We crave simplicity.
In everything we do, every aspect of decision making, we seek the defined, known information that guides us to the truth. The truth allows us to act, choosing the option that is indisputably correct, given what we know.
But the truth is complicated.
Rarely in life is a decision actually, behind the curtain, so simple. Even framing behaviour as a decision is deceptive, as if the very way we live can be boiled down to a number of well defined courses of action. All we are really choosing between are analogies. Neatly packaged stories that we intend to enact, but rarely represent the whole truth.
We can’t hope to take into account every tiny variable, each subtle influence and all the complex consequences of our actions. We are not supercomputers. Simplifications are useful to us.
However, over-simplification robs us of opportunity.
Our tendency to simplify enables quick and dirty decision making, but blinds us to our true range of options. It blurs the complex, fuzzy edges of life and shoehorns behaviour into convenient sharp boxes. In our ignorance of those fuzzy edges, we gloss over myriad possibilities. We distort what is true and insist that this is our reality.
There is so much growth to be found if we rebel against this tendency, resist the inclination to take the easy cognitive path. So many aspects of life are messy, complicated, interconnected and bursting with intangibles.
For example, as humans we all like to have friends. But why? Is it remotely possible to simplify and neatly define what we enjoy about friendship? Is it the emotional support we offer each other in times of stress? The presence of somebody with whom to play and battle boredom? The expansion of resources that a (traditional) social network offers? Is it because it satisfies a deep genetic need? Perhaps it juices the ego, makes us feel wanted?
For every reason I’ve given, you could come up with a dozen more. We cannot hope to present the truth of friendship through simplification. It’s a big, fuzzy ball of intangibles.
The intangibles are what I seek to explore. My primary targets are health & wellbeing. There is massive opportunity in this area. A recognition of intangibles can help us live in ways that are nourishing, health-promoting and prosperity-generating. We can examine in a new light the behaviours that modern society has thrown aside, gazing upon those things we didn’t even know we’d lost.
A quick example; diets which promote metabolic flexibility (utilisation of both fats and carbs for fuel) reap rewards in terms of insulin sensitivity, diabetes, obesity, brain function & health, mental resilience, body composition, heart disease, cancer, inflammation, gut health, aging… The list goes on.
Bringing together all of these fields in order to argue for a given behaviour (metabolically flexible diet practices) is complicated. It’s a project that crosses numerous scientific, political, cultural and behavioural boundaries. There is no single clear goal, no united field to champion the practice. And this is true of all intangibles.
It’s appropriate that this task is void of simplicity. There is a line to balance between critical consideration and wanton disdain for the (often useful) simple truths. Figuring out how to communicate the intangibles to an evidence-based world is a daunting prospect. But it reveals new truths and offers so much. It’s a path worth taking.