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Terraform, 09. Fractal

Elements are diagnostic because, in some way, they are fractal. (This is my attempt to use a cool word in order to bolster my self-esteem and Internet image. Please, allow me to convince you I’m both smarter and more popular than I really am. How many Twitter followers do I have?) Or, at least, we want them to be fractal. When you play notes in isolation, they become integrated into a full song in the same manner of play.

A fractal is a natural phenomenon or a mathematical set that exhibits a repeating pattern that displays at every scale. If the replication is exactly the same at every scale, it is called a self-similar pattern. Fractals can also be nearly the same at different levels.


The elements scale with complexity. In other words, if you do an element with a certain kind of firing sequence, you’re probably going to see that sequence show up in a similar (yet more complex) pattern. It’s not a guarantee, but the rules of motor learning err to it happening.

  • Unconscious Incompetent: you’re doing things wrong and you don’t know how or why.
  • Conscious Incompetent: you’re doing this wrong and you know how and why.
  • Conscious Competence: you’re doing things right but it requires a lot of thought.
  • Unconscious Competence: you’re doing things right out of automaticity.

So if your knees cave in during a squat, they’re probably going to cave during a vertical jump. If your elbows flare out during a push-up, they’re probably going to flare during a bench press. And they’re probably going to flare when you’re in a bar fight, pushing the creepy guy that wouldn’t stop staring at your girlfriend.

The faster you demand your body to react, the more you rely on instinct, and instinct comes from the wiring ingrained within your body.

It takes 0.2 seconds to do a vertical jump. You can’t think about much in 0.2 seconds. You shouldn’t be thinking during those 0.2 seconds. It’s often said that great athletes are hindbrain dominant, which means they’re in a state of flow or “in the zone.” They’re not actively thinking (unconscious competent). They’re relying on reflex and ingrained behaviors—a product of mounds of slow and conscious work accumulated during practice.

Competence unconsciously takes time. One doesn’t simply walk into Mordor. Your grandma knows how to sit in front of the TV and knit her brains off like a hindbrain Herculeus. But if you tried? You’d have holes in your fingers.

Your forebrain is responsible for doing all the hard decision making. Stuff that only humans (it seems) worry much about. (YOU ZEBRA FILLED WITH ULCERS, YOU.) Analyzing and thinking is important when learning a new skill. Part of learning is being in a place just beyond your comfort zone, which means you will make mistakes and you need to mentally take note and adjust.

Nevertheless, relying on your forebrain isn’t something you want to be doing as you inch closer to specific skill mastery and want to perform a skill at the highest levels. It takes a great deal of concentration and effort to Force move the X-Wing out of the Dagobah swamp when you’re just a padawan. But it’s not long before you’re hurling parts of a spaceship at Darth Vader without effort or second thought.

If you don’t want to be thinking about much as a high class knitter, you certainly don’t want to be thinking about much when you only have 0.2 seconds at your disposal. When you call upon your body to do something that quickly, you’ll rely on your current wiring, no matter how big of a dysfunctional kluge it may be.

Next: coming soon…

Table of contents: Terraform

Body Composition, 12. Flinch

I have mega beef with the macronutrient categorization system (who in their right mind lumps vegetables in the same category as sugar?). I have so much beef, in fact, I think it’s what’s for dinner. But I’m going to put this beef in the refrigerator. Gotta’ keep it fresh for now. I’ll come back and trounce on the “white coats” (scientists that are unable to see beyond their Platonic blinders) later.

The foundation hath been poured. You need enough energy and nutrients to survive. That’s priority uno. You can die from energy shortage. You can die from nutrient shortage. You can even die from excess. What a wonderful things, us humans are. Not enough water, death. Too much water, death. How did we make it this far?


You need enough to survive. After you reach the survival threshold, there’s a big bucket of “extra.” Hjaarn put excess energy in a high interesting savings account. This is his “body fat” account, and it was created with future well being in mind. The future is the only reason you create and maintain a high yield savings account. With no future, why save? Hjaarn would be at strip clubs. Good strip clubs. Not the all-you-can-drink-$20 kind. (Not that it would matter. Even good strip clubs are a sham.)

