When you watch sports, you care about science.
The 2013 Nobel Prizes were awarded this past week. No one can deny the gravity of the occasion—the ultimate in recognizing human intellectual and moral achievement. Also during this past week, the Seattle Seahawks beat the Arizona Cardinals. As Peter Higgs won the Nobel Prize in physics, Russell Wilson led his team in victory over a division rival.
Though these events contrast each other more than Poindexter and Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds, they’re effectively the same. Whether a man is discovering a subatomic particle or leading his team down the field for a winning touchdown, they’re both doing a job well. We only watch football because touchdowns are a more exciting demonstration of work than a wrinkly dude in a lab coat futzing with a SuperCollider.
Steve Martin makes a similar point in his 1993 play Pablo Picasso at the Lapin Agile. Set in Paris in 1904, the play dramatizes a fictitious meeting between a young Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso. Both geniuses, mere months prior to their greatest achievements, discuss what it means to achieve. Though Einstein is formulating a scientific theory, and Picasso is painting naked prostitutes, they realize they’re doing the same thing.
The medieval philosopher Thomas Aquinas used angels as a teaching device to model the pinnacle of man—what man is ultimately capable of. One of these angels’ distinguishing attributes is a mind that can pierce directly to the essence of a worldly idea or form without being distracted by unnecessary particulars. Aquinas’s Angels, as they’re now called, could abstract in an instant. In other words, they wouldn’t be able to distinguish Wilson from Higgs, or even Poindexter from Ogre.
If you can train yourself to think in fundamentals like Aquinas’s Angels, all men who rise to the top of their field—regardless of their field—are, to quote Hugo, “men who look into the infinite and make it flesh.”
If this is a foreign idea to you, then hear me now and believe me later—when you watch sports, you’re caring about science; and when you care about science, you’re watching sports. This goes for every endeavor. The mailman is the engineer is the doctor is the journalist is the bartender. The only odd man out is the man who doesn’t care to do anything well.