I work to walk at least 10,000 steps a day. This is a common number bandied about as a known health benefit demonstrated by science. Turns out it isn’t so much science as marketing material for a Japanese watch maker. There have been plenty of luls around the Internet about “the science is settled.” Similar comments are made about the ever changing diet advice we get that is settled science.
The diet advice, however, isn’t as harmless as the steps. One of the reasons I walk so much is to help control blood sugar. While I do not blame my weight or diabetes on bad diet advice, I will point out efforts to control my weight were, on the eating side at least, based on that science and not helpful. Switching high carbs for low helped drop weight and A1C.
Even with that in mind, though, I see no reason to reject the 10,000 step rule. Unlike the bad advice on carbs which lead to unstable blood sugars and encourage over eating, the 10,000 step rule doesn’t harm you. It gives you a target that can be achieved with not too much effort even if you have a desk job. Taking a walk at lunch to the Fed and back gets me over half the steps I need. It also resets me for the second half of the work day and gets me a small amount of sun. A little vitamin D creation never hurt anyone after all.
So, why does it matter that the goal isn’t scientifically proven. Is my goal to have a precise amount of activity, determined by rigorous and pre-reviewed experiment? If I take up running common goals are to be able to run a mile straight or complete a 5K (which I did last year). Neither of these numbers are based in science. They are arbitrary based on common units of measure and our love of multiples of 5 and 10.
One problem I see in the modern world is more and more we think of science being the only valid answer. Even Friechrich Egnels, the partner of Karl Marx, genuflected to science, calling Marxism scientific socialism. In the abortion debate science is invoked to make claims of when life begins or even when personhood begins.
I have a great deal of respect for science and its practitioners. Science is the single best method we have for understanding the material world. It’s child, engineering, applies that understanding to give us the best method of manipulating the material world to create specific material objectives, such as houses that shelter and bridges that don’t fall down.
But there is more to life than bridges that don’t fall down. This is more true the more science and engineering are given free reign to discover and find methods to manipulate the world. At least this is true up to a point, although there may be diminishing returns.
While some parts of biology and psychology can explain things that result in attraction and desire, no science can provide us an equation to explain what Iago decided to destroy Othello or why Othello’s love for Desdemona lead to his murder of her.
The answers to such questions have long been the province of religion, science’s parent philosophy, and the arts. Religion is on the decline for large parts of our population. Philosophy is considered a subject for nerds (I should know, it was my major my first attempt at college). The arts are, well the arts are a problem. For most, if not all, of my life the arts have decided that challenging the bouiseqe is their primary goal instead of illuminating life. In reading Sontag’s Against Interpretation as part of the Bradbury Challenge I have been stunned by the number of references to Marxism in some of the essays. The idea that even non-political art would be Marxist shows up a couple of times.
So, we are left trying to fill the gap that illuminates the subjective world. Illumination of the subjective world is crucial because there is no universal language that bridges it in the same way mathematics is the language of the material world in science. Secular religions such as social justice and a global great awakening of new traditional form religions are one of the others.
Another is the conscription of science to solve these problems. This is not the province of any particular social or political group. My first exposure to the idea was the scientific morality, provable in the same way the theorems of mathematics are, in Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. It is one of the hardest ideas for me when I reread the book today. While I do not discount some of the logic behind Heinlein’s moral theories in the book, the idea that they are mathematically provable is a bridge too far for suspension of disbelief.
It is a bridge too far because science is not the only answer. Seeking all answers is a course form of materialism and shares the same problems other popular forms of materialism, namely Marxism and much libertarian thought have. In an ironic twist, the branch of libertarianism that avoids it most, Objectivism, is the product of someone who comes across as the most ardent materialist in history. That is, until you understand the entire tale of Dagny’s bracelet.
Of late I have changed up Sunday reading on the blog. I start with what Sunday is it in terms of the Eastern Orthodox eclisiastical calendar. I then provide the two readings, an Epistle and a Gospel, that are read at divine liturgy. Until I started writing this post I couldn’t tell you why I had done that. Sure, they reflect my religious beliefs, but I am not a great evangelist.
I think it is my growing disquiet with the common belief that science is the only answer. I will offer no alternative to science when it comes to the shape of the earth or how to build a bridge. I will, though, refuse to accept that science provides the only answer to why I enjoy George’s bunny soft fur (seriously, the cat’s fur feels like a bunny). Nor does science explain why I grieve for Othello and name Iago villain for the death of Desdemona.
Those are answers to be found in the crafts of the soul, not of the mind.
If you enjoyed this post, sign up for my newsletter. Once (and sometimes twice) a month you'll get updates on my writing, life, and brand new fiction.