If you needed to describe the human mind to aliens from another planet, what would be the simplest way to do it? Assume the aliens speak English.
I would tell the aliens that humans form strong bonds with sports teams and enthusiastically cheer for victory. Then I would walk away, done. The aliens, having learned all there is to know about humans, get back in their spacecraft and continue their search for intelligent life.
In my youth, I rooted for my local sports teams. As I matured, I learned that life is just particles bumping into each other according to the rules of physics. What we observe with our five senses is nothing more than the result of all that particle activity. Once that understanding sunk in, I could no longer feel any emotion about the fate of one team versus another. In the universe, shit happens, and sometimes humans are wearing matching uniforms when it does. Why would that excite me?
I think the answer lies in the illusion of free will.
If you believe humans have free will then it makes sense to see a sporting event as a battle of wills. And maybe, just maybe, your mental concentration and inspirational rooting from home is helping things along. If you believe in free will it is not a stretch to believe that your free will flies from your head into the cloud and interacts with the “will to win” of your favorite team and somehow strengthens it. Thus, you, the fan, are important to the winning process. I can see how that would be exciting.
But if you are scientific-minded, and see no evidence of this thing called free will, you probably see sports as the sum of particles bumping around. It’s hard to root for that.
I’m also puzzled by the concept of loving a specific team. A professional sports team is a legal entity with assets that change every year. If the assets change (mostly the players) but you still love your team the same, you’re actually rooting for an artificial corporate entity formed for tax and legal purposes. Try explaining that to your aliens.
Perhaps you love your local teams because they are local, so you have something in common and they are representing for you. But realistically, your team is comprised of a bunch of freakish multimillionaires that came from other places. And the minute their contracts expire they are probably gone.
I love playing sports because it jacks up my body chemistry, gives me a cardio workout, has social benefits, and more. But watching other people play sports doesn’t entertain me. The exception is major tennis matches, but I watch those more to observe techniques I can borrow.
This all leads me to wonder if there is a strong correlation between religious belief and rooting for a sports team. Both actions require a special kind of belief in free will, and not all of us have that.
So I put the question to you, my blog readers. On a scale from 1 to 10, where do you rank in terms of religious belief and enjoyment of watching sports?
Religious belief: 0
Enjoy watching sports: 2
How about you?