculums built around digital “how-to.” No one doubts this sort of educational offering; every institution now boasts dozens of computer classes at every level. But given what we know about the health-negative effects of sitting for weeks, months and years in front of a keyboard, our educational objective really ought to be reversed. In other words, our goal should be to “Teach students how to not use computers.” In other words, we ought to teach students the intelligent use of digital devices. Students must learn to ask the right questions: What are computers good for? When is it appropriate to use a computer? What are the drawbacks? When is it better to use traditional materials? When is it better to simply turn away?

triage

Of course, this whole discussion poses a nasty conundrum. Computers, for all their body-sucking, health-destroying qualities, are not going away any time soon. Our culture has become so infected with digititis that escape now seems nearly impossible. If we want to get anything done in this world, we have to sit down and drive the mouse; even the most committed Luddite must spend some time at the keyboard if he is to have any chance of relevance. And so, it’s time to make some hard decisions about what we’re going to do with all those digital tools in our lives. Shall we be the masters or the slaves? The problem is difficult, but not unsolvable. There are things that we can and must do: First, look to eliminate all the trivial and optional amusements that are now possible on the computer. Start by abandoning the “fake work” that is so popular in modern homes and offices. This includes all the optional tasks that really don’t need to be done: downloading cute icons, fine-tuning your screen saver and over-clocking your processor are things that can wait. Just as obviously, the games have got to go. There’s simply no justifiable reason to be playing a computer game when there’s so many other kinds of games that we could be playing. Computer games not only wreck our bodies, they steal the very soul of human imagination. Next, eliminate those projects that, however valuable, will become sink holes of time and effort. Sure, you could launch a new website with lots of engaging content, like videos of your cat. But that will take hundreds of hours and worse yet, the “success” of your site will only serve to suck your readers deeper into their own digital morass. Instead, reserve your computer time for those projects and tasks that hold some prospect for genuine advancement of your essential interests. Treat your time on the computer as if it were costly. What if you had to pay $100 per hour for time on the keyboard? Wouldn’t that bring a little focus to your efforts? When it comes to allocating computer time, it pays to be ruthless. Ask yourself: Do I really need to be sitting here at this machine? Am I sitting at the keyboard to advance some essential task that will enhance the quality of my life? Or am I trying to look busy? Am I making some kind of difference in the world or am I simply avoiding some difficult challenge? Finally, when you’ve run out of options and are forced to push the mouse, make your screen time as short as possible. Do this by learning the programs and polishing your skills. Learn the key strokes. Find the work-arounds. Buy whatever code you need to make it go smoother, but triage that too. Don’t spend 5 hours learning a program that will save you 3 mouse clicks. It just isn’t worth it. And one more thing: think twice about heaping digital work on your friends and colleagues. Sure, it’s easy to send out links to bottomless web pages and interminable YouTube videos, but what kind of favor is that? All you’ve done is instill a sense of obligation for your friends to remain locked onto the screen. If you really want to do your friends and colleagues a favor, let them get back to some kind of authentic human experience.

computers aren’t us

Triage, skill and discretion are essential, but these are only steps in the right direction. What we really need is to change our basic relationship with the digital realm. Most importantly, we have to stop identifying with computers, operating systems, digital devices or for that matter, any consumer product or corporation. To say, “I’m a Mac guy” is just as perverse as saying “I’m a Windows guy.” Stand up for your humanity. You are an animal, not an OS. You are a flesh and blood creature, not a brain on a chip. You are a wild and creative spirit, not a batch of code to be run on command. Get your identity straight. The computer is a mere tool and a dangerous one at that. Save yourself. Stand up for your life. Step away from the machine.

Standing up for standing up

"When we turn our back on physical activity, we turn away from more than just health. We close our eyes to the story we carry within us."

At long last, someone gets it. Finally, after all the dodging and weaving and primping and profiteering, a courageous writer has stepped up to tell the catastrophic story of the modern human body. Mary Collins, a former athlete who was busted up in a bicycle accident, used her rehab time to take a good hard look at our lost physicality.

