What Makes Anything Into Something?

When I was little, I was obsessed with the universe. Sounds weird, but something about space just got me going—admittedly though, Star Wars provided me with most of my knowledge. That phase of my life has long since passed, but one thing I learned while in still knee-deep in it still drives me crazy to this day. According to this article by Cornell, there are several theories for the shape of our universe and two of them include it fading into nothingness (while a simplified description, it gets the general gist across).

A diagram of three of the theories for how the universe might be shaped.

A diagram of three of the theories for how the universe might be shaped.

However what fascinates me is how we define nothingness in this case. Anything outside our universe is “nothing” meaning there is not one thing out there. But how is it that we are able to define nothing as something? Kind of a confusing question, but when combined with the reading from last week, NFL Rules Changes: When Is Football No Longer Football, it got me wondering how we define who we are, what we do, and what makes anything into what it is?

In the article mentioned above, Mark Tracy talks about how the rule changes to the NFL are changing the game. He basically

Tackling is a big part of football, but what would happen to the sport, and programs like Michigan's, if that part of football was taken away? Would the sport continue on in the same way or change too much to be considered football at all?

Tackling is a big part of football, but what would happen to the sport, and programs like Michigan’s, if that part of football was taken away? Would the sport continue on in the same way or change too much to be considered football at all?

questions how far is too far until the game will no longer be considered football. Most of us agreed that football without tackling would cease to be…well, football. But why is that so? Who gets to decide what defines a sport or even a person? Who (and what) defines something?

I think about this question a lot, and while I’d like to look at it like Hobbes does and say that there is one set ruler (or in this case maybe a set of rules/guidelines) that determines what makes a game like football (or even something as complex as simple as a scientific theory) what it is, that’s simply not possible. Everyone goes through life with their own set of life experiences and we take those experiences to help us shape what things me in context to us.

Instead how we view things is a weird combination of several different theories. Using the example of football rule changes that Tracy laid out in his article and the idea of getting rid of tackling that we discussed earlier can help us see this distinction better. If the NFL wanted to ban tackling, they have that right. They have the ultimate say in that decision (which would

Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau

Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau

support a more Hobbes-ist idea of an absolute sovereign). The NFL can also eliminate tackling and still insist that the sport is called “football.” However, the people can bring their own ideas and motivations to the table as well and contest the NFL’s redefinition of football, acting within their own “self-interest” (an idea that is supported by Locke and Rousseau–albeit in different ways). Football would still be football to the NFL and to some people, but a lot of other people would agree that the sport would have been so drastically altered, it would cease to be what it was before.

I guess the point of this is that life is messy. It’s not all a bunch of theories, and while some of them can apply in some situations, people aren’t always the rational, straight-laced thinkers that philosophers and theorists of the past have made them out to be. Everyone is different and brings their own life experiences to the table. Those experiences help us to shape life, and the things we encounter in it, into concrete (at least to that specific person) ideals and definitions. So it’s okay for me to think that football will always have to include tackling and that the “nothing” outside the universe is just unexplored something, because that’s what my experiences have made me believe.

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One thought on “What Makes Anything Into Something?

  1. This post was very interesting to me because I am in a science course where we are currently discussing this “nothingness” in the universe. Your main point is a question I’ve been asking myself because of the nature of studying space and the laws of nature. How can we, as observers of the universe, claim to make reliable calls about our universe? We do this even for unobservable parts of the universe. We are making calls on the behavior of dark matter and dark energy, two things in the universe that we cannot even really detect. It’s interesting to me how you related this to football. I see where the same concept applies. We all bring our own notions to whatever subject we are discussing. Whether it be football or the origins of the universe, we have different experiences that alter how we view life in general. I really enjoyed this post because it’s so relevant to what I am currently learning about, as I too question who we think we are to try and define such matters.

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