Reductionist Errors in Nutrition, Psychology, and Exercise

It occurred to me last night that major errors in conventional (as well as some unconventional camps) of important subjects, consist of errors of the same caliber, and are produced by the same fault in thinking.


For the purposes of this post, reductionism shall be defined as a mode of thinking that reduces complex concepts and practices, spanning multiple sciences, down to a lesser number of sciences, not for any reason other than such person or group believes that eliminated sciences do not apply to Y topic, concept, or practice — when they in fact do.

The resulting conclusions being at best wrong, and at worst, dangerous.


The first science we will explore is nutrition. Human nutrition specifically. And more specifically, the broad criticism of any diet or individual who states that fat loss is primarily a hormonal and biological event, secondarily a matter of calorie intake reduction (by any number of means), and thirdly, if even considered relevant, calorie expenditure.

The criticism being that this hierarchy violates the first law of thermodynamics. Which, as is commonly accepted when applied to fat loss, means …

  • Calories in = Calories out

In other words, fat loss is a matter of reducing the calories you take in, and expending more through “exercise” (which does not mean exercise when used in this manner, but is used as a substitute for any physical activity whatsoever, including sex, walking in circles, and as is my favorite to point out, defecation).

  • Eat less + “Workout more” = fat loss

The problem however is that human beings are not rocks. Biology is a proudly ignored factor in this criticism of fat loss as it relates to a living organism.

While I am preaching to the choir here, I would like to point out that this very serious error in thought stems from eliminating biology from the following equation,

  • Biology + Physics = Fat Loss

or making fat loss a simple

  • Physics = Fat Loss

A la, complex biological events of living organisms are reduced to a matter of physics alone. The simple fact that we are alive, is literally ignored.


The second science we will explore is psychology. Specifically, human psychology. And what is the conventional wisdom in psychology?

That man is an instinct manipulated puppet, free will does not exist, thought is automatic, and man’s life is only the sum of an inconsequential series of mindless responses to stimulus he has no control over.

This grand error is applied to varying degrees — dependent on an individual’s philosophical convictions — across the entire span of human life.

When applied to the broadest and highest degree possible, the conviction that man = an animal is the base conviction and condition being accepted.

Relevant to psychology, this is the reduction of human psychology to that of behavioral psychology.

The psychology of an animal lacking volitional consciousness, completely incapable of conceptual thought and entirely lacking the capacity for reason.

Thus, in conventional psychology, we have

  • Physics + Biology = Human psychology

It is a fact of reality however that human psychology is a distinct science. The reality looks much more like this,

  • Physics —> Biology —> Psychology


  • Physics + Biology + Volitional Consciousness = Psychology

With the “psychology” of animals properly belonging in the realm of biology, not psychology.

This is why “evolutionary psychology” is largely a contradiction in terms when applied to human beings and produces conclusions that are absolutely incomplete.

The psychology of male/female intimate relationships is a subject that this is easily observable in. While it is true that our psycho-sexuality is rooted in the physical construction of being one gender or another, and the subsequent biological consequences this entails in a healthy human being, it is not the sum of the human experience in this arena.

To state such a thing is tantamount to stating 1+1 = 3, and that all male/female intimate relationships are automatic.

But nothing about being human — in the sense of what separate us from other animals — is automatic. Every ounce of what sustains human life is produced by the thinking mind.

Nothing is produced when man refuses to think. And man destroys when he actively abandons his mind and acts in contradiction with reality (and is destructive to the degree he is in conflict with reality, and the range his degree and power afford).

When man uses his mind, he forms positive relationships with the opposite sex that benefit his life as well as the life of his partner.

When man refuses to think, he forms a mindless relationship with the opposite sex that is at best, unfulfilling.

When man actively abandons his mind and makes choices that are in direct conflict with reality, he forms destructive intimate relationships that harm both him and his partner.


Coming full circle to the original and primary purpose of this section, real psychology is destroyed when human beings, capable of volitional consciousness, are reduced to instinct driven animals.

This is the key to how the science of psychology has been undermined: by gross reduction.