Along her journey, she visits the land of North America's early hunter-gatherers, studies the origins of the bicycle and looks at assembly line work at a potato chip factory. (A particularly ironic story in which factory workers sacrifice their health so as to help other people ruin theirs.) Wisely, she focuses on Frederick Winslow Taylor and his philosophy of "Scientific Management." (Taylor redefined labor practices across America to become brutally efficient and in the process, increasingly body-hostile.)

Later, she visits the National Zoo in Washinton D.C. to compare movement patterns among a range of animals. She ponders the effects of urban design on movement and health, samples Tai Chi and delves into the mysteries of urban planning.

Collins sees clearly the widening gap between the super-fit and the barely functional: "How have we allowed ourselves to get to this point and why do we expend so much time and technology on the elite few and yet so little on solving the systemic problems that make it such a struggle for the masses?"

This is a refreshing piece of writing that is both both authoritative and personal. Collins digs into facts and data, but also exposes her feelings and opinions about health, personal responsibility and social dilemmas surrounding the body. She also reminds us of the tragic disconnection between our bodies and the natural world.

Through it all, she maintains a firm grip on the magnitude of our public health catastrophe and our steadfast refusal to take it seriously: "Our sedentary culture has the impact of a plague but we treat it like a cold."

This is a book that should be read by every PE teacher, school administrator, trainer, coach and physician.

Refined carbohydates: the new tobacco?

This week The International Diabetes Federation (IDF)  released new data showing that a staggering 285 million people worldwide have diabetes. Diabetes now affects seven percent of the world's adult population. The regions with the highest rates are North America, where 10.2 % of the adult population have diabetes. See the summary in Science Daily. Surprised? Perhaps we shouldn't be. Annual refined sugar consumption has risen from 20 pounds per person per year in 1850 to 160 pounds per person in 1996. This and other disturbing facts of modern dietary perversion are detailed in the book Primal Mind - Primal Body by Nora Gedgaudas.  This is a solid Paleo book that tells us a good deal about how our nutritional practices have gone completely off the rails. Gedgaudas does a great job of showing the immense contrast between our ancestral ways and the absurd diet of the modern world. In a nutshell, she's an anti-refined-carb crusader, but she has plenty to offer across the nutritional spectrum. By the time you finish this book, you'll find it nearly impossible to eat a refined sugar product and you'll avoid the center aisles of the supermarket like the plague.

Note: Gedgaudas advocates the use of nutritional supplements, a controversial practice among natural health practitioners. Her case is simple however. For those who have been metabolically crippled by chronic consumption of refined sugars and trans-fats (this includes most modern people) supplementation offers a way back to homeostasis and health. This is definitely worth a look.

Food, inc

If you're an athlete or health professional, you care about food. You want to know what's in it and where it comes from. Food Inc, gives us the background story that everyone needs to hear. It's everything you've suspected about industrial food production, only worse. The movie will make you cringe, but it's also inspirational in its own right. Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser and others come across as courageous advocates for a better world. See this movie, and visit the Hungry for Change website.

Get down

 

The highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence.

Rabindranath Tagore

Life at university, with its intellectual and inconclusive discussions at a postgraduate level is on the whole a bad training for the real world. Only men of very strong character surmount this handicap.

Paul Chambers

They teach in academies far too many things, and far too much that is useless.

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

 

I’ve heard it said that deep within the halls of academia, Ph.D. doesn’t really stand for "doctor of philosophy." Rather, it stands for "Piled Higher and Deeper."

It’s a funny quip, a splash of dark humor usually uttered by disgruntled graduate students who find themselves mired in an impossible and possibly irrelevant project that threatens to drag on until the end of time.

But this phrase is more than just a throw-away line for frustrating moments in grad school. It’s actually a disturbingly accurate description of a culture that buries itself in mountains of abstract information while simultaneously ignoring the basic fundamentals of living. It’s a reflection of the fact that, in our headlong pursuit of higher knowledge, we’ve lost sight of an even more important priority: the health and education of the human body.

pile on

When academics talk about piling it on, higher and deeper, they aren’t kidding. The mountain generated by modern universities has become so immense that it threatens even the imagination itself. Abstract, specialized knowledge is multiplying faster than anyone, even Google, can track, and most of it has little or no relationship to the art of living.

