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Evolution & Monism’s Influence on Physical Education & Sport

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posted on Dec, 15 2012 @ 01:59 PM
My apologies if this may be in the wrong thread, as it is my first thread on ATS since coming back from a fair amount of time away. This post is not about evolutionary conspiracy or stating that it is true, however, it has a lot to do with evolution and its profound effects on another aspect of our lives today that is extremely popular, physical education and sport. Therefore, I felt it was best to post this here and not in psychology or another possible forum. If it is deemed that this post is a better fit in another forum please move it there and let me know. Thank you.

Whether you agree with evolution or not is not the point of this post. The point of this post is to demonstrate how Darwin’s theory of evolution started a domino effect that gave legitimacy to physical education and sport, enabling them to develop and rise in popularity. Without Darwin’s work physical education and sport may not have been able to rise in popularity the way it has or at least not in such a fast and dramatic fashion as it has. So, in my opinion, whether or not you agree with evolution if you love physical education and/or sport you have to partially thank Darwin for his role in its rise to what we see it today.

I do know this is a long read spanning more than one post and some at the beginning may wonder when Darwin will pop up, however, Darwin’s theory of evolution is the main point that holds my theory or perspective together in this post and does come up. So stick with the post and read through it all. In the end, this is just my opinion mixed with a fair amount of research that I have conducted. I would love to hear any and all thoughts on what I have brought up. Whether you agree with me or not I do hope that you enjoy.

The mind-body relationship has been a topic of discussion in cultures throughout history. As Mechikoff (201) states, “to a great extent, what we know and how we teach is determined by our philosophy and corresponding position about the mind-body relationship, and this position is usually determined by our culture” (p. 16). This discussion and the position cultures have taken on it have had a profound impact on physical education and sport.

Prior to the 20th century, most cultures throughout history had maintained a dualistic position on the mind-body relationship. Dualism is “the belief that mind and body are different kinds of substance that exist independently” (Kalat, 2009, p. 5). Thus, cultures who held dualistic positions believed that the mind and body should be utilized for different purposes as they were separate not interacting or influencing one another. This position held by cultures in the past had negative effects on physical education and sport. Since societies did not believe the mind and body interacted with one another they valued intellectual education more than physical education and sport, which they saw useful only for labor and military purposes. (Mechikoff, 2010)

Ancient Sumer (Iraq) was one culture that was very dualistic. The Sumerians looked to religion to explain what happened in life. Unlike gods and kings, ordinary people were not valued, therefore the body was not valued either. For them, intellectual education had more value and organized sport was utilized basically for military training only. Their religious and dualistic beliefs resulted in physical education and sporting programs being nonexistent. (Mechikoff, 2010)

Western Europe during the Middle Ages, also known as the Dark Ages, was another very dualistic culture. During this period of time, Christianity began to spread and the rise of the Roman Catholic Church occurred. The goals of the Church were to convert those of other religions and their view of the body was negative describing it as a vehicle of sin. (Mechikoff, 2010) This highly negative view of the body led to the rise of ascetic dualism, “the belief that the human body should be denied any kind of pleasure in order to purify the soul” (Mechikoff, p. 113). Due to the religious differences and the dualistic position held by societies, physical education and sport had no value and was essentially eliminated from existence. (Mechikoff)

Another culture that held a dualistic position was New England in Colonial America. During most of the 1600’s, New England was under the influence of Puritanism, which was very religious and dualistic. (Mechikoff, 2010) The Puritans “believed that play and games could be the ‘workshop’ of the devil...[and] Puritan dogma argued that spiritual nourishment was provided for the soul while the body was made for work and prayer, and not play” (Mechikoff, pp. 241-242). The mind was valued more than the body, therefore physical education and sport were not valued and were mostly nonexistent. This is evident in the fact they had laws condemning physical education and sport that resulted in fines or imprisonment. (Mechikoff)

As one can see in the cultures of Ancient Sumer, Western Europe during the Middle Ages, and New England in the 1600’s, religion played a huge role in the position these cultures took on the mind-body relationship. Their religious beliefs led to dualistic positions that had detrimental effects on physical education and sport, as they were not valued, virtually wiping them away from existence in the lives of their citizens. However, things would begin to change during the mid-1800’s to early-1900’s due to certain developments causing people to stop looking to religion to explain life and instead turn to science. (Mechikoff, 2010)

During the mid-1800’s to early-1900’s psychology, like society, was turning to scientific answers to explain life. The field was transitioning from being based on philosophy to science. The hope was if science could be valuable to society than psychology would become a field held in high esteem. (Kornspan, 2007) Thus, “psychologists...often felt it was necessary to show how psychology could be applied, and, thus, was important to the general society (as cited in Goodwin, 1999)” (Kornspan, p. 154). The biological sciences, specifically Darwin’s work, would be the breaking point enabling physical education and sport to prove its value to society.