The third and final science we will explore in terms of reductionist error is exercise. The error by reduction in conventional exercise science is different from that of nutrition and of psychology. The reduction error lies in the fact of reality that is,

  • Nature to be commanded is to be obeyed.

In nutrition, I believe an approximate ratio of commanding to obeying nature, properly, is 20/80.

  • 20% commanding, 80% obeying

This is due to the fact that nutrition is mandatory for life on earth. Exercise is not. Exercise — real exercise, not any random physical activity — is 100% optional. You do not have to exercise.

You have to eat, or you die, pretty quickly.

As a result, I believe in exercise, an approximate ratio of commanding to obeying nature, is properly and incidentally, the inverse of nutrition

  • 80/20
  • 80% commanding, 20% obeying

In other words, because exercise is entirely optional — and not mandatory — a LOT more depends on what you choose to include if one desires to create a successful exercise equation.

Where as with nutrition, a successful equation for dietary choices rests primarily on exclusion — what to exclude — a concept championed by Kurt Harris.

  • 80% including + 20% excluding = Exercise success
  • 20% including + 80% excluding = Nutritional success

The percents designating the importance of what is to be included and excluded relative to the potential benefit of achieving what is physically possible by personally succeeding in these sciences as a human being (while accepting the fact that the two sciences are not exclusive of and can in fact affect each other, positively or negatively).

Interestingly enough, another paradox (in adherence to reality) can be seen in the following equation,

  • Exercise Success = Obeying physical structure (80%) +  obeying biology (20%)
  • Nutritional success = Obeying biology (80%) + obeying physical calorie intake (20%)

Physics being more important in exercise (expressed as bio-mechanics), and biology being more important in nutrition, relative to body composition (expressed as quality of calories ingested).


The take home point of reductionist error in exercise is that looking to our ancestors for guidance in exercise — by examining and guesstimating their physical activities — is, in virtually all cases, a worthless activity, and in many cases a dangerous course to pursue. The only guidance that can be had from our ancestors is by examining the structural and perhaps biological evolution of our bodies.

The physical activities they were doing, are less than irrelevant. Yet, such is the focus of, and all variations of activities that are suggested to be “paleo/primal” “exercises”.

So, how our ancestors gave birth, defecated, ran, and so on, might actually be of interest. But their activities that we wish to romanticize as real exercise, are no more worthy than examining a primitive tribe and trying to use that, in any way, as a valid foundation for how governments ought to be designed.

Such ideas are not even worth discussion.

— Anthony Dream Johnson

P.S. — The champions of what to exclude from your successful exercise equation would be a combination of Bill DeSimone and Drew Baye.


About Anthony Dream Johnson

CEO, founder, and architect of The 21 Convention, Anthony Dream Johnson is the leading force behind the world's first and only "panorama event for life on earth". He has been featured on WGN Chicago, and in the NY Times #1 best seller The Four Hour Work Week.    His stated purpose for the work he does is "the actualization of the ideal man", a purpose that has led him to found and host The 21 Convention across 3 continents and for 6 years in a row. Anthony blogs vigorously at and

20 Responses to Reductionist Errors in Nutrition, Psychology, and Exercise

  1. Matt December 2, 2011 at 1:26 am #

    Perfect scientific understanding will ultimately lead to perfect reduction of al of these things to physics and chemistry (possibly even a further reduction to quantum physics.) For instance, Psychology should eventually reduce to biology. Any addition of “Volitional Consciousness” separate from biology would involve a discover of some sort of “consciousness producing apparatus” seperate from ourselves… which we we haven’t found yet. This biology would completely reduce to chemistry and physics, which would completely explain the biology, which would reduce to quantum physics, which would completely complain and encapsulate the physics.

    The same principle applies to the other two areas in which you mentioned. In other words, I don’t think the problem here is reduction, but rather simplification.

    • Anthony Dream Johnson December 2, 2011 at 11:05 am #

      Matt, you are actually making my point, very clearly, without knowing it.

      Real psychology is not reducible to biology, or physics. Take romantic love for example.

      Romantic love is a total emotional/psychological/physical/intellectual/spiritual response between two individuals. While much of it is rooted in physical sexuality, to say that in its entirety it is reducible to its base undermines its meaning and essence entirely.