So what exactly are the abstractionists putting in the pile?

Well, lots of data, numbers, clinical observations, references, footnotes, narrow specializations and filler. Anything that will be accepted by a journal goes on the pile. It’s "publish or perish," so everyone scrambles to get something, anything, into print. It’s got to be important, it’s got to be significant, but most important of all, its got to be high and its got to be deep.

The pile has all sorts of pieces to it, but in essence, most of it consists of material generated by non-participating consciousness. If you want to get published, you’ve got to step back from the thing you’re describing. You’ve got to get your body, your emotions and your passion out of the picture. You’ve got to pose as an unbiased, independent and completely objective viewer of the thing in question. The body is an irrelevance at best and an impediment at worst. Tissue is not to be trusted.

Descartes would love our pile, of course. After all, he was the one who started the whole thing. Cogito ergo sum: I think, therefore I am. Over the last few centuries, the mind has become our cultural identity and the presumptive solution to all our problems: I generate immense amounts of data and abstraction, therefore I am. No matter how onerous our predicament, we can think it all out. Give us a problem and we’ll apply the force of rationality and reduction. Have a problem with the body and public health? We’ll figure that one out as well. We’ll grind away on the problem and it will eventually yield to our intelligence, our computers, our administrations and our spreadsheets.

For the most part, modern universities treat the body as if it was simply a locomotor device for transporting brains from one computer terminal to another. If we could simply dispense with bodies entirely, we’d do so in an instant. If we could plug our brains directly into the net and suspend our bodies in a vat of nutrients, we’d make it so. Judging from our priorities, we don’t care about a wit about the body, its experience, its joy or its fate.

deal with the devil

As a culture, we’ve created a system that leap-frogs the fundamentals of human living. Consequently, we’re raising an entire generation of human beings who know almost nothing about how to live in their bodies or in this challenging world.

We know to program in HTML, Java and Windows, but we don’t know how to cook or eat.

We know how to ace an SAT, but we don’t know how to move our bodies functionally and gracefully.

We know how to set up a wireless network, but we don’t know how to rest.

We know how to use a social networking site, but we don’t know how to hold an actual face-to-face conversation with a live human being.

We know how to give a PowerPoint presentation on particle physics, but we don’t know how to breathe.

We know how to install a clever ring tone on a cell phone, but we don’t know how to manage stress in our lives.

We know how to design and market biomechanically correct shock-abosorbing shoes, but we don’t know how to walk barefoot on the earth.

The Greeks would be appalled at our inverted sense of priorities and our blatant disregard for the basics of healthy living. So would the ancient Chinese. So would any primal people.

For the Greeks and the Chinese, higher education was supposed to be an extension of lower education, a complement to the health of the physical body. It was never meant to be a substitute for human physicality or real-world knowledge. They had a sense of proportion in education; we do not.

We see the proof of our inverted priorities in the grim statistics on the state of the human body and the immense toll of highly-preventable lifestyle disease: According to the World Health Organization, at least 1.9 million people die each year as a result of physical inactivity. In 2005, more than 35 million people died of non-communicable diseases including heart disease, diabetes, stroke, etc. Deaths from non-communicable disease are projected to increase by 17% between 2005 and 2015. The human body is disintegrating before our very eyes.

We have made a deal with the Cartesian devil and the bill is coming due. By elevating the mind and devaluing the body, we’ve created a situation in which both are at risk. A sedentary, neck-up education doesn’t just create atrophy in the body. It also makes the nervous system vulnerable to the effects of stress. Overworked, inactive bodies don’t learn very well and are less resilient under pressure. Atrophy in the body leads ultimately to atrophy of the mind.

