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Iterating.

Core to the human experience is that we are alive.  Living means we are in constant motion.  We are dynamic and not static. That is the essence of human being.

I am Justin Owings.  People who know me would recognize me not having seen me in years.  And while various affiliations and philosophies of mine have changed over the past thirty years, I think of my essence as still “the same” as it was five, ten, and fifteen years ago.  How is that possible?  How can I be one person at a moment in time (I’m casting a moment in time with this blog postright now) and a different person later (being literally comprised of different molecules) and still be the same Justin?

This metaphysical question is nothing new and as metaphysical questions go, final answers are hard to come by. I’m an evolving, living equation.  I’m alive and constant motion—change—is part of it.  I am me today as I was yesterday—changed but connected.

That we can change ourselves is an awesome part of the human experience because it means we can iterate on ourselves for as long as we live.  For that matter, every next thing you do sets in motion a new iteration of you.

This is the “zen” and power of now.  Now determines later.  And it’s a small decision now that can lead to a next decision later.  Add all these choices up and you can change who you are.

Become athletic.  Learn a new language.  Be healthy.  Build a better relationship with your spouse or parents.  It begins (or ends) with the decisions you make right now.

And whether you actively make these decisions or not, you are always iterating.  So pay attention and do.

(And watch out for decisions you’re making right now that reinforce behaviors you don’t like about yourself.  Behaviors tend to gain momentum!)

Do. Observe. Honestly.

Someone will say: Yes, Socrates, but cannot you hold your tongue, and then you may go into a foreign city, and no one will interfere with you? Now I have great difficulty in making you understand my answer to this. For if I tell you that this would be a disobedience to a divine command, and therefore that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe that I am serious; and if I say that the greatest good of a man is daily to converse about virtue, and all that concerning which you hear me examining myself and others, and that the life which is unexamined is not worth living—that you are still less likely to believe.

Socrates

The only means to understand our nature as humans is through doing, paying attention, and honest observation.

Doing, iterating, observing, deducing, over and over and over again.  Like  the mythical “happily ever after” there likely won’t ever be a time when you finally “get it.”  Your idea of what “it is” today before you’ve gone through the trials and tribulations of hundreds or thousands of iterations will assuredly change by the time you finally realize your ambitions.  But that’s how you work towards mastery, so acknowledge failure is a given, keep living on the plateau, and work work work.

Understanding our nature is an evolving process akin to the evolutionary foundation of being a living, dynamic being.

It is sometimes uncomfortably personal.

It requires observing our own behaviors honestly.  At least as honest as possible.  It’s hard calling ourselves on our own biases and half-truths, isn’t it?  (It helps to have friends who can be honest with us).  Useful observation demands we call a spade a spade, even when doing so isn’t politically correct or socially acceptable.

We’ve got to pay attention.  The goal must be kept in mind — it’s not to find the answer but to seek actively that which improves our individual lives.

And what works for me may well not work for you.  N=1 is just that.  And by the way, what improves your life today may change tomorrow.

Thankfully, if we commit iterating on our own lives, we’re assuredly going to discover a few things that make us better.

Being human is a grand opportunity to experiment. The only way to fail is never to try.

So let’s get to it.

The Big Picture (Beyond the Paleo Diet)

While I was not able to attend the Ancestral Health Symposium last week in L.A. I have enjoyed reading how it went down via various attendees including Richard Nikoley, Matt Metzgar, Frank Forencich, and others.

Like so many others who were fortunate enough to attend AHS 2011, I’m fascinated by diet and nutrition (and largely got into “adventures in diet, fasting, and self-experimentation” via Paleo). However, a comment made by Frank Forencich really resonated with me — and hits on an element regarding the mission of OEM Human. Here’s Frank on AHS 2011 (emphasis and links added are mine):

In general, the preponderance of the presentations were on Paleo diet concepts. Naturally, there were differences of opinion on details, but the consensus view was that the low-fat, high-carb diets of the late 20th century were a dreadful mistake. A string of presenters made it abundantly clear: refined sugars, flour and food products contribute enormously to our modern health woes. Vegetarian diets also took a hit: most agreed that vegetarian diets simply don’t provide adequate support for good health. The scientific data and clinical reports were impressive. I will never look at a loaf of bread the same way again.

Curiously though, the strength of the conference was also its weakness. That is, a first-time observer of this Paleo scene would surely have walked away with the impression that Paleo is almost entirely about food, diet and nutrition. There was no question: diet was the central focus of this event. In fact, the conference might have well been called “The Paleo Diet Symposium.”

This is where I take issue. Powerful as the dietary evidence was, it still came across as an isolated, mono-disciplinary specialty. Several presenters drilled the biochemistry down so deep that I thought they would come out the other side of the earth. And in this sense, it wasn’t really consistent with a Paleo world view. If we know one thing about native, pre-modern cultures, it is that their orientations were inclusive and holistic. Food was obviously important to our ancestors, but they would find our focus/obsession with food to be completely out of balance.

The full range of Paleo experience was simply not represented at the conference. As far as I could tell, there was little interest in the human connection with land, tribe or the animal world. (Refreshing exceptions included Mark Sisson speaking about play and Erwan Le Corre talking about natural movement.)

