On "The Elephant in the brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life" by Robin Hanson and Kevin Simler
"According to the reciprocal-exchange theory, conversations should be free to bounce around willy-nilly, as speakers take turns sharing new, unrelated information with each other. [...] Either listener might ask follow-up questions, of course. But as soon as their curiosity had been satisfied, they might be expected to turn around and share some new information of their own, regardless of whether it pertained to the previous discussion.
But this is not what human conversation looks like. Instead, we find that speakers are tightly constrained by the criterion of relevance. In general, whatever we say needs to relate to the topic or task at hand. Conversations can meander, of course, but the ideal is to meander gracefully. Speakers who change the topic too frequently or too abruptly are considered rude, even if[…]”
“And so it is with conversation. Participants evaluate each other not just as trading partners, but also as potential allies. Speakers are eager to impress listeners by saying new and useful things, but the facts themselves can be secondary. Instead, it’s more important for speakers to demonstrate that they have abilities that are attractive in an ally. In other words, speakers are eager to show off their backpacks.”
“If we return to the backpack analogy, we can see why relevance is so important. If you’re interested primarily in trading, you might ask, “What do you have in your backpack that could be useful to me?” And if your partner produces a tool that you’ve never seen, you’ll be grateful to have it (and you’ll try to return the favor). But anyone can produce a curiosity or two. The real test is whether your ally can consistently produce tools that are both new to you and relevant to the situations you face. [...] His backpack, you infer, must be chock-full of useful stuff. And while you could—and will—continue to engage him[…]”
the "criterion of relevance" as a constraint to signalling in conversations is not a proxy (signal) for the "size of the backpack" but instead shows a very concrete and rare skill: the ability to transfer and use knowledge one has to someone's benefit. I don't care about the number of tools someone has if he lacks the ability to use the appropriate tool in a given situation. The usefulness of someone's backpack is the product of the size of the backpack and the ability of the person to hand me and use the needed tool in a given situation. To produce relevant content is not just a signal, but a skill. I think Hanson and Simler took the signaling hypothesis too far in this case.
Look at my amazing abs!* And now that I have your attention, let me tell you why you should start to lift weights. Heavy ones. Especially as a women. Or at least why or how well it works for me.
If I could go back ten years in time and transport one idea to my former self, I would have a hard time to decide what words to pass through. What would have the biggest impact on my well-being, life satisfaction or personal development if I had known it earlier? First, a lot of abstract concepts come to mind: “rationality” or “philosophy of science” or “effective altruism”. They changed my perception of the world drastically. But in terms of happiness and self mastery I definitely would say “quit cardio, start lifting heavy” or even simpler “fall in love with getting strong”. (Thanks to Valentin Tambosi for the phrase)
Before: Losing weight
For years I was running, cycling, worrying about calories, massively reducing my food intake (alternating with extreme cravings) and was going through periods of quick weight loss and gain. Not only didn’t I reach my goals long-term: it also was unhealthy, took big parts of my attention and time as well as caused self-doubt and suffering. Because despite following harsh plans I was not able to realise my goals. Neither in terms of appearance, nor in terms of subjective fitness and physical well-being. In theory it is so easy: Lose weight by burning more calories than you eat. But, well, it wasn’t.
Heuristic for success: strength
After a year of more or less constant working out with (for me) heavy weights and being happy with the results like never before, I can summarise what made the difference for me:
The attempt to make the answer short has two parts, a mental and a physical one:
1. Mentally to focus on strength changes my mindset rigorously.
When I define weight loss and reducing body weight as my goal, the thoughts that will pop up on this path focus on how to reduce and burn body fat and therefore prioritise reducing calories and food intake. The framing is more negative, it focuses on what I want to get rid of instead of what I want to reach.
Strength mentally puts muscle growth in the center. This implies to healthily nourish the body to allow the muscles to grow and it is more positive. Even if there are still things you would want to change or get rid of, there is something getting bigger and better that you can be proud of. Also it is more long-term, because muscles only grow slowly with constant stimulus, but also need breaks and the right circumstances like nutrition and sleep. The goal of getting strong does not tempt you to do extreme things (like starting a crash diet), because it is more apparent, that it will not work and takes time.
2. Physically a focus on strength also makes sense.
Gaining muscle mass will (more or less independent from body weight) make you look slimmer (the same kg of muscles have way less volume than body fat) and on a daily basis add to your basic metabolic rate (calories burned). Without (at least in my case!) increasing hunger or leading to cravings.
I can not tell this myself ten years ago, but I share this out of hope that I will spare or shorten someone else the long process of learning these lessons!
Will be updated. Glad to hear what I have missed. More to be added.