But Hjaarn does care. And his savings is important to him because he’s looking out for his future. But putting excess in savings is a choice because there are other places excess can go.

Hjaarn and all of us play more of an allostatic game. Say Hjaarn needs money. He could dip into his savings. Or he could sell his watch. Or he could shut off his heat, reducing his monthly bill, netting him more extra money. A lot of things can be done to regulate the financial situation beyond tracking pluses and minuses on a paycheck.

Even with a currency view of body weight regulation, we’ve established (with macronutrients) that there exists more than one currency. Saying all calories are equal is like saying all currency is equal. But cash is different than gold is different than valuables (watches, collectibles) is different than fine art.

It seems outlandish, but you know these concepts from the financial world. Just a matter of paralleling. There’s income. Food. This is a given. You need a certain income to survive. This is your regular cash flow from your job. You live according to your means, and your means is dictated by your regular income. You adapt to this, just like your body adapts to a certain food intake.

There are expenses. Based on your income, you live a certain lifestyle. If you make more, you might have a bigger house. Bigger house = bigger mortgage payment, bigger utility bills, more taxes. All those shenanigans. Your body has a “lifestyle.”

When your income changes, your body changes to accommodate a new lifestyle. Standards of living aren’t set in stone. You lose your job, you sell the big house, you buy a smaller house. (You starve, you lose weight. Getting the parallel here?) Or you change something about your regular bills to have fewer expenses.

And then there’s excess. Excess can go many places. Smart places include high interest savings accounts (like a retirement fund). But then there are investments. Guilty pleasures. You know you shouldn’t buy the huge TV, but OHMYGODLOOKATHOWCLEARTHISPICTUREQUALITYIS.

This is your body. Regulating itself on different tiers every second of every day. Putting things in storage. Taking things out of storage. Investing. Changing its standard of living to accommodate income trends. Decisions, decisions. All of which are handled without your conscious thought.

Alright. Breathe. Take a second. Admire the thing, your body, real quick.

These decisions culminate over time. Your body settles into stasis. Your body settles into a certain wiring. You get your ducks in a row and decide, “This is what I’m going to do with this income. This is what I’m going to do with that income.” My sister’s boyfriend’s dad is a great example. (Almost a Spaceballs moment here. “I am your father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate.”) He always buys the latest tech gizmo. If it’s new and looks cool, he has it. Speakers, computers, televisions. This is where his excess money goes. No question. It just happens.

I call this flinching. There’s no thought involved. Someone throws something at your head, you flinch away. You just react. When income is thrown your body’s way, it has a flinch. My sister’s boyfriend’s dad flinches excess to electronics.

These flinches are baked into you based on what your body perceives as the optimal strategy. Think about hibernating bears. They fatten up for the winter season. They know they’re going to be without food. They’re worried about their long term financial situation. They spike their income (food). Excess flinches to high interest savings (body fat). It’s the optimal strategy for survival.

I call this rabbit hole we’re entering the alternative currency theory. The conventional calorie game assumes all money is equal. But I have a stack of $2 bills my grandma gave me when I was little. My Mom never let me spend them. Money is money, yes. But that doesn’t mean we spend all money the same. Or treat it all the same.

There are different forms of currency. Different emotions attached to different currency. Just as different forms of currency have different current-future values. Gold or money in high interest savings is currency, just like a $5 bill. But the lonesome $5 will always be $5. Gold? Money in interest building accounts? The value grows with time.

I had this written down before I heard what Peter Attia said on this podcast with Tim Ferriss. (And I paraphrase.) We know that we’re governed by thermodynamics. Calories in v. calories out matters…but that’s just not a very interesting story. It’s like saying, “You know why Bill Gates is rich? He makes more money than he spends.” 

