Natural, That Darn Word Again: Let's Strike it From Our Vocabulary

Posted on 24 Mar 2011 02:53

Once again, I just came up against one of the most useful words in the English language. Useful because it can be instantly tweaked and expanded to fit the needs of the person using it. Natural is one of those words that is not defined by what it is, but simply by what the person using it thinks it isn't! And I hate it, I tell ya. I cringe even when I let the word slip out. It happened to me not long ago when I realized that I had used the word "natural" in this article about Paradoxical and Diaphragmatic Breathing. It is so easy to fall back on these muddy words and I beat myself up when I do it. And so should you, my fair readers.

It is hard to get away from though as it is one of the five most popular words in the English language next to shit, get the picture. Okay, I have no idea if it really is that popular but it may as well be. I mean, are we counting food and dietary supplement labels? Here is me complaining about the word natural in a newsletter. Here is me talking about it again in regards to natural peanut butter and trans fat. You know about "natty PB" right? It's all over the bodybuilding forums as one of the top five superfoods along with canned tuna, squirrel, and banana leaves. I mean I like peanut butter too but man can some people go on about the bit of trans fat that the government added to their peanut butter as part of its conspiracy with Big Pharma. That's just a few of the times I've ranted about natural. I had a whole series of blog posts that were sort of dedicated to the word.

So you can see that I am obsessed, in a hateful kind of way, with the word to the point it turns me into a complete smart ass. Still, lest I sound sanctimonious, I can admit that sometimes the word has an almost distinct definition such as when it is used in regards to a specific class of things where one which is "synthetic" is compared to one which is "natural". Man did I have to use a lot of needless words to make that sentence come close to flying. And even then it is still very muddy and we would be better off saying something like "routinely occurring in nature without any tweaking by mad scientists". But that is a bit verbose. Basically, I am talking about things like differentiating "natural" vitamin E versus synthetic vitamin E when talking about a vitamin supplement or something.

Just when I thought I'd gotten over it and could move on with my life this plastic word rears its ugly head again. I was answering a question about the bench press. The poster was asking how high the average guy could expect to get his bench press, all things being equal, without using steroids. So let's be clear, the question was not about steroids. The poster was just being careful to say, I'm talking about how much could I bench press under my own steam, so to speak. So I tried to carefully explain some general expectations based on body weight, etc. keeping in line with "all things being equal", which they rarely are.

As we know, some people just like to argue for the sake of argument. So some anonymous poster commented on my answer saying: "You are talking about exogenous testosterone and not naturally occurring levels" or something like that (we'll come back to the word exogenous). Then he went on to talk vaguely about some "natural" ways to increase testosterone levels, like you know, watching porn. Oh, and of course self-guided meditation or something along those lines. I don't remember exactly but you get the gist. These were "all natural" baby!

You can guess my response. It had the word silly in it. I said uh, duh there ain't no way you are comparing AAS usage with watching porn are you? I mean really. Really?

So he comes back with some vague thing about me being so sure that this wasn't possible after which I told him to stop trying to implant vague ideas in the reader's mind and say something direct. So he starts trying to hit me with his PubMed browsing. Now, remember, we started out with "natural". Well, you can guess what happens next. The word suddenly started evolving to encompass other things besides watching porn and singing chants to increase your circulating testosterone. Or just "certain foods" and such which had also been brought up. Suddenly pills came into it and things like Aromatase Inhibitors. See, those are natural. Even the ones that are prescription only overseas! Not just the ones sold as "dietary supplements" that eventually became illegal here in the states. On account of being drugs. Wait a minute apparently these things are also not exogenous. Ok, so the word natural was only a part of the problem with this guy but to play this game with 'exogenous', well, it DOES have a distinct definition and aromatase inhibitors, to my way of thinking, fit it.

See…you can increase your testosterone, and presumably your bench press, with natural means! I was reduced to trying to explain that when we talk about "steroids" we tend to be including most everything under the pharmaceutical umbrella of "steroids" and that these things have side-effect as well. I did mention that 'natural' testosterone boosting was 'safe' didn't I? I forgot. Well, goes without saying, natural equals safe. What is natural? Whatever I want it it be. What is safe? Same picture! Now notice that we had the word exogenous even though we had switched to talking about outside agents introduced into the system. The trick is that these outside agents work "indirectly" to increase your test so are more natural. Ain't that neat? They work with the endocrine system to increase your testosterone "endogenously" and thus "naturally". Man natural is an amazing word. It even helps to morph other words.