In his legendary TED presentation, creativity expert Ken Robinson described the modern school system as an assembly line for turning students into college professors. Each school is a prep for the one that comes next in line, the penultimate goal being a Ph.D. No one questions the trajectory of this system. We take it as a bedrock truth of educational culture; the whole point is to climb the ladder of abstraction. But in the process, we bypass the very things that might save the human body from its current spiral into heart disease, obesity, diabetes and physical unhappiness. We leap-frog over physicality, movement, nutrition, cooking, conversation, story-telling, rest and creativity. If you long to become a Cartesian college professor, the system is ideal. But if you want to stay healthy, you are going to have to look for something lower, much lower.

welcome to lower education

Lower education is alive in some places, albeit on life support, usually in the form of non-profit or no-profit organizations. Boy Scouts, adventure schools, experiential education, some martial art and yoga schools offer hope for the human body and the human experience. These programs tend to be body-friendly and offer practical instruction in life arts. But still, these efforts are almost always labeled as "alternative," thus diminishing their value. They are considered "elective," or "enrichment," not really an important part of our cultural identity. They are beside the point.

So it’s time for an excavation. It’s time to dig down to the base of the pile and recover what’s been buried for far too long. So imagine if you will, an Institute of Lower Education, an educational program in the fundamentals of physical living. What would the curriculum look like? How would it conduct its mission?

The course catalog would include subjects such as "How to live in your body," "How to prepare and eat real food," "How to walk, run, dance and move," "How to sit still, breathe and manage stress," "How to hold a conversation, tell a story and hold a dialogue," "How to build a sustainable lifestyle," "How to understand and live in the natural world," "How to create community" and "How to heal your body."

slower ed

Not only would Lower Education offer instruction and experience in the fundamentals of physical and social living, it would also bring a completely different philosophy of education to bear. In "higher ed," every action is plotted on a premeditated, scripted timetable, with courses and exams scheduled according to administrative calendars, not the pace of actual human learning or environment. In essence, higher education is a race with the calendar. Exam preparation resembles nothing so much as a cognitive speed-eating contest in which contestants gorge on textbooks and lecture notes until their brains are ready to burst.

In contrast, Lower Education would also be a form of Slower Education. Many of us are familiar with the Slow Food Movement, the cultural movement that began in Europe, a philosophy that emphasizes quality ingredients, pleasure and community. Some people have even proposed a Slow Fitness movement that would embrace similar principles.

Similarly, Slower Ed would move at the pace of the human body, the seasons and the environment. This is not just a romantic, hippie notion about rejecting modernity and returning to the earth, although that might very well be a good idea. Modern discoveries in neuroscience tell us conclusively that learning works best in oscillation and in harmony with circadian cycles. Instead of lunging desperately towards exams and cramming short-term memory to maximum capacity, Slower Ed would seek to synchronize instruction with both internal and external physiology (the environment).

a both-and solution

Ultimately, Lower Education seeks to put the body on equal footing with the mind and in the process, rebalance our educational culture. For the Cartesians, this is a radical, counter-cultural proposal and objections will be swift and furious. Administrators will protest a lack of resources, a lack of funding and a lack of time.

On a policy-making level, our proposal looks like a zero-sum game. If you want more time for PE, health and community, its got to come from somewhere and that somewhere would be our Cartesian subjects. At first glance, it looks like a classic "either-or." Either we educate the head or we educate the body. Choices will have to be made. There are only so many hours in each day and so many days in a year. Giving to the body will mean taking away from the mind.

Nevertheless, there is a win-win here. If we start giving the body its due, the mind is going to work even better. Give the body what it craves, give the human nervous system a chance to absorb the mountains of data we try to stuff down its throat, and cognition will improve. Allow the body to flourish in relationship to the natural cycles of the environment and all sorts of good things will start to happen.

Thus our plea: give the body a place in this world. Honor it in schools and in the workplace. Allow it to move and rest and explore and play. Give it a chance to thrive in harmony with the natural world. If we can do this, we might not have to pile things on so high and so deep. And then, we can relax and live.

Right on the mark

"As a people, we have become obsessed with Health. There is something fundamentally, radically unhealthy about all this. We do not seem to be seeking more exuberance in living as much as staving off failure, putting off dying. We have lost all confidence in the human body."

"Nothing is more fatal to health than an overcare of it."

All you need to know about food

When it comes to talking sense about diet, nutrition and food, Michael Pollan is the guy to listen to. Not only does he clarify the history and problems of the modern diet, he also demonstrates a truly holistic approach to the body, one that shows that relationships are more important than things. Listen to this show: Michael Pollan Says: Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants