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ENDING THE ART VS SCIENCE DEBATE…

There are very few topics that are as erroneously divisive as science is. Although modern-society is well acquainted with controversy and disagreement, the surrounding confusion and subsequent pushback against the scientific movement, is mostly misguided at best. While the presence of many socio-political arguments in the public sphere are justified, the ever-existing debate on the topic of science and its validity is almost wholly unjust.

That is not to say that science doesn’t have issues. Without question, corruption does occur within research-institutions, and the extrapolation of preliminary science into mainstream media headlines is a persistent pathology that is yet to be resolved. However, these are issues within science, not the issue of science itself. Effective protocols need to be employed in order to minimise their occurrence, not the entire process of science being terminated (if that were even possible) due to the actions of a small and select few. Additionally, science is not an omniscient and all-conquering methodology, as it is occasionally suggested to be. Although, this is a moot point for the well informed.

As we endeavour to survive, and ultimately thrive as a species, we must recognise the power and potential of science. At this time, there is simply no other method of investigation and refined-learning that compares to the scientific process. Again, this is not to say that science is without its imperfections, but the notion that something must be perfect for it to possess demonstrable practical value is imprudent. Nothing is perfect. Waiting or expecting a perfect solution to be viable, is severely detrimental to progress when other propitious alternatives currently exist, behaviour typical of the anti-science movement.

The anti-science and science-mischaracterisation movements are undoubtedly harmful, on the net balance, to our progression as a whole. Axiomatic thinking and fallacious representations of what science is, and who conducts it, continues to induce and perpetuate conflict over points of trivial value in terms of improving the current landscape of society. This is not to say that comprehensive conformity is required, and the entire population must worship and surrender to the totalitarian-overlord that is science, but consent to proceed mostly unopposed would at least be a start.

While there can be sound rationale and beneficial attributes to opposing any cause, after a certain point, being unwilling to accept what is considered to be beyond reasonable refutation is an indication of dogmatism, not scepticism. While no “perfect answer” exists to every current we have, that is no reason to oppose movements that are producing progression, irrespective if it is not a casualty-free methodology.  “There are no solutions, only trade-offs” as Thomas Sowell eloquently stated. Science-denialism due to science being anything but a flawless methodology is a misrepresentation of reality and the manner in which the universe functions. Utopian ideologies and the practicality of reality are not the same thing. The longer and more forcefully the scientific movement is opposed, the more resources and time must be dedicated to proving its already well established value, instead of using those time and resources for the betterment of humankind. It is not the perfect solution, but it is the best current trade-off we have.

At this point, you may be wondering why are you reading about the political and societal consequences of opposing science. You just want to coach athletes or get bigger and stronger yourself, right?

The reasoning for this passage is because the sports, health and fitness industrie(s) are the embodiment of science mischaracterisation and misapplication. From overzealous, undereducated “health experts” whom focus-in on a singular aspect of physiology or biochemistry and claim things such as being able to cure Type 2 Diabetes with a Ketogenic diet. To the “functional movement” gurus, who typically have an almost unparalleled level of knowledge regarding human structure and anatomy, yet have such a myopic-worldview that they cannot integrate their knowledge into practically applicable training-programs or outcomes for general population and/or athletic clients.

Alternatively, consider the stereotypical, old school S&C coach axiom; “Coaching is half art and half science”. On the surface this seems like a plausible claim. Developing athletes not only requires an understanding of sports theory, but an ability to apply it, through creating buy-in and communication. While an understandable proposition, it is still an erroneous characterisation of what science actually is. Science is not just some theoretically optimal approach or answer, that only fails due to the flawed administration/adherence by flawed humans (the component which requires the aforementioned “art” to rectify). In the distilled down sense, science is simply a method of performing something, observing the outcome, learning, refining and performing again. Learning to communicate, create buy-in and apply “theory” are all behaviours that require trial and error, with feedback over time in order to improve outcomes. Additionally, there are thousands of scientific papers published on human interaction, openness and teachability. Even the “art” of coaching is founded on “science”. But that’s not the point, this should not be a debate over what coaching is, but what instead what it requires. Until we accept some basic premises, we will be stuck in an infinite discussion that focuses on the wrong issues.

