Discussing The Pre/Trans Fallacy Applied to Diet/Exercise

Normally, I start a post with a snazzy picture as a means of attention; instead, I’ll define what the pre/trans fallacy is. Ken Wilber developed when referring to the path of enlightenment and how cluttered and mistaken people can become:

The idea is simple: since both pre-rational and trans-rational are non-rational, they are easily confused. And then one of two very unpleasant things happens: either you reduce genuine, trans-rational, spiritual realities to infantile, prerational states; or you elevate childish, prerational seniments to transcendental glory.

While Ken applies this to human development, referring to stages of consciousness, I’ve been looking at how it might apply to diet and exercise. My philosophical concern with being involved in the paleo community is that references to what grok did could turn into a pre/trans fallacy. In other words Grok  didn’t eat paleo because he knew it made him healthy; it ate that way because he had no choice.

The notion of returning to the earth, the backlash against modernity and the disease it has wrought upon us, the loss of wisdom gained from ourselves and our experiences is not unlike the Romantic movement of the 1800’s:

Precisely because the German tradition strove so nobly and so mightily for Geist and Spirit (which is to its everlasting credit), is was open more intensely to confusing prerational bodily and emotional enthusiasms with transrational insight and awareness. Blood and soil, return to nature, and noble savages flourished under the banner of a Romantic return to spirit, a recapture of the lost Ground, a return of the hidden God, a revelation written in blood and etched in the flesh…

So how do we apply this idea to eating and exercise? An example of grok being healthy, as I noted above, has nothing to do with some sort of cellular, inherent wisom, just as the narcissistic naivete of children does not mean they’re enlightened little buddhas. The flip side of the coin is that there are genuine scientific discoveries that are being reduced  or ignored. ASP, GH not meaning dick, nutrient timing…I’ve seen discussions of these reduced to, “those are nice, but as long as we’re eating like Grok, they don’t matter.” There are fat low carbers, and there are lean carbos who aren’t distance runners…and there’s everyone in between.

So how can we integrate this all? Perhaps thanks to the economy, tech junkies are starting down the other sides of the mountain, getting more from current tech rather than throwing on more tech. So, we know whole food is good and we can’t have health without the majority of our diet being from this, but we have science that shows us how our body works, why Grok was healthy, and how we can manipulate these hormonal reactions/states to our advantage, even if that means using some sucrose post-workout, or learning that you likely won’t need extra carbs if you’re not trying to get more muscular or are an endurance athlete having depleted glycogen.

As an expansion (really, I awoke the next morning fired up the finish this and full of ideas) let’s look at training, specifically training modalities across a large population. First, here is a bog standard bell curve:

Bog Standard
Bog Standard

Notice that the outliers, the 2.1% on either end of the graph have a roughly even distribution, or visually, the shape of the graph is the same. When one starts training to get into better shape, what is the advice given? Usually something along the lines of, “Train total body, mostly compound movements, get stronger.” So that’s the start and improvement occurs; a little strength, a little muscle, maybe a little fat loss. Improvement slows as you end up in the middle 95% of the curve…you’ve reached a “rationality” of fitness like the majority of the individuals who train. The advice becomes more complicated: split routines, specialization for sport, programming, mobility work, intensity techniques, “Do concentration curls to peak your biceps”… some of this is great stuff, and some of it is crap (namely the peaking bicep nonsense) but you gain immense amounts of wisdom through experience. If paying attention, body knowledge is gained, knowing which exercises are productive, which techniques help, and what to leave behind. If diligent enough, one eventually slides down the opposite side of the curve, ending in the last 2.1% and how might this person be training? It will resemble beginner advice, namely basic compound movements. The difference here is that this person has experienced every level of training development, so the reasons why they train like this look nothing like the reasons why the beginner might train this way, save for one thing: the movements are productive.

I can see someone pre/trans-ing (sure I’ll use it as a verb) this, missing the point, but that’s why I expanded upon this. It is easier to discuss gross-body aspects of this when talking about training, as feelings are the feedback. The diet portion deals with levels of information and trying to balance new discoveries and “ancient wisdom” on no particular line. This is mostly because nutrition is rather infantile at this point, but I like to talk about it anyway.

So, how else can we apply this? Did you find this helpful or thought provoking? Would you like an expansion upon these ideas?

3 thoughts on “Discussing The Pre/Trans Fallacy Applied to Diet/Exercise

  1. Insightful post. I just recently dove into the Paleo online “community” and began learning about the theories that are advocated.

    The biggest turn off that I have seen thus far is the exclusionary nature of most of the online proponents. It seems that the line, or at least my interpretation of the line, has been blurred between doing right and being right.

    Several times I have had similar thoughts to your analogy about Grok. Specifically, the exclusion of everything not time-specific to Paleo. I hope we can all agree that we have come very far since then.

    Similarly, I’ve often thought about the reaction some would have if something non-Paleo were found to be unquestionably health promoting.

    I don’t know. Not sure if this is the direction you were going.

    Too often, people fail to learn lessons from being exclusionary. When you exclude something, it becomes your focus. Intended or not. When you INCLUDE something (as in, whole foods etc.) you are excluding as a byproduct. Therefore, your focus remains on that of which the matters; the inclusion.


  2. GriffinS,

    I don’t think paleo/primal ‘followers’ necessarily only eat foods that are time-specific (especially since all plants have evolved vastly since those times, as well as some animals) – the point is to reflect on how the foods that have entered the human diet and the lifestyles we now live have resulted in the obesity epidemic, and horrifying increases in instances of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. So much of the diseases we now suffer have been firmly linked to grains (primarily processed grains) and refined sugars, and the damage caused by linking these with fats, particularly poly-unsaturates.

    Something non-Paleo found to be unquestionably health-promoting? How about modern medicine. As if we’re going to turn up our noses at necessary medical assistance and procedures. We also know that it’s near-impossible to get all our nutrition requirements from diet alone, so we use supplements.

    I don’t mean to speak for all people who eat a whole food/paleo/primal diet, and use the continuum of scientific findings to support and guide their personal life choices (rather than simply believe what Ronald McDonald tells us is healthy), but offensive generalisations are incredibly ignorant and shouldn’t be promoted unchallenged in permanent, searchable form.

    Try looking into Mark Sisson’s ‘The Primal Blueprint’ – far less exclusionary than you propose, and very much focused upon what we can learn from the science and how we can use it to get the most out of life and ourselves today.

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