We live in an era of specialization. The college athlete whose major matters not, limping through hollow classes so long as they are available for the game on Saturday. The computer programmer who can’t do a pushup. The high school freshman who has to choose between algebra and welding. The pre-schooler who already has to pick “their” sport. At age 5, the stars have already aligned and foretold their future as a wrestler, basketball player, soccer midfielder or offensive lineman. We pipeline ourselves into these cute little niches that define us forever and ever.
The Journal of Hand Therapy recently did a study of hand strength among early 20's men and women, finding that it had decreased by significant amounts when compared to a similar study conducted in 1985. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26869476 I saw a fitness blogger assailling the results of this study with the proclamation that we are no longer raising men. Modern men aren’t even as strong as their mothers were 30 years ago! http://www.nationalreview.com/article/439040/male-physical-decline-masculinity-threatened Also noted by NPR are findings that today’s youth require 90 seconds longer to run a mile than they did 30 years ago. 90 seconds over the course of a race that can be covered in under 4 minutes is pretty substantial, don’t you think?
As a society we are growing weaker and slower. Significantly so, in both respects. The movie “Idiocracy” would have us believe that we are progressively over-reproducing among the lower IQs and less educationally-achieved segments of society, creating a progressively worsening socioeconomic slant toward rampant stupidity. The Huffington Post references a study in which society is purported to have lost an average of 14 IQ points since the Victorian era. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/22/people-getting-dumber-human-intelligence-victoria-era_n_3293846.htmlhttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/22/people-getting-dumber-human-intelligence-victoria-era_n_3293846.html. Additionally, intelligent and educated women demonstrate trends toward reduced fecundity as they focus on work outside the home. I don’t want to state that this leaves the burden of reproduction on less intelligent or capable women. I’ll allow you to think about that for yourself.
Weaker, slower and dumber. We’re doomed.
For some reason, we’ve decided that certain body types should do certain things. The big guy is supposed to be a laborer, drink heavily each night and be quick to violence. The big, dumb animal. He is supposed to be mentally incapacitated by a surplus of testosterone. The word polysyllabic is not in his vocabulary, nor are many words which are polysyllabic. Mongo, from “Blazing Saddles” comes to mind. Or most of the players from the 90's football film, “The Program”.
Similarly, the nerds, geeks and scientists are supposed to be the frail, thin victim. ”Revenge of the Nerds” anyone? I love those movies. Though Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking teach us that the nerds win in the end, but why does the process have to be mutually exclusive? Why can’t people belong to both clubs? I’ve taken graduate-level courses with college football players (not many of them, though). The chief hospitalist at my hospital was one of the greatest high school, and college athletes that Montana has ever produced. He still has high school records in basketball, football and track. And he went on to become a physician.
These people exist. It is possible.
Why does the myth of the essential dichtomy persist?
Can you not hit the gym before the textbook, or vice versa? I work out at a gym where virtually every member has at least a bachelor’s degree. There are doctors, dieticians, nurses, engineers, teachers. The list goes on. People who value the health of their bodies as well as their minds. All. Day. Long. The concept of the Renaissance Man is not lost in this room. Men, and women, who can crush you with the might of their intellect as quickly as with the strength of their fists.
These people are not average. In any way, shape or form. I’ve argued about BMI as an indicator of health person-to-person, rather than as a measure of population-level norms. As a person in nearly the best physical condition, from both a strength and cardiovascular perspective, of my life — who still has a BMI that hovers between merely overweight and obese, I take issue with BMI when it is used to describe individuals, rather than society. The people in this room have BMIs that average a little higher than normal, ode to the heavier than average muscling they’ve beaten themselves to acquire. All of the college and education required every bit as much labor as their biceps. A room full of humans with elevated BMIs and IQs.
I love this room.
“A man can do all things if he but wills them.” ~ Alberti, circa 1400s
What of our will? When did we quit? When did it become sufficient to know math, but not write, to joust but not rhyme? Why is it acceptable to be the center on the football team but lack the mentation to differentiate to, two and too? Or there, they’re and their? Can the brain not contain a wrestling takedown and calculus? Can it not process math and poetry?
I always joke that my hours at the gym keep me off the belltower, prevent me from being an overt social deviant and stave off a truly reckless drug habit. Healthy bodies and healthy minds coexist fruitfully. One of my old Air Force buddies had to step away from medical school after he quit working out and his sanity eroded behind it. We have to take care of our bodies and our minds. They are symbiotic.
I’ve seen the mind wither as the body dies, not from age, but from abuse. The alcoholics and diabetics whose mind grows polluted by ammonia, or literally withers and shrinks from decades of alcohol abuse. The other direction is a little harder to prove, and requires you to patch the steps together more delicately. When the body declines, the erosion of the mind can be easy to correlate and the connection is quite linear. When the mind dies first, you have to examine how you could have prevented that loss before examining the effects of its absence.
Allow me to propose that ongoing learning staves off mental decline. A study of Alzheimer’s patients found onset to average 4 years later among those who were bilingual http://www.alzheimers.net/12–11–14-bilingualism-delays-alzheimers. Consuming cold water fish and the associated omega-3's is good not only for the body, but the mind — averting physical decline further still. Physical decline in the absence of appropriate neural stimulation is intuitive. Healthy body, healthy mind. Healthy mind, healthy body.
Perhaps my logic is circuitous because the entire argument is? This is an instance where the truth is a wheel.
I’m in a room full of people who embrace this wheel. Scholars and academics, learned adults who have mastered complex professions and persist in maintaining their bodies.
These are the Renaissance Men and Women. Those who accept the complexities of the world and endeavor to be as complicated as possible — because they will it. Denying convention and expectation, mastering their minds as well as their bodies. Knowledgable of health, math, science and society. Verbally capable, literate. Able to jump tall buildings, squat a car and drink a 6-pack over educated political discourse.
These are my people.