      That is the equivalent of saying romantic love is a chemical reaction in the brain, or any number of chemical reactions in the body.

      This is 100% wrong and reductionism 101.

      Romantic love is conceptual and is not reducible to biology or physics. This is the crux of what I’m saying — that self-esteem, romantic love, and psychology in general, don’t come in pill form.

      • Matt December 3, 2011 at 2:25 am #

        Ultimately,emotional/psychological/physical/intellectual/spiritual responses are held within the body. The structures of the brain, the hormones, etc. Romantic Love is based on many things, including the hormones in your body, the neural network you have built up, which gives your views of your self and the world, your emotional state, etc.

        Note that we’re saying the same thing, but you fail to recognize that all these things ARE contained in the body. IE, even if romantic love is conceptual, the ability to have concepts, and the concepts themselves, are housed in the body.

        Note that even if we manage to get to a point where we can model a complex concept like love on a biological level, it would have little practical value in matters of love in every day life, because it could describe exactly what’s going on… but not in way that humans could use or comprehend… psychology would still be a necessary and useful science. But that doesn’t change the fact that love could in fact be reduced to these levels.

        • Anthony Dream Johnson December 3, 2011 at 1:53 pm #

          Matt, youre flat out wrong, and we are not saying the same thing. Love is not reducible to a chemical/biological reaction in the brain, regardless of whether or not it is ‘practical’ to potentially examine it as such — which is exactly what you are saying.

          Romantic love is an abstraction built upon abstractions. In and of itself, it never exists as a physical equation of X chemical + Y chemical + Z chemical.

          A house is not the foundation it is built on, no matter how critical that foundation is to its existence. This is reductionism 101 Matt.

          • Matt December 3, 2011 at 11:49 pm #

            You’re right, we’re not saying the same thing. We just disagree.

  2. Karthik December 2, 2011 at 10:23 am #

    I agree with Matt. What we require is distilled information. Both Bill and Drew along with Dr. McGuff and Mark Sisson have provided great distilled information and the distillation pot has been the 21 convention(Anthony). The path that Drew is taking with his site is also interesting. Take a look when U have time.


  3. VartanK December 3, 2011 at 10:49 am #

    This reminds me of a very common pseudo-intellectual response to difficult problems, which is the classic refrain to “Occams Razor”. A lot of people misstate the principle as “the simplest solution is the best one”, which is not only stupid in it’s own right, but not at all what Occams Razor even is.

    What this post reminds me of though is Kant’s response to that, which is that you should actually do the exact opposite and KEEP adding to a solution until any more additions become impossible. Thus instead of saying “keep it as simple as possible”, you should actually make as complicated as necessary.

    This is important, because in the end the right answer will actually be the simplest and most complex, since nothing is superfluous or left out.

    • Anthony Dream Johnson December 3, 2011 at 1:55 pm #

      I’d be extremely cautious reading anything by Immanuel Kant.

      • VartanK December 3, 2011 at 5:05 pm #

        You have to be cautious reading any philosopher as they are largely misunderstood and mis-taught. But Kant was incredible.

  4. ben sima December 5, 2011 at 11:04 pm #

    I’ll disagree with you on the psychology aspect. My conviction is that humans are animals with conscious capabilities that have evolved further than other animals. Even some “lesser” animals show some degree of self-awareness, self-consciousness, and certainly reason. Check out the capuchin monkeys.

    Also, what Matt is talking about sounds like the “Singularity.” It’s like saying, when we know everything, our knowledge will point to a singular point, a purely abstract thing that will describe everything. Which is no different from the argument for a deistic God, just with a different name. However, that’s assuming we *can* know everything. Fact of life: humans are fallible and finite (we created religions in part to deal with this fact). We probably won’t ever know everything, so we can’t know about the Singularity, or have enough knowledge to describe everything in terms of physics and chemistry.

    • Matt December 6, 2011 at 4:45 am #

      What we do know points to the fact that everything CAN be described by physics and chemistry… which is actually the opposite of arguing god exists.

      Whether or not we’ll ever know enough to describe things in this way doesn’t change the fact that they can be.