If you’re not familiar with Frank Forencich or Exuberant Animal, you should get acquainted. I read his book by the same name a couple years back and what struck me then (see the quotes on my review) still strikes me today: Frank sees the big picture and it’s not just diet. Frank’s present reaction to AHS 2011 actually is an echo of a prescient insight he had back when he wrote Exuberant Animal:

“I hear you,” agreed the philosopher. “The specialists have run amok. They do one thing really well, but they can never get to the other side of the oscillation. Fragmented disciplines, isolated studies. One trick-ponies. No one goes meta anymore. Conservatives are tightening the screws at every level. Multi-disciplinary studies are out of fashion and so no one can see the big picture. When you’re a specialist, taking the big view just isn’t part of your job description. and if you can’t see the big picture, you’re not going to adopt a rhythm. More likely, you’ll live and teach in a rut.”

The paleo diet is a powerful tool to drastically improve your health, which is why it gets so much attention. But what is it really? It is but a small piece of an overarching lifestyle — one founded on human nature from the ground up — and not human nature as we want it to be.

Narrow focus can make us blind to the big picture.

The whole failure-to-see-the-big-picture in the Paleosphere reminds me of another audience I serve — the community at BirthdayShoes.com. Here is a growing body of people empowered by simply freeing their feet. Mostly, anyway: how many fans of FiveFingers have actually run barefoot down the street? If barefoot is best, then some barefoot running is a given, right? I haven’t observed that being the case though. It’s hard to step outside and run down the street with naked feet — even when you know you could! Even when you think maybe you should.

Regardless of whether or not minimalist footwear fans have included a dose of actual barefootedness in their repertoire, the reason behind the success of minimalist footwear is that the human form is powerful when it’s natural functionality is exploited and not restrained. This is a big picture idea.

So why are so many missing it? Why are so many getting into the Paleo diet and not realizing that being human is more than what we eat. Being human is more than what we put on our feet. And it’s more than physical movement, too.

Being human is about how we live, our work, our families, our homes, and our relationships.

It’s the big picture.

FURTHER READING: There is no single cause of (or treatment for) obesity by Chris Kresser:

Those who’ve lost a lot of weight on a low-carb diet have a tendency to become convinced that their wife, friends, family, plumber and everyone else will also lose weight following the same diet.

From this personal experience, a belief is formed. And once we believe in something, we have a remarkable ability to filter out any evidence that might contradict that belief.

I am human.

The seeds for OEM Human were planted a long time ago. And like any idea, OEM Human continues to evolve. Below is a bit of the history behind the evolution thus far. It’s an evolution of my own perspective — my personal goal to understand “how things work.” Human beings are social beings that create economic and political structures, we’re animals with biological needs and requirements, and we have organic, dynamic, living minds. These characteristics (and others, as well) go towards defining our existence in fundamental ways.

I hope you will join me in striving to understand and improve our human existence.

I am a social animal.

OEM Human is the result of an insatiable itch to comprehend the complexities of human social constructs — the human element driving economics, politics, and social structures. This led me to create sites like the (somewhat busted and defunct) autoDogmatic.com, which focused heavily on individualist, anarchistic inspired political views, and ultimately resulted in spending a few years breaking news at the “ground zero” of the 2008 credit crisis through the “Implode-O-Meter” media franchise.

I suppose it was only a matter of time before this work felt like little more than “Folk activism” — preaching to the choir with no clear goal in mind.

I am a biological organism.

I took interest in the world of health and nutrition. Rather than simply being an academic, theoretical study, learnings in health and nutrition were immediately applicable and testable. Soon, I was “self-experimenting.” My experiments began with intermittent fasting (“IF”) and a “paleo” diet, which included a heavy dose of (perhaps misguided) low-carb eating. My health improved markedly and I was quickly hooked on the notion of applying lifestyle “hacks” to feel better, look better, and be measurably healthier. It didn’t (hasn’t) stop there.

Most recently I’ve experimented with IF and weight training cast against a time-sensitive macronutrient composition (LeanGains). Even more recently I’ve honed in on “flavor associations” as they drive a settling point through brain-food associations. The recent series by Stephan Guyenet and the lucid analysis by Todd Becker on flavor control and conditioning have been particularly helpful.

Beyond nutrition, what of the bone and brawn that make me strong? I’ve experimented with movements like CrossFit and being an iron-swinging, kettlebell snatching “comrade.” I’m indebted to the works of Erwan LeCorre of MovNat and Frank Forencich of Exuberant Animal. Mark Sisson of the Primal Blueprint is an ongoing source of information on both fitness and nutrition — and the individual who turned me onto toe shoes, which led to connect to the growing community of those who believe less (shoe) is more — our feet function fine on their own, thank you very much!

The things I’ve learned along the way could fill volumes and I’ve forgotten much. There’s just so much to know and understand. So much still to learn!

I have a mind.

Along the way I’ve learned about the human psyche and how we “stumble” on happiness, how we advance more by doing than thinking, and the empowering human capacity for reprogramming how we think and do. I’ve learned of the fallibility of the human narrative and the tendency to overstate control and misunderstand even our most private desires.

The more I learn the more I realize I don’t know.

I am human.

I’m not alone.

Along the way I’ve met many like-minded folk. I’ve learned much from these fellow travelers and as I’ve taken my fill of knowledge, I’ve found a growing desire to give back through sharing and spreading the things I’ve learned.

Because the discussion lives in the individuals around the world who are actively making changes in their own lives, what if I created a place where these stories could be shared? What if by aggregating these stories and advocating on behalf of the core ideas that bind us together as human, I could create something that would inspire others to rethink their own nature, and how that nature fits with a modern life?

Enter OEM Human.