A couple of years’ worth of Saturdays ago, I was lying on the sofa in my sweatpants, playing testosterone-raising first-person shooter Bulletstorm, when the doorbell rang. I opened it to find a man in a trenchcoat on the doorstep.
‘Hello,’ he said. ‘I’m a Jehovah’s witness. Your girlfriend said I should drop round at this sort of time, because you’d want to talk to me.’
Firstly: this is the sort of thing that makes my girlfriend so amazing. Secondly, I actually did want to talk to him, and we chatted for an hour (he had to leave). Here’s why:
I think that you always need to question your assumptions, and you should always be ready to consider new ideas. If I believe in anything, it’s science, by which I mean the scientific method, by which I really mean that when you’re looking for new ways to understand the world, you should base it on things that are empirical and measurable. But I don’t understand science as well as I could, and one of the best ways of finding the holes in my knowledge is working out things I can’t explain to someone who believes the old testament is literally true. For instance, I’m pretty good on ‘Why hasn’t a monkey evolved into a human yet?’ (we aren’t evolved from monkeys, we share a common ancestor with them), ‘How would you start evolving an eye?’ (probably starting with something like a light-sensitive cell on the back of a prehistoric fish) and ‘How could a wing evolve by random chance?’ (it doesn’t, because evolution isn’t random). But when David asked why there are no giraffe fossils with medium-sized necks, I was pretty stumped. It turns out that there are, and that the no-medium-sized-necks thing is just something propagated by Creationists. So bingo: David helped me reinforce my knowledge. Lovely.
Now: you probably don’t believe in talking snakes and the ark, but this is important stuff everywhere else. Take training: depending on whether you read Starting Strength or Born To Run first, you might decide that strength is a fundamental part of being human and that strength training is the best form of exercise…or you might decide exactly the same thing about running for ages. If you read Gary Taubes’ very good and persuasive Why We Get Fat you’d probably learn a lot about insulin spikes and fat storage, but you might end up deciding that exercise is completely worthless in determining bodyfat levels, which ignores the GLUT-4 hormone and isn’t really true. And if you just read one book about the paleo diet or intermittent fasting you wouldn’t have enough of a critical mindset to evaluate either.
I’ve read books that I thought were brilliant, and done workout plans that sounded amazing, and they turned out to be nonsense. Thankfully, I don’t believe in them any more. If I didn’t question my assumptions, I might still believe in them, and be using them. Thank goodness I don’t, eh?
HOMEWORK: Pick something you really believe in (eating paleo, being a Mormon, the effectiveness of Krav Maga, being an atheist) and read something that argues that it’s completely wrong. Can you explain why you disagree with whatever you just read? If not, work it out.