On Art, Intelligence, and Training
|John Dewey, American philosopher|
--John Dewey, Art as Experience
For Dewey and the pragmatists, analytic reflection, however necessary, is insufficient for intelligence because analytic reflection is always dissociative. Analysis always selects from experience, cutting it open by attending to this and not that. It makes progress by fixing certain variables with the attention and ignoring others. This way of slicing the universe up is absolutely essential to growth and progress, but if we confuse the distinctions that analysis makes for the nature of reality itself, then analytic reflection can stifle philosophical thought--the intelligent pursuit of wisdom.
Perhaps this is less of a problem for non-philosophers than it is for philosophers, who because of their commitment to the value of intelligence are uniquely prone to intellectual fallacies. The classic problems in philosophy, Dewey thought, committed a similar intellectual fallacy in the attempt to reduce all of experience to one analytic concept. So, for example, "objectivists" believe that the real world exists completely independent of any mind that would attempt to know it, while "subjectivists" argue that each of us can make our own reality simply by thinking it. The truth, as common sense tells us, is that neither position adequately grasps the relationship between reality and the mind. The history of philosophy has been a long wrangle between varieties of these sorts of reductive claims, neither side ever winning because both of them were essentially committing the same intellectualist error. They attempted to reduce all of experience to a single and one-sided idea that is perfectly useful for analysis, but wrongheaded when it comes to metaphysical speculation.
This is why Dewey wrote that "the significance of art as experience was incomparable for the adventure of philosophic thought." While analysis breaks the world apart, the experience of art is integrative. Art, both as product and as process of production, brings a divided world together. It is the sort of doing and experiencing that attempts to bring us into a more intimate and full relationship with reality. It takes a world that has been parceled out by our reflective capacities into various entities -- corporations, classes, races, nationalities, religions, political persuasions, friends, families, and enemies -- and attempts to bring these things into relation with each other. Art as an experience reminds us that the most essential task in living is not to divide our lives into parts through the understanding, but to learn how to balance in action its separate tasks in harmonious relation.
Here, as always, training provides a useful example. In order to be intelligent in training, we have to learn how to divide it up into its components. General concepts like variety, consistency, volume, periodization, recovery, frequency help us focus on various aspects of the training process. Physiological concepts like aerobic, anaerobic, lactic threshold, heart rate, perceived effort, cadence, etc. also allow us to break the effects of training on the body apart and look at its development from various angles. All of these concepts can help us to understand training.
However, understanding how training works from a variety of angles is very different from having a training philosophy. Producing a philosophy requires not only analytic intelligence, but also creative and synthetic intelligence. After the act of running has been broken apart into its various components, the runner must put the pieces back together in a particular way and create something like a philosophy--or at the very minimum, a plan.
I prefer the term "philosophy" to plan because as every runner knows plans have to be modified according to circumstances. Much more essential to proper training is having a way of approaching your running life that is balanced, flexible, and responsive--in short, living. This is the only form in which intelligence comes, as the only meaning of intelligence is nothing more or less than a way of living life that is in balance and growing and adapting to its environment.
Constructing such a philosophy is not something that happens overnight, but I suppose what Dewey would tell us is that when we are considering how to train well, we ought to extend our research beyond training manuals and old training logs. We also ought to also read novels, listen to music, and watch artists of other endeavors for signs of how to construct our own vision.
There is one trait that all of my best coaches had in common. They were all characters. They were quirky, bright, and different from the rest of the people that I met, each in their own way. I think this is because they realized that the secret to showing people the path to success was much less about understanding and more about deliberate and conscious attention to the unities that experience offers. They practiced coaching as an art.
Perhaps if you pay close attention to experience, you are bound turn out a little strange. That strangeness is a reflection of a simple fact: that one has learned how to extract from the world a secret or two that no one else has learned to see. These coaches were characters because there was something in them that tended to unity. You saw that they had fashioned for themselves a whole person, and even though that wholeness was quirky and couldn't really be understood, it was there, constructed out of a lifetime of attention and art.
This quirky integrity made you do a simple thing: pay attention. Which turned out to be the difference.
Bonus clip, from the Flying Monkey Marathon:
'Think Monkey' from Funky Umbrella on Vimeo.