Work conducted in the biology was groundbreaking as people began to be “viewed as an organismic part of the social body...[and] Health was seen as a balance between the organic systems of the body and those systems that set humans apart from other creatures...qualities associated with the human mind” (Mechikoff, 2010, pp. 200-201). Monistic research into the mind-body relationship began, in terms of interaction and influencement, resulting in evidence for ideas that the mind was a product of biology and exercise could produce character. (Mechikoff) “The impact of science on nineteenth-century thought was profound...the epistemology of dualism was increasingly challenged by the epistemologies of science” (Mechikoff, p. 201).

posted on Dec, 15 2012 @ 02:00 PM
Darwin’s theory of evolution had the most profound effect, as it proposed the process of the survival of the fittest or natural selection. (Schultz & Schultz, 2012) According to Darwin, this process involved “the survival of those organisms best suited for their environment and the elimination of those not fit...those...that do survive are the ones that have made successful adaptations or adjustments to the environmental circumstances to which they are exposed” (Schultz & Schultz, p. 108). This was a huge development in science, which Physical Education quickly utilized to prove its value to society. Exercise was now “thought to be one of the measures of biological improvement of the species” (Mechikoff, 2010, p. 202). Physical Education now had what it had lacked, a scientific theory that justified its existence, enabling them to begin to grow in value and popularity. “As the theory went, individual improvements would enhance the evolutionary process of the entire human race, and therefore physical education was of benefit to the race” (Mechikoff, p. 202). Physical Education and sport were valuable, as they were seen as educational tools to teach society how to adapt to the environment, become fit, and survive. (Mechikoff)

Darwin’s theory of evolution started to bring forth a monism position of the mind-body relationship. Monism is “the belief that the universe consists of only one kind of substance” (Kalat, 2009, p. 6). It incorporates the view that the mind and body are not separated but an integrated whole, that interacts and influences one another. (Mechikoff, 2010) Now that physical education and sport were seen as essential tools at the core of survival and evolution, the body was being valued as much as the mind. Physical education and sport was now as important as intellectual education. Physical educators had been arguing for the unity of the mind and the body in the past and Darwin’s evolutionary theory gave them the support they needed. This was the first major development that occurred during the mid-1800’s to the early-1900’s and it got the ball rolling for society’s transition to monism and the growth of physical education and sport.

Another key component of Darwin’s idea of survival of the fittest or natural selection was that he did not limit it to physical abilities, as he also believed it was applicable to behavior. (Crain, 2010) The importance of this view is that it was monistic giving equal importance to the mind and the body, stating that they interact with one another enabling a person to develop and survive life. This idea would impact another major development that occurred during this time period, known as play theory, which in turn would cause the formation of a new theoretical position in physical education. These two developments also supported a monism position on the mind-body relationship and their roots can be traced back to Darwin’s evolutionary theory.

Play theory did not fully develop until the early 1900’s, however, it’s roots can be traced back as early as the mid-1800’s. As play theory developed among numerous advocates one can easily see the influence of Darwin’s theory of evolution and a monism position on the mind-body relationship. One of the earliest advocates of Darwin’s theory of evolution and play was Herbert Spencer. Spencer believed that play was “an instinctual, natural, and enjoyable activity essential for physical welfare and development...[and] could be used to expend excess energy...he believed...was not necessary for survival” (Mechikoff, 2010, pp. 224-225). Similar to Darwin, Spencer felt physical activity was a valuable tool essential for survival

Another early play advocate, William James, “argued that habits and impulses combined with the capacity to reason and therefore helped determine human behavior” (Mechikoff, 2010, p. 225). Similar to James, Karl Groos felt play was important for individual development and that it could improve behavior. He felt it was a necessary part of life, as it prepared people for the road ahead. (Mechikoff) In the beliefs of both of these play advocates one can see the influence of Darwin and monism, as they are arguing the mind and body interact and influence one another in ways that develop behavior necessary for survival.

