(just some quick notes, hopefully in the spirit of delightfully quirky symmetry-breaking)

In her little 2010 book The Mirage of a Space Between Nature and Nurture, Evelyn Fox Keller examines some of the eternal conceptual confusions surrounding the perennially popular nature/nurture question. Like, it's both, and everyone knows it's both, so why can't the discourse move on to more interesting and well-specified questions? That the oppositional form of the question isn't well-specified can be easily seen just from simple thought experiments. One such from the book: if one person has PKU, a high-phenylalanine diet, and a low IQ, and another person doesn't have PKU, eats a low-phenylalanine diet, and has a normal IQ, we can't attribute the IQ difference to either diet or genetics alone; the question dissolves once you understand the causal mechanism. Keller argues that the very idea of distinguishing heredity and environment as distinct, separable, exclusive alternatives whose relative contributions can be compared is a historically recent one that we can probably blame on Francis Galton.

The "Bay Area" was ostensibly hosting the big game this year. They blocked off a big swath around the Embarcadero this last week to put on Super Bowl City, "a free-to-the-public fan village [...] with activities, concerts, and more." I really don't see how much sense this makes, given that the actual game was 45 miles away in Santa Clara, just as I don't think we (can I still say we if I only work in the city?) really have a football team anymore; I like to imagine someone just forgot to rename them the Santa Clara 49ers. Even you don't think Santa Clara is big enough to be a real city—and it's bigger than Green Bay—then why not San Jose, which is a lot closer? I think I would forgive it if the marketers had at least taken advantage of the golden (sic) opportunity to flaunt the single-"digit" Roman numeral L (so graceful! so succinct!), but for some dumb reason they went Arabic this year and called it Super Bowl 50. Anyway, on a whim, I toured through Super Bowl City after work on Friday. It was as boring as it was packed, and it was packed. I wasn't sure if my whimsy was worth waiting in the throng of people to get in the obvious entrance on Market Street (the metal-detection security theater really took its toll on throughput), but I happened to hear a docent shouting that there was a less-crowded entrance if you went around and took a left each on Beale and Mission, so I did that. There were attractions, I guess?—if you could call them that. There were rooms with corporate exhibits, and an enormous line to try some be-the-quarterback VR game, and loud recorded music, and a stage with live music, and an empty stage where TV broadcasts would presumably be filmed later. There was a big statue of a football made out of cut-up beer cans near one of the stands where they were selling beer for $8, which sounded really expensive to me, although admittedly I don't have much of a sense for how much beer normally costs. In summary, I didn't see the appeal of the "fan village," although I do understand what it feels like to be enthusiastic about the game itself—I really do, even if I haven't been paying much attention in recent years.

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Two-Point Compersion

"I don't get it."

"Yeah, I guess the rules are kind of complicated, but—"

"No, I mean, I think understood the literal content of your explanation, but I don't understand how the behavior you describe could arise from the rules as stated. What stops teams from just cooperating with each other?"

"Cooperating? What do you mean?"

"You say advancing the ball to the other side of the field is a touchdown worth six points?"

"Yes, plus a point-after kick or two-point conversion attempt."

"So why don't the teams just take turns scoring touchdowns?"

"What? Why would they do that?"

"To score points. You said that was the objective of the game."

"Oh, ah—I didn't realize I needed to explain this part—the goal is to get more points than the other team. The team with more points is called the winner of the game, and the other team loses."

"So it's a zero-sum game?"


"But that's barbaric!"

"That's ... not usually the reason people call football barbaric."

"Lower animals fight over fixed resources, the power to create opportunities lying far beyond their abilities and even their concept-space. But you, living at the dawn of your world's intelligence, you have the rare opportunity to build new worlds—and share the proceeds between you. And you waste your energy on this contrived imitation of a payoff matrix that it is your birthright to supersede! It is revolting."


"It's really too bad—while I was in the psych ward, I missed out on my annual Super Bowl Sunday tradition."

"You have a Super Bowl tradition?"

"Not what you're thinking. Since 2008—well, not this year—I've made a point of reading something by Evelyn Fox Keller during the game."

"Awfully specific tradition. How did that happen?"

"On third February 2008, I worked a long closing shift at my job at the supermarket, and during my lunch, the game was on the television in the breakroom, and I sat there trying to ignore it, reading my copy of Reflections on Gender and Science. And, you know, I was really proud of that image—as a symbol of what I am, in contrast to what mainstream American culture expects men to be. So I read from the same book next year. And from Making Sense of Life and the Barbra McClintock biography and The Mirage of a Space Between Nature and Nurture on subsequent Super Bowl Sundays. I'm proud that I remember this, as opposed to remembering the games. Only it's funny."


"That I should feel proud of being ignorant of something. Nerds being proud that they don't know what jocks know, and jocks being proud that they don't know what nerds know, are both expressions of the same underlying psychology, just anchored on different subcultures. If I really wanted to show what a special snowflake I am, I'd find some delightfully quirky way to break the symmetry."