clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Horns of Perception

In the agony of the workday world, it is no wonder obsession can demean the most patient and balanced of individuals. We only have 12 games, maybe 13 if we’re lucky or good, and after an interminable wait through the sweltering sweat box we call summer, the glorious weekends can’t get here quickly enough.

Finally, in the smoky aftermath of the games, when the emotions have simmered down and that brief respite we call sanity ensues, suddenly next Saturday seems so far away. In the meanwhile, we dwell on the details, hang on every word and implication, and scratch through the stats and analysis like mad ethnographers reconstructing ancient relics from what seems like only yesterday. Mid-week has come and gone and we’re still waiting, dammit, less than  48 hours out and just counting down the minutes.

Grab a bowl of chili, maybe some beans and we’ll obsess on the jump…

Just how long can you really totally concentrate100%? Joseph Campbell said that becoming totally involved in something was finding your bliss but we know that only happens on Saturdays and certain Rose Bowl dates. Sometimes a relative facsimile will do.  For the person with the strong ability to focus, that period of total concentration lasts about three and a half minutes. So short, you say, well, that’s the plight of life, might even be the reason you’re here and not doing your work. Most of us focus at a lesser percentage but can do so for longer. Occasionally we all get deeply involved enough to be totally oblivious.

Complete concentration on our work or some directed activity can't be sustained that long because it is not our natural state. It is a learned skill. Diffuse attention - aka daydreaming - is the natural state. Your boss who is abusing you for staring out the window may not want to agree, but it is taking everything he has to show up everyday and deal with the likes of you unless he is properly obsessed and in the same situation to some degree. This isn’t a case for obsession, although it does seem to have its role in our modern state. We push ourselves - or are pushed - to achieve what we can, on our own behalf or that of others. Concentration takes work...that is, energy. 

It is noteworthy that the polar opposites of our attention - that process that channels the universe into our being and creates our perception - have dangerous consequences. To be absolutely concentrating on something or to be totally lost in a daydream means we are excluding the everyday world. If you’re driving or walking in the pasture or any number of activities - such oblivion can be extremely dangerous if not deadly. Most of us live in controlled environments and have some sensibility about bad outcomes, so the danger is diminished to some degree. This situation is a normal everyday occurrence.

Our diffused state has at least two basic components. Once we slip into neutral, the executive portion deals with what is our life and its problems, the immediate future: the nature of thought is planning and problem solving. The other state is fantasy, whether future plans or hero or heroine scenarios, or, especially in the young, sexual fantasies of every sort, the biologic impulses from the tsunamis of hormones of that come rolling through every few minutes.

What in the hell does this have to do with football or history? Plenty. We’re hot wired predators and violent m*therf*ckers. Don’t accept that? Think you are so civilized? Let you and your buddies go without food for a week and see what happens with I throw I charred steak or a juicy carrot into the group. Right. Civilization is a very thin veneer. We can spend the words to make the case we are civilized, but the truth is quite the opposite and doesn’t need any words at all. Either might makes right or we share. Most all of our conflicts are within this spectrum, personal, national  and international.

Football is ritualized combat. We don’t talk about that much directly. After 911 the use of war analogies with respect to football diminished greatly, falling out of social favor, although they never went away…they’re quite appropriate in a descriptive sense. Directed and controlled aggression and physical collision are very entertaining in a primal manner. That the rules are balanced and enforced and that the outcome is undecided until the end defines this as sport as opposed to an art like bull fighting (where the outcome is always the same). This replicates much of our human history and the competitive nature of our economic engine.  

If concentration is a leaned skill and really something we have to work so hard to sustain with maximum efficiency, what is the accumulated amount of error within a single group of people over a couple of hours?

It doesn’t take Horn Brain to tell you that the accumulated error is staggering and that getting a play perfected with 11 people - or even just five like the OL - is virtually impossible. Coaches will tell you that perfectly executed plays are way up the Bell Curve. And that’s discounting the fact the defense may be perfectly executed on any given play.

In fact, a football game is a mass of errors on every single play. Sometimes it’s a wonder teams can do anything, much less score. Ratchet up the complexity and Sisyphus would be jealous. And you, exalted sports fan, find yourself frustrated with your obsession for perfection, although you probably don’t see it as such. You just want Colt to hit Goodwin on the long sideline route for 97 years ever so often, that’s all.

There are both physical and mental attentions, body knowledge and objective game knowledge. And thinking - except for where it is required - causes more problems than it solves. Just ask a drill sergeant or a position coach. The game is best played with a peak of physical attention and direct intuition - acting directly without thinking. Many positions must have some pre-snap decisions, though, and quarterback moreso than any other player.

The QB has to contend with 11 monsters of the midway than can all morph into a Kindle on any given play, must depend on 10 team components of varying skill and tiredness, and still has to make a bushel of decisions before most snaps, and then physically get the play executed successfully. This doesn’t include dealing with GD’s play calling and Mack’s demands or the fact he got bushwhacked on the last play and can’t find his chinstrap.  You’d hope the QB would get Tony Romo rewards after the game, but basically this is for the glory and postponed rewards. It is both about the future and for history.

So keep this in mind when you rip through the information streams, see staggering mistakes and scream for big plays: you are really lucky to be a part of the Horn of Plenty at this particular time and place. Billions of human beings have died over millions of years just so you could show up today. Include that in your pre-snap read.

Hook ‘em