Humans Aren’t Samurai Swords

I remember, eons ago when I was studying material science, seeing a video about samurai swords.

Specifically, the traditional way of making them.

It’s an elaborate process – one that evolved over hundreds of years.

The point of this was to look at it through a modern, scientific perspective. Which of the steps were necessary, and which ones were simply tradition?

You might think the chanting (and there’s a lot of chanting) is purely ceremonial. Not so – at least, not always. Many of the steps require precise timing. A simple example: if the metal is too cool, you can’t work it. Too hot, and it melts. So you need to heat it for a specific amount of time.

(Also at a specific temperature – there were rituals for that, too.)

So chanting served a function – it helped them keep time.

I hear Galileo did something similar – singing along to his experiments as a way of timing them. That’s something for you to consider if you need to microwave something for a couple of minutes but, somehow, have no time-keeping instruments…

Anyway, back to the swords.

You could argue that every stage is ‘necessary’ because forging a samurai sword is an act of love. The rituals will help you appreciate it.

But assuming you’re a scientist, business executive, engineer or some other professional looking to optimise the process…

Well, you could find a few areas to streamline.

That’s because we know what each step of the forging process does.

This adds carbon, turning it from iron to steel.

This melts the grains, letting you recast the metal in a stronger form.

Et cetera, et cetera.

This mindset – the need to analyse and optimise – is valuable. It can be the difference between a million-dollar idea and bankruptcy.


We can’t approach everything this way.

Worse – it’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking we can.

Here’s another example of science taking a closer look at a pre-science practice:

Let’s say a tradition people use a particular herb as medicine. Maybe it, I don’t know, boosts your immune system or whatever.

Science, quite reasonably, asks two questions:

Does this actually work (as in, does it beat a placebo)?

And if so, then how?

So someone tests it against a placebo and it seems to work. That answers that.

Then they take the herb and pull it apart, finding a unique compound. They decide this is the ‘active’ ingredient, isolate it, concentrate it and test it, calling it a new miracle drug.

Does this approach work?

Sometimes. We’re gotten a lot of drugs that way.

But sometimes it doesn’t.

Who’s to say concentrating the compound makes it more effective? There are plenty of toxins where increasing the dose makes it less potent, because it activates certain anti-toxin responses in the body. That’s a simple response… and the body is filled with thousands of complex ones.

And who’s to say isolating the compound keeps its effectiveness? Maybe it needs to work in concert with the other compounds in the herb.

Does it even work in pill form? Maybe you need to drink it as a hot tea to get the benefits.

This isn’t the same as the sword-forging example because swords are simple, whereas biology is complicated. We can understand everything about steel but we don’t know everything about how your trillions of cells interact.

You might put your faith in the scientific process here. Surely they’ll test the pill and find it doesn’t work as well as the raw herb.

Science will find the answer, sure.

But it might work slowly – especially when there’s money involved. Even the scientific method can be distracted by short-term rewards and fashionable thinking.

There’s a moral to this story:

Pay attention to the cutting edge of science, because new stuff happens all the time.

But don’t become seduced by it.

After all, the scientific method isn’t responsible for the technique for making samurai swords. That came about from a little instinct, a lot of trial and error…

And a huge amount of time.

Time has wisdom of its own. It eliminates the practices that don’t work, leaving only the ones that do.

If you want to run a business, maybe that doesn’t help you – unless you can create a thousand random ones and see which survive the ages.

But if you’re looking for a way to improve your body or mind…

What old practices have outlived their rivals for decades, centuries, even millennia?

Bonus points if they emerged in different parts of the world at different times. Sometimes a bad idea can spread off the back of an empire, sure. But if it emerges in multiple places – and if it outlives the civilisation that spawned it – it must have something going for it.

Even more bonus points if science gives them the tick of approval. Then you get the best of both words – the endures of time, plus the merciless rigour of science.

When you consider all that, two mental disciplines stand out:

Meditation and hypnosis.

Meditation is thousands of years old. It’s not just an Asian thing. Australian Aborigines – a culture that goes back at least 60,000 years – have a practice called dadirri. It’s a unique take on mindfulness meditation everyone should experience.

As for hypnosis?

Well, modern hypnosis might be a few decades old.

And the terminology we use – hypnosis, mesmerism and so on – dates back centuries.

But hypnotic principles appear in Ancient Egyptian religious ceremonies, shamanism and traditional cultures all over the world.

Hypnosis isn’t all swinging pocket watches and clucking like chickens. It’s an ancient discipline with roots in spirituality, surviving for eons, long enough for science to discover it and reforge it into a potent, focused and evidence-based tool.

I know your problems seem huge to you… but compared to the weight of all that history and power, they don’t stand a chance.

Source by William T Batten is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to