The notion that art and science are separate entities is a false-dichotomy. For those unfamiliar with philosophy, a false-dichotomy is a logical fallacy that implies two things are mutually exclusive and something can only be one, or the other. Art and science do not have a dichotomous relationship and they are NOT mutually exclusive.

Consider the typical trademark elements of both:

– Science is exemplified by rigidity, textbook-theory and systematic process. It is often considered as the “black and white” that structures our world.

– Art on the other hand is exemplified by creativity, flamboyance and beauty. It is often represented as the “colour” of the world that fills in the gaps.

Superficially, these appear like accurate representations. Although with closer examination, we can assess that they contain much more homogeneity than the lay-person considers.

To illustrate this, contemplate some iconic names from each “field”.

Jimi Hendrix, the luminary musician and songwriter epitomised creativity, often being labelled as unconventional and unorthodox, while producing some of the most hauntingly beautiful music of modern history. Conversely, we have Albert Einstein, debatably the most famous scientist of all time (his E=mc² formula has in fact been voted the world’s most famous equation at least). A man who published over 300 scientific papers and progressed the fields of science-philosophy and theoretical physics exponentially compared to any of his predecessors.

Can we consider these men the exemplars of their respective fields? Hendrix; A man of art and creativity, and Einstein; A man of science and rigid process… All things considered, almost certainly not.

In order for Hendrix to become the world-renowned guitarist that he was, he undoubtedly had to spend hours of his life practicing and honing his craft. Although he produced pieces of music that were described as “brilliant’, “novel” and “ingeniously creative”, the sheer act of practice and refinement he performed prior to the release of these pieces is akin to the scientific process. You don’t think Mr Hendrix ever wrote a piece of music, played it and then thought to himself; “no, that didn’t sound quite right”, then altered and adjusted until it sounded just the way he wanted it to? That systematic process which Hendrix no doubt employed is equivalent to the procedures undertaken by even the most stringent of scientists.

Comparably, Einstein also possessed characteristics often not associated with a man of science. Einstein’s magnum opus was his development of the theory of relativity, a foundational pillar of modern physics alongside quantum mechanics. To suggest that Einstein, a man who changed the way in which the world was understood, lacked creativity would be a highly injudicious statement. Einstein took what was presumed true in theoretical physics and turned it on its head, showing extraordinary ability to think expansively and refuse to be bound by what was considered “textbook knowledge” at the time.

While the argument could be made that these men are outliers and not typical of the general population, their examples are not the only cases of art and science showing vast amounts of compatibility. Leonardo da Vinci, Richard Feynman, Nikola Tesla, Carl Sagan and Eric Weinstein are just a few more examples of “scientists” who have had a compulsion towards “the arts”.

In closing, science is not simply “the answers”. Science is equally, if not more, about how you get the answers, than the actual answers themselves. It is the theory of optimising investigation approach, which will then theoretically yield the most reliable information. It is the process of obtaining an ever-closer approximation to the truth, the movement from ignorance to informed. Because of this, anyone and everyone, should endeavour to be a scientist, in some regard.

Whether we like to accept it or not, our current view of the world is not completely concordant with the reality of the world we inhabit. While we know a lot, there’s much more that we don’t. Unmasking the unknown and improving our interpretation of “the truth” involves more than a bachelor’s degree and a saviness with PubMed.  Just as working with clients and coaching athletes require much more than a hard-core attitude and some “skin in the game”. Experience is only as valuable as the lessons it has taught you. You could have worked in professional sport for 25 years, but if you spent 25 years with your mouth-open and your mind-shut, then your 25 is no more, if not less valuable, than an intern with a willingness to learn and an ability to think critically.

If we want to progress, then we must accept that posturing and pissing-contests are not the way to do so. Scientists, practitioners and coaches who value theory on both ends of the spectrum need to learn to converge and help one another. Accepting what the discussion should and shouldn’t be about is the first step in that process, then contrarian and non-conformist thinking can be put to its best use.

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