Football

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A few years ago there was an article in Quaker monthly1 that described how we interact, by analogy with living in a football. The main idea was that if you live in a football you cant’ see out and no one can see in and the football gets knocked about by things (and people) outside it. It considered in some detail how one person (in a football) communicates with another (in another football). The idea captures many of the difficulties and breakdowns that we experience in our relations with each other.

The image is consistent with inner and outer experiences that run through this essay. It highlights the fact that all our communications are mediated by our physical environment (sound waves, sight and vision in face-to-face- encounters, written material, art an graphic forms an so on).

Inside the football, one constructs a working model of the world outside and what one has to do to get what one wants: cry for discomfort, make a presentation or a new job, whatever. If the model does not match the real world then there are problems with behaviour and with achieving what is wanted. If one person’s world model is not sufficiently similar to that of someone else, there are or will be communication and hence relationship problems.

Since we are self-conscious and have imagination, it is clear that we can also construct another model of the world that does not need to correspond to the real, outside world. This ability allows us to enjoy the whole range of literature, art and drama. It also makes it possible to be critical of our operational world model and to design and plan one that is better and then to take actions to realise the dream. The imagination facility enables one to construct a ‘model’ of someone else’s mind and so predict their behaviour. In philosophy this is called the theory of other minds (TOOM). The practical value of this is that one can begin to build a relationship and craft it. If there are incompletenesses or inaccuracies (which there will be) then communication will be difficult and the predictions will be misleading.

It is obvious, at least in the football world, that one can not know everything about another person immediately and accurately. In the absence of any or all information the system assumes that another person is just like me. As information becomes available – first impression, conversation, longer acquaintance and so on – the base assumption gets modified and developed.

The football world shows the critical and fundamental role of belief: any and every action is based on the beliefs held at the time: beliefs about the physical, emotional worlds, about the nature and behaviour patterns of another person, about the effects of actions, and so on as well as the philosophical and religious beliefs. The belief – action relations is simple. It is obvious that other factors influence and modify the action, but they do not destroy the fundamental relation. Feedback is also critical. Try drawing or writing with your eyes closed. You will quickly see that you need visual feedback to control your hand and fingers. The same is true of other sorts of action, including social interactions. In social interactions failure to listen and observe has catastrophic results.

A wise behaviour is to listen and think about incoming signals and messages because they contain valuable information about the world, the situation and the person(s) one is working with but they can be misleading and just plain wrong. This is an important, necessary but not sufficient aspect of the search for truth.

Another wise behaviour is to verify the message received, the belief held the assumption made and the validity of the present model or world view. Science provides some techniques, methods and procedures that might help.

The processes going on inside the football that are experienced subjectively are mystical or can be seen as mystical. The processes going on between footballs can also be seen as mystical.

Science can and does provide us with some information and insights into the workings inside and between footballs. It can tell us quite a lot about the physics and chemistry of the footballs and the energy transfers between footballs. Cognitive psychology tells us something of what goes on inside. Science also gives us some useful attitudes and questions for testing and challenging our assumptions and checking our mental models.

Craftsmanship arises and can be used in building accurate, reliable models inside the football, in treating the incoming messages with rigor and wisdom, in crafting the outgoing actions and message for accurate transmission and receipt of the correct message. At higher and more abstract levels, whole groups of interactive encounters can be crafted to give satisfactory relationships with other people.

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