Why Doesn’t Matter

Why Doesn’t Matter

I have an uncle who frankly does not have the best social mannerisms. He’s brusque if not outright rude and sort of aggressively avoids all of the niceties and pleasantries of normal conversation. But, you know, other than that he’s great. At some point when I was growing up, he started saying “I don’t do ‘why’ questions.” Obviously this was a way of avoiding potentially challenging conversation, but in an outlandishly off-putting way, it was also a way of avoiding bullshit conversations.

More and more I am growing to appreciate how much why doesn’t matter.

People are obsessed with why, despite the fact that most answers to “why” are utter bullshit.

“You should do a warm-up before your workout.”

Why?

“Well because one reason is that you need to warm up the joint fluids so they lubricate the joint better.”

Really? That’s interesting because there’s very little evidence that exercise significantly elevates joint synovial fluid temperature. You know what does increase joint temperature? Acute inflammation and degenerative joint disorders like rheumatoid arthritis. That’s ungood.

Does that mean you shouldn’t warm up? No, because we know from the sum of our experience that it usually just feels better if we warm-up. It just means that the “why” is bullshit and is a waste of all of our time to both recite and listen to.

Give or take a couple decades ago genetics was the answer to every “why” question with regard to development, disease, growth, health. Genetic determinism was the de-facto paradigm for thinking about everything, as the state of the art of the time was that genetic code almost exclusively determined outcomes.

Ooops. Turns out that was total horseshit and now we are beginning to unravel epi-genetics, literally using the Latin/Greek prefix for “around” because we’re lazy and can’t get unstuck from the genetic paradigm, and understanding that genetics are more like a Mad Libs than a script, maybe determining possible outcomes that depend on environmental influences. Want a real mind fuck? There’s plenty of evidence that not only the environment of the organism matters, but the environment of the parents. (If you’re curious, google Irish potato famine epigenetics.)

In fitness everybody likes to get all boned up about why. why. why. Why is the sumo deadlift better than the conventional deadlift? Why is a low carb diet bad? Why is a low carb diet good? Why does pain occur without an obvious injury? All sorts of explanations at various levels of mechanism are proffered most of which are utterly specious.

In an academic sense I am all for intellectual curiosity and exploring mechanisms.

But when it comes to practical application we do ourselves a great disservice in focusing even a modicum of attention on the “why” that could be focused on the what and how.

We really don’t understand the mechanisms that cause muscles to get bigger and stronger.

We understand very, very well what actions we can take to make muscles get bigger and stronger.

Are you familiar with the black box model?

In engineering, a black box is a device whose inner workings are unknown, but whose inputs and outputs are observable.

So we have no idea what is going on inside this black box, but we do know that if we put heavy exercise into it, we get stronger muscles out of it.

Taking this model a step further we know that each black box is slightly different, and slight differences in input will result in different outputs. In other words maybe one black box responds really well to heavy singles, but another responds best to heavy triples. The only way you can know how a specific box responds is by testing it individually.

Me telling you some trivia, that may or may not even be correct, about one of the mechanisms inside the box doesn’t get you any closer to knowing if you should do singles or triples to get the best output.

Even further, if you can’t specifically act on the mechanism then it’s TOTALLY useless! But you can always act on more input->output information.

With practice this will fundamentally shift your thinking for the better.

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