To be clear what I am talking about, we can consider a vaccine. A vaccine is an exogenous agent. It is something introduced into the system from the outside. However, it works by causing the immune system to react and create antibodies. These antibodies are endogenous. But the vaccine is still an exogenous agent. Let's skip over whether its natural! Pharmaceuticals that are taken by a person and act in some way to cause the body to increase circulating testosterone by a physiological response are still exogenous agents as well. You can't have your cake and eat it too. I suspect however, that the idea of natural easily caused the poster to glide past these criteria he originally created. That's what vague and muddy words do. They cause us to think in vague and muddy ways.

Now I don't usually go on about internet "conversations". As such I am not mentioning the site or pointing anyone to the actual conversation. It is not my intention to show me chewing someone up in some silly webernet debate. This was just a good example of the kind of thing that happens when the word natural enters the ring. To make matters worse I was also treated to the suggestion that some natural test boosting stuff was being "suppressed" by Big Pharma. Face palm.

The concept of natural is ill-defined and contradictory. When applied to food as it is most often these days it originally found legs in the counter-culture movements of the 1960's and 70's. Anything that was NOT packaged was natural. Anything that was NOT quick to prepare was more natural. Anything that one opposed was NOT NATURAL. This was not about being scientific. This was a rejection of what science represented. Let's get this straight, the word natural became popular as an opposition to the kind of rationality and the "evils of progress" that science represented. So, why, I ask you, is it the PubMed scourers who seem the most fond of it? I don't know.

Wishful Thinking and PubMed Dreamers

I feel that I cannot conclude this post without a reference to a big elephant that keeps marching over my keyboard. That is, that there is a type of trainee that is prone to being enchanted by the word natural and all its natural goodness. They either feel they are working very hard but seeing no results or they are just plain lazy and deluded and would rather look for, or downright dream about, shortcuts rather than doing what it takes to, you know, bring up their bench press.

Wishful thinking can make a fool of the most intelligent person. But even a person who is being made a fool by it does not want to believe he or she is a fool, which sets up the sort of cognitive dissonance that produces irrational arguments like the one above. Whether the person that inspired this post is a "case study" is unknown but I have known a lot of em.

I've used the term "PubMed scourer" many times in the past. Well, this I now combine with a new monicker: The PubMed dreamer. The trainee, caught up in the need for easy gains comes upon some concept that promises to help achieve these easy gains "all natural". All natural is important for a PubMed dreamer. You don't need Pubmed, after all, to research gear! All you need is your friendly guru at your friendly bodybuilding board, who will be happy to "PM" you with additional help.

A scientific mind is usually a good thing. Unless you mistake scientific thinking, which is critical thinking, with collecting studies at PubMed to support whatever foregone conclusion you have already made. You can find a natural answer to anything on the webernet. But the PubMed dreamer doesn't want to look like a dreamer. In his mission not to be duped he goes on the hunt and pulls up scores of "evidence". PubMed has become the balm of the lazy and misguided. Every study is counted as equal. A small clinical trial of 12 subjects, no blinding and no placebo control, can easily convince this trainee that such and such natural herb will result in an immediate PR in the weight room. And yes, placebos are at work in the weight room! Even more than with physiological symptom relief. When they stop working, of course, there is always the next Pubmed search.

Don't get me wrong. Research is a wonderful thing. Three cheers for research! I can remember being accused of "Google sniping" which is much akin to Pubmed sniping and that is quite an insult to us 'critical thinkers'. So I am not talking about some defensive knee jerk reaction to information based on one's aversion to any kind of thinking that isn't as simple as grunt, lift heavy things, grunt, eat like a bodybuilder, snort. But you should find it easy to recognize the difference between a picture emerging from someone's research and the PubMed dreamer. It's about connecting all the dots, after all.

I want my readers to join me in using this new term. When somebody starts throwing random crappy studies at you to support some ridiculous idea I want you to tell them they are being a PubMed dreamer. Science is a good thing, but this pretense to science via the search bar has got to go. This is not critical thinking this is scientific sniping. It just ain't natural.

This page created 24 Mar 2011 02:53
Last updated 21 Oct 2015 18:22

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