Art De Vany [6]

Art De Vany is the originator of the notion of "evolutionary fitness".

He is writing a much-awaited book on evolutionary fitness for publication early in 2010 by Harper-Collins and has previously (around 2000) published on the internet the book's prologue and an outline of its then contents.

Meanwhile, Art has established a two-part blog: the first part is available to the public and it contains about 5% of the material that is behind a paywall. [3] Art has also produced a 4 DVD set based on his May 2008 public seminar.

This Evfit website was initially created in an attempt to fill the expected one- or two-year gap while Professor De Vany completed and published his text. However, as Art pursued a range of other interests, the expected date of publication of his book extended out further into the future. In the meantime, evfit.com evolved as Art's approach has also developed in its own way. As we see it, our approach has diverged more from the Evolutionary Fitness of the late 1990s [5] than has Art's - so much so that we now see ourselves as complementing his perspective rather than anticipating it or replicating it. From our perspective here's seven ways we see ourselves as differing from Art's approach:

1.  Art has a solid grounding in both the statics and dynamics of human metabolism: physiology and nutritional science (planks one and two of evolutionary fitness). This site takes the view that we need know nothing more about nutrition and physiology than did our ancestors during the Pleistocene to be as fit and healthy as they were. [4] However, because we lack a Palaeolithic understanding of the world, we do need to understand and apply the Evolutionary Health Principle as enunciated thirty-six years ago by Stephen Boyden.

2.  Art's writing is downright wittier and has a wonderful turn of phrase.

3.  Art sharpened his ideas over five years of intensive debate on the Evolutionary Fitness forum and in March 2005 opened a blog to continue the debate. In May 2008 he held a public seminar, later released as a DVD.

4.  Art does not place as much emphasis as Evfit on the importance of the third plank - the contemporary loss of our planet's Pleistocene environment and the implications for human ecology. Nor is he concerned with the implications of evolutionary psychology for the prospects of turning around humanity's trend of environmental destruction - we take this as the fourth plank.

5.  Although both Art and I began academically in the social sciences (Art as an economist, I as a sociologist), I have rejected the teleological model of human behaviour still assumed by the social sciences (explaining choice in terms of utility maximization by rational minds) in favour of an evolutionary model (explaining behaviour (there is no choiuce) in terms of antecedent physical or computational causes because 'organisms are adaptation executers, not fitness pursuers' [1].

6.  Following on from 4, Art advocates certain nutritional supplements, whereas we believe good food provides adequate nutrition if it is consumed in conjunction with appropriate physical, mental and social activity, sleep etc. We take this two steps further: we grow all our own vegetables and we advocate that others do the same.

7.  Further, Art uses and recommends gym machines. We prefer functional exercise using activities involving loads, movements and protocols as close as we can get to Pleistocene reality.

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On 2 April 2008 I was asked if I was going to Art DeVany's Las Vegas seminar in May. Here's my reply:

>Will you be there Keith?
>

Hi, Dave. If I lived in the US I might, but I won't be flying across the world. Also, I find myself diverging from Art as time goes by.

Specifically, I find the Evolutionary Fitness message to be very simple: live, eat, be active ("exercise" in 21st century language) as if you were living in the late Pleistocene. Now that's not wholly possible, so we all have to compromise somewhere, and it's where we each choose not to compromise that marks us out.

I believe our mental approach is as important as our physiology and in this respect I count myself as closer to "Deep Ecology" - that is, closer to those who value the Pleistocene qualities of nature and act to preserve them and actively oppose those who would destroy them. I can't see how we can have healthy people if the planet is not also healthy, and I am very concerned about the coming confluence of climate change (of which Art is skeptical), peak oil, economic recession/depression, the end of antibiotics, human over-population, soil degradation, pollution, food insecurity and societal complexity. So I draw inspiration from the writings of Derrick Jensen, Val Plumwood, Daniel Quinn, James Lovelock, John Zerzan, Arne Naess, Bill Mollison, Jay Hanson, Pentti Linkola, Paul Shepard, and John Gray, but I am not an uncritical follower of any. These writers' books are unlikely to be on Art De Vany's bookshelves, let alone well-thumbed - as are my own copies!

But Art is far more comfortable in the Anthropocene than I am [2] and he justifies his approach by physiological science - brilliantly and innovatively applied. It's true that I have changed over the past decade more than Art has, and one way I am changing is that I don't need any physiological science to back up the Evolutionary Fitness principle. One difference between us which exemplifies our distinct approaches is his reference to the importance of 'correct form' in exercises; I have come to regard 'correct form' as a 21st century idea promoted by academically-qualified experts and paid personal trainers who benefit from mystifying what should be instinctive commonsense to all of us. People would not have specified 'correct form' or mandated it in the Pleistocene. 'Correct form' is what people do when they exercise in a gym, not when they are living an active life. My workouts will have 'poor form'; I do exercise to failure and, despite Art saying "It's so easy", I find it damned hard work and yet, like Art, I find it fun, demanding, unusual and rewarding.

A few years ago, in my mid-fifties, a man about 25 years younger than me asked "How come you don't exercise like anyone else in the gym, but you have the best body in the gym?" The answer is in the question, of course. I find myself having a philosophy of life closer to Ray Audette's - possibly because our incomes are, I would guess, about the same - another reason why I won't be travelling to the USA for Art's seminar.

However, I am looking forward to the DVD Art mentions. I'm sure there is much there I'll learn - and willingly apply, despite what I have written above. I see he's doing EF for women and EF for children - great!

Examples of Art's writing

"We are hunter/gatherers in pin-stripe suits, living a sedentary life and it is killing us in ways our ancestors never experienced."

Notes

1. The handbook of evolutionary psychology, 2005, p. 14. Chapter 1: the Conceptual Foundations of Evolutionary Psychology, John Tooby and Leda Cosmides. For more an explication of the brief quotation here see the page on human hardwiring

2. Art's car is a Range Rover; mine is a 32 year-old Volvo that carries mulch, firewood and building materials and a few rusty dents and not a single microchip. Art rides a top-of-the-line Austrian off-road motorbike for recreation; I ride a 35 year-old bicycle to work and the gym. Art enjoys golf; I think about the ecological impacts of golf courses.

3. Access to the subscriber's blog is available (May 2009) for $US 49.95 a year. Behind the paywall there are over a 900 articles (May 2009) and many times this of reader comments. Included on the website are the following comprehensive papers "A beginner's guide to evolutionary fitness", "The best workout", "The essay that started it all", "Getting started on evolutionary fitness"    Back to text

4. The epitome of this is Ray Audette's sharp stick principle.    Back to text

5. The best summary of evolutionary fitness as Art saw it in 2000 is still in this report on Clarence Bass' website. Back to text

6. Note the spelling: Capital D, capital V - two words. back to text

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Page last updated 23 October 2009