Make no mistake, there is a battle going on. We are living in a world that is in danger of being overwhelmed by a tsunami of incoherence. A raging torrent of piffle threatens to saturate our ability to perform even the most perfunctory of human interactions – to communicate. A Niagara of babble is cascading from the myriad platforms of the age of information. The floodgates have been opened; we are at risk of drowning in an ocean of contradiction, hypocrisy and epistemological non sequiturs.
This may all sound a little over-dramatic, and I’ll happily concede that in order to make a point there are but few instances of metaphorical attention seeking that I would consider beneath me. So, while these kind of grandiose contentions could well be considered as the journalistic equivalent of lying face down in the confectionery aisle and battering the floor with one’s fists, I hope you can indulge me – at least for now – the practice of such a cynically conceived tactic.
As I alluded to, the issue here is largely – but not exclusively – one of epistemology. Epistemology can be defined as: the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion.
Essentially, what we are talking about here is one’s attitude towards the concept of ‘truth’. What does it take for you to believe that something is ‘factually’ true? Throughout the spectrum of humanity and civilisation we find vastly different approaches, attitudes and answers to this most pertinent of questions.
An easy example to use in order to demonstrate this phenomenon would be that of people who believe in theological doctrine. Someone who adheres to the Bible’s claim that Jesus of Nazareth came back from the dead is doing so without a shred of scientifically endorsed evidence to support such an extraordinary proposition. To quote Christopher Hitchens: ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’.
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Read | What is ‘good’ football? The role of aesthetics in the modern game
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A significant problem that comes attached to a conviction such as belief in the miraculous resurrection, is that because it is not based on the findings of empirical evidence it is, by definition, unfalsifiable. If one fails or is unable to cite the relevant evidence to support a hypothesis, how can it possibly be logically challenged and critiqued? So then, why should we even concern ourselves with such a proposition? Why should an epistemological claim be accepted without the requisite proof to support it? Hitchens’s Razor slices through this particular quandary in typically ruthless fashion: “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence”
A staunch defender of the authenticity of the resurrection claim,may well have had their idea of what is ‘true’ influenced by the teachings of their family, community and parish. Prioritising these subjective influences over the findings of meticulously executed, controlled and repeated scientific experiments leads to an entirely different approach to what one may deem as being true.
The problem here is that, over time, the concept of relativism appears to have contaminated the clear waters of rational epistemology. In their book, Intellectual Impostures, Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont define relativism in this context as: ‘any philosophy that claims that the truth or falsity of a statement is relative to an individual or to a social group’.
Now, it would be important to acknowledge at this juncture – as Sokal and Bricmont do – that relativism is indeed an important tool in forming one’s attitudes with regards to matters of aesthetics. An individual or social group’s experiences and beliefs will go a long way towards defining these attitudes. One’s artistic preferences are indeed their own. They need not be supported by evidence.
Well formulated arguments which accurately cite elements of a music album – the production style, the instrumental arrangement, the lyrical content, the use of melody – will of course give added weight to such an aesthetically relativist opinion, but such an evaluation could never be considered as ‘true’.
Sokal and Bricmont also identify the concept of ‘moral relativism’. This is certainly a fascinating and highly divisive topic and one that shall not be explored in any depth in what is an article concerning epistemological relativism in a football context. But in anticipation of an accusation of ducking what is an extremely important argument – an allegation that doesn’t sit particularly well with me – let me say that while I do believe that there is a code of morality that can work for all, it should not be chased without due recognition of the plight of many marginalised societies who – through no fault of their own – find themselves existing in an environment where the code of morality has been shifted in such a way that certain actions and behaviours that one may deem to be objectively immoral, have gained far more intrinsic value than one would deem ideal.
But I digress.
In order for this idea of dismissing relativist thinking from the epistemological sphere to be applied to football, an important agreement must first be made. As I have discussed on numerous occasions, the rules and subsequent actions present within the game of football exist within an objective framework. This is to say that, just as our actions are dictated by the rules of physics and the natural world, there can be no subjective interpretation of the mechanics, components and player actions within the game. They exist free from the parasitic influence of epistemological relativism.
Which brings us back to Raymond Verheijen. Verheijen’s model of Football Actions appears to me to be the only objective football-specific framework that has been developed in accordance with and supported by scientific empirical evidence – for more on this, see the work and findings of Wolfgang Schollhorn, who’s work on Differential Learning, which I have written about previously, supports the teaching methodology present within Verheijen’s model – that we have available to us.
Now, let’s be extremely clear on this. Let me spell this out in no uncertain terms. I have absolutely no motivation to believe in what Verheijen says other than the fact that the objective evidence supports it. Absolutely none. And if tomorrow I was presented with a set of irrefutable data supporting an entirely alternative view, I would reject Verheijen’s claims and align myself with the new model. It’s as simple as that.
And if I have missed something, if I’m clearly talking nonsense, please, somebody enlighten me. Where is the evidence against it? The claims of the Football Action Model are entirely falsifiable.
That’s how I think. I’m not a sports scientist nor am I a football theorist. I’m a football coach who is trying to ensure that the information that I give to my players is relevant. That is all. Nothing more, nothing less.
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Read | Raymond Verheijen’s Football Action Model
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If I had to teach a class on particle physics, the first thing I would do is reconcile myself with the obvious fact that I’m not a particle physicist. So if I wanted to find out the exact sub atomic composition of an atom in order to convey this accurately to my students, do you know what I’d do? I’d ask a particle physicist to provide me with the explanation that is most supported by empirical evidence. I wouldn’t decide on my own what I thought was best explanation. I wouldn’t just go with whatever the general consensus of my friends, family and colleagues was. This is epistemological relativism in its purest form and it is operating undeterred, in front of our very eyes in football every single moment of every single day.
Taken to its logical extreme, this radically skeptical attitude towards knowledge leads to a position which is surely untenable. Such refusal to accept or recognise objective truth would surely lead one to seriously question whether or not the sun will actually rise tomorrow. This disposition is so disbelieving of any external stimuli that one simply believes exactly what one wants to believe. It is unable to place requisite trust in the interpretations of the senses. It cannot – and has no desire to – exist anywhere outside one’s own internal discourse and subsequent narrative. To exist like this is to exist in a solipsistic nightmare infected by a pathological paranoia of the workings of the natural world.
But surely no one could sincerely adhere to such nonsense? Unfortunately, this is not the case. ‘Do not avert your eyes’ is a favourite adage of acerbic German film director, Werner Herzog, and it is one that I certainly subscribe to. I would urge anyone to – if you are not already aware of the movement – to search for #FlatEarth on Twitter. Here you will find one of the most extreme – albeit relatively harmless – epistemologically relativist movements around.
I won’t describe the activities and beliefs of this religiously motivated cult of buffoonery as I wouldn’t want to ruin it for you, but the clue is very much in the hashtag. This masterpiece of conspiracy theories is born – if in a somewhat more advanced stage – from the same subjectivity towards knowledge as that displayed by an individual that would instantly dismiss a rational, objective, football specific and scientifically supported model such as Verheijen’s.
Why do you believe things? And why do you not believe them? Is it based on personal experience? Is it based on somebody else’s subjective opinion? Perhaps that of a relative or spouse? Is it based on the fact that certain ideas have worked in the past? Is it based on what is deemed socially acceptable rhetoric within the confines of your online echo chamber? It’s nice and cozy in the echo chamber isn’t it? Nice and warm. Nice and safe. Sleep tight.
By Jamie Hamilton. Follow @stirling_j