And he’s right. It’s not interesting. Probably why I am biased towards wanting to believe the body can’t be so simplistic. When you parallel money with calories, the world of nutrition is quite different. There are different forms of currency. Dollars. Gold. Salt. Euros. Money is money, yes. But does that mean all money is spent the same? Or treated the same? Why do some people invest? Why do some people spend money on lavish goods even on a tight budget?

If humans are so illogical with their physical money, why should we assume we’re more logical with our physiological money? (I have an answer to this. But do you?)

Next: coming soon…

Table of contents: The General Theory of Body Composition

Body Composition, 11. Micronutrients+

You’re a pirate cruising across the Atlantic. You’re getting enough energy. But you feel fatigued. Nauseous. You throw up overboard. Then you die. This is scurvy.

Scurvy isn’t an energy problem, but rather a nutrient problem. And even more quantum than a macronutrient problem. (Quantum is a small unit. Those who say “quantum leap” to represent a giant leap usually use the phrase wrong.) Scurvy, kwashiorkor, and a host of other medical issues are micronutrient problems.

We just talked about the macronutrients in carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. But there are different types of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

  • Carbohydrates = simple carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates.
  • Fats = saturated fats, unsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats.
  • Proteins = complete, incomplete.

Monounsaturated fat can raise HDL (good) cholesterol and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Certain fatty acids (lauric acid) can improve cholesterol. Certain intakes of monounsaturated and saturated fats impact testosterone levels. And don’t forget that cells have a phospholipid bilayer…AKA, fat.

Enzymes and antibodies inside of you are made of proteins. Proteins support and structure cells, too. They are known as the building blocks of the body.

Carbohydrates are typically stored as glycogen inside of the body. Liver glycogen is a go-to fuel source for the brain. (I’m aware of ketosis and of the brain being able to use fat under certain circumstances.)

These functions only scratch the surface, but the point is made. Food is more than energy. Just like a house is made of bricks, mortar, wire rods, paneling, insulation, etc. A human is made up of different things. Food is energy…but also nutrients.

Ever since you were an embryo, you’ve extracted more than energy (calories) from food. You’ve also extracted essential substances that create who you are and substances that are necessary in order to function properly.

Underneath carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. These micronutrients support a list of biological functions longer than my brain can remember. Thiamine (a vitamin) is crucial to nerve function and metabolism. Niacine, another vitamin, does the same, but also contributes to skin health and digestion. Vitamin B6 makes red blood cells. Your hair. Your nails. Your eyesight. Your vision. Your nerves. Your DNA.


The list is long. And even more? The micronutrient categories can be further broken down. There are fat soluble vitamins. Water soluble vitamins. And the more and more scientists dig it, the more important gut bacteria becomes. So, yes, even gut bacteria slithers its way into the mix. Probably more (much more) than we even know.

Egads again!

This just scrapes the skin of nutrition’s biological complexity. But this isn’t a nutrition physiology 101 book. I mention these things because they exist and are important. They show that food is much much much much much more than energy, which is golden nugget to keep in your back pocket. This doesn’t dismiss the reality of starvation. You can starve. But there’s more to food than energy.

Next: coming soon…

Table of contents: The General Theory of Body Composition

Terraform, 08. Movement

The constant is movement. Our for athletics? Aesthetics? Are you a sportsman? Lifting weights, trying to build muscle? You’re moving. Doing backflips? You’re moving.

The word “movement” has become a buzzword in recent years. Ido Portal is a movement mogul who has lain claim to something he calls “movement culture.” (He also tends [or so it seems] to dislike people that use the word “movement.” Rule number one, Mr. Portal: never brand yourself to a word in the dictionary. Apple tried that with the letter “i” and it didn’t work.) This isn’t Portal’s “movement culture,” but we can’t escape reality. You can’t do what you want to do (bridge the gap between athletics and aesthetics) unless you move your body.