G. Stanley Hall held a similar view proposing that “each stage of development promoted the acquisition of the necessary motor skills and psychosocial growth to move on to the next stage of development” (Mechikoff, p. 225). Once again the monism position that the mind and body interact and influence one another is evident. Luther Halsey Gulick and John Dewey believed play was essential for acquiring social skills our society was dependent upon. (Mechikoff) Thus, they both held similar views to Hall’s vision of “physical education as the educational process that could connect matters of the body and the mind” (Mechikoff, p. 225).

posted on Dec, 15 2012 @ 02:01 PM
The play advocates and their fellow colleagues were influential in continuing society’s transition from dualism to monism, which began with Darwin’s theory of evolution. Their views reflected Darwin’s, in that physical education and sport were essential tools at the core of survival and society, while also reflecting monism in that the mind and body interacted and influenced one another. They believed that physical education and sport, “developed health and vigor...promoted character and the associated habits of loyalty, sportsmanship, friendliness, honesty, and leadership...fostered ideals such as democracy through group cooperation...developed moral and ethical values; and...promoted worthy group membership” (Mechikoff, 2010, p. 228). These theorists helped to usher monism into society giving physical education and sport importance and value that led to growth and a rise in popularity. As Mechikoff states that their “primary concepts...formed the theoretical base of twentieth-century physical education” (p. 228).

As previously mentioned the concepts provided by the play advocates led to the formation of a new theoretical base, which continued society’s transition to monism, as well as the growth of physical education and sport in terms of value and popularity. Clark Hetherington was the one who formed this position, breaking the field down “into four areas: organic, psychomotor, character, and produce five stated objectives...[which were to develop] democratic adjustment skills...latent powers and capacities...character...[and] to improve thinking” (Mechikoff, pp. 229-230). It is evident that Hetherington was influenced by Darwin and the play advocates as his views are very monistic. His objectives propose that the mind and the body interact and influence one another to develop beneficial skills and qualities necessary for development and survival. This was the last development in a chain of events that began with Darwin’s theory of evolution that ushered a monism position into society, resulting in tremendous growth for physical education and sport. As Mechikoff states Hetherington’s work “provided the direction for the discipline early in the twentieth century...[and] although there have been semantic changes over the years, the conceptual structure remains nearly unchanged” (p. 229).

Due to the major developments that occurred from the mid-1800’s to the early-1900’s that ushered monism into society, physical education and sport experienced tremendous growth in popularity and value. Physical education and sport had become valued on an equal level with intellectual education, as it was now seen as an essential educational tool not only for physical abilities but also mental. The rise in popularity is evident in the books, teacher-training programs, organizations, athletic teams, school curriculums, etc., that were published, formed, and developed toward the end of this time period, which continued to grow in the decades that followed. (Mechikoff, 2010) Due to the domino effect that began with Darwin and ended with Hetherington, society transitioned out of dualism into monism and began to value physical education and sport. Without the views of these individuals, the field most likely would not have been able to grow at the rate that it did. The amount of physical education and sport programs that exist today, as well as society’s mainly monistic position, owe their existence to the three major developments that occurred during this period with the first being Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Crain, W. (2011). Theories of development: Concepts and applications (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Kalat, J. W. (2009). Biological Psychology (10th ed.). Belmont, CA: Cengage Publishing.
Kornspan, A., S. (2007). E. W. Scripture and the Yale psychology laboratory: Studies related to athletics and physical activity. The Sport Psychologist, 21, 152-169. Retrieved from:
Mechikoff, R., A. (2010). A history and philosophy of sport and physical education (5th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Schultz, D. P., & Schultz, S. E. (2012). A history of modern psychology. (10th ed.). Belmont, CA: Cengage Publishing.

Once again, I would love to hear any comments back on this theory or perspective that I have introduced. I hope that you have at least found it to be an interesting read. Thank you for your time.
edit on 12/15/2012 by theUNKNOWNawaits because: (no reason given)


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