      • Anthony Dream Johnson December 6, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

        Something seems fundamentally off in that last sentence Matt.

        I think its that you’re claiming something as a fact of reality without the requisite knowledge to prove it as such.

        That’s eerily similar to saying “someday, we’ll know enough to prove that god exists, until then, it’s a fact that god CAN exist.”

        The potential (y) for something (x) is not the same as that something (x).

        • Matt December 7, 2011 at 2:56 am #

          Science works inductively “facts of reality” in this sense are inductively inferred from the results we have previously obtained. This is how all the knowledge about exercise, nutrition, and psychology is obtained.

          Based on induction, I conclude that everything in the universe is made up of space, time, matter, and energy, it’s possible that this is wrong, but I see no reason to believe that without having any evidence for it (something that believers in god would do).

          Physics and Chemistry are the study of the interactions between and within space, time, matter and energy. Thus far, every “big problem” in psychics and chemistry that could not be explained by the current models has been overcome. It’s true that at some point we COULD run into something that simply can’t be explained by any models… but my observations of the universe and the headway we have made thus far in these sciences point to the fact that the universe has rules. I think that eventually we may discover all of these rules, but even if we don’t, I don’t think that’s proof they don’t exist… rather, I’d be inclined to think that we’ve simply reached the limits of the human mind.

          To say that thoughts, neurology, and brain chemistry can’t be reduced to physics or chemistry is to accept one of two axioms.
          1.There is something other than matter, energy, time and space involved in the functioning of our brains.
          2. There is something about the interactions between matter, energy, time and space that can’t be modeled.

          I have just given my reasons as to why I would reject these two axioms.

          • ben sima December 8, 2011 at 5:01 pm #

            Induction has problems. Hume talks about this. When you say that, because every big problem has been overcome, thus we shall someday know everything, you are falling into the trap of the problem of induction aka the Black Swan Problem.

            Relevant article: Scientists suggest spacetime has no time dimension –

            The problem is that we will probably never run out of “big problems.” Nietzsche would agree that we must always work to “overcome” but we will never reach a final destination. We always pursue the Truth, but never arrive at the Truth, all we get is multiple little truths and better ways of trying to get to the Truth. Truth is then tied to the way to Truth.

            Cornel West says it better than I — see 3:00-5:00

            • Matt December 9, 2011 at 2:36 am #

              I didn’t say that someday we will know everything… that’s impossible, knowledge begets more knowledge, there will always be new things to be invented.

              However, I did say that I believe someday we will understand completely how space, time, matter, and energy work. Even baring that, we could solve enough problems and understand enough to be able to represent thoughts or biology with a physics model.

              But as you pointed out, I can’t know this. It’s possible that we will never completely understand… but it’s equally possible that we will. Because neither of us can see the future, trying to say that one is more or less likely is an exercise in futility (seeing as the typical tool for this, induction, is taken off the table).

              Our belief then, spring from fundamental axioms we hold about the universe, beliefs that can’t be proven. You believe that the universe can never be fully comprehended, I believe it can be. Any further discussion is silly as we are reasoning from two separate beliefs, neither of which can be proven and neither of which is more or less likely than the other.

      • ben sima December 6, 2011 at 3:28 pm #

        It’s the same as saying that an unknown “thing” exists that will explain everything, someday. For deists, this is God, the infinite being that knew everything such that he created the universe, setting it in motion like a clockmaker and then stepping back (non-interventional).

        For the Singularists (Ray Kurzweil), the Singularity is the point in time where artificial intelligence will overcome human intelligence, with the eventual outcome of us knowing everything and explaining everything thru this AI. In this sense, the AI is an infinite being that theoretically can know everything. Thus, the AI has been posited as a substitute for the godhead, and is essentially the same argument.

        (I’m using physics and chemistry as a language with which we describe the universe, and assuming that this AI will either advance those languages or create a new language to the point where it can describe everything.)


  1. Philosophers to Be Cautious of: Cornel West | Anthony Johnson | The Dream Lounge - December 8, 2011

    […] I pick Cornel West simply because Ben Sima recently linked to him (link). […]

Make your mark