But it’s mindful movement. As a friend in Andy Fossett once said, even slugs move. Your practice has to be deliberate. You take mindful movement and apply it to a specific end. Just like you take notes and create a specific song for a specific purpose.

You can’t slug out in a bed and expect to build muscle. Well, I suppose you could…but you’d still have to manually or artificially stimulate your muscles to contract. And, bummer, muscle contraction is movement. So, uhhh, that doesn’t work.

You can bang on the drums or strum on the guitar all day if you wanted to. You’re “playing,” but if it’s not deliberate, then it’s just noise. Same with moving. You can move all day if you wanted to. But if it’s not deliberate, then it’s just noise.

Think of your training as movement with an end to signal something specific to your body. There will always be noise with this process. But you’re now chunking out pockets of signal.

You move a lot. You squat to the pot to do your dirty deeds. You walk up steps. You reach for plates on the top shelf of your pantry. For 99.9% of people that do these things, it’s all noise. Just happens. All taken for granted. Mindless. Noise.

If you want to learn how to play your human body — create signal — then you have to become more conscious of every note you play, no matter how basic or mundane. You should become more conscious of every movement you make. Just as if you were learning an instrument and striving to understand every keystroke made. What does it feel like? What noise did it make? How much pressure did I apply. How did I coordinate myself?

What muscles are contracting as you walk up steps? How do you move to get out of bed in the morning? Or move to get into the car? You’re using your instrument to do all of these things. How conscious are you of your playing?

But, mommy, this sounds extreme. Can’t I just take a pill and be done with it? Blah, blah, blah. Here’s the thing. I would never pay to see a musician that doesn’t see the world from a musical lens. If you want to master your craft, you need to start seeing the world through your craft’s lens.

Next: coming soon…

Table of contents: Terraform

Body Composition, 10. Macronutrients

Food is energy. Food is calories. But food is made from certain things. It’s not necessarily true to say food has calories. Food is made from things, and those things have calories. The things are called macronutrients. There are three biggies:

  • Proteins = 4 kcals / gram.
  • Carbohydrates = 4 kcals / gram.
  • Fats = 9 kcals / gram.

These values were found moons ago with something called a calorimeter. Someone put food inside of this contraption, crisped them into smithereens, then saw how much energy was given off. They found that every gram of each macronutrient had a certain caloric value.

Calories are a measurement of energy. Calories aren’t fat. They aren’t evil. We talked about this. You’d think that, by now, with how crazed the world has become, most would know what a calorie is. Most don’t. Educate? Humiliate? I don’t know. Depends on which version of me shows up in the morning.

Some housekeeping:

The name calorie is used for two units of energy.

The small calorie or gram calorie (symbol: cal) is the approximate amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius at a pressure of one atmosphere.

The large calorie, kilogram calorie, dietary calorie, nutritionist’s calorie, nutritional calorie, Calorie (capital C) or food calorie (symbol: Cal) is approximately the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. The large calorie is thus equal to 1000 small calories or one kilocalorie (symbol: kcal).Wikipedia

So cal = calories. But typically the thing you see on food labels is Cal = kilocalories = kcals. It’s semantics, but worth the note. I think. It probably isn’t. Who am I kidding? What is the meaning of life? Is any of this worth anything? You bring the red wine. I’ll bring the pig. We can eat, drink, be merry, and never think about any of this again. (Sometimes I think about what it’s like having “normal” people food and body thoughts. Sometimes it’s refreshing. Sometimes it’s scary.)

The thermogenic game lands you land in a funky place because the number determines the usefulness of a food. This is why fat was vilified not long ago. (Still vilified in some neighborhoods.) Per gram, it delivers over twice the energy as either carbohydrates or protein. Lo and behold, fat is evil.

But it’s not.

We know this now. Just like we know that, if you’re a pirate cruising across the Atlantic and you start feeling fatigued and nauseous and you throw up overboard for a while, you’re on the verge of beholding a pale horse. And not from lack of energy.

Next: coming soon…

Table of contents: The General Theory of Body Composition