What it means to be human

30th April 2010 at 01:00

Once again, I found myself baffled at a Livingston game. It wasn't bafflement at the fact that they managed to go from being one up due to a first-minute goal, to being 3-1 down by half time. Nor was it bafflement at the subtleties of the offside rule. I came late-ish to football and still don't get the finer points.

It wasn't even bewilderment at their inability to win and hence seal their position as division three champions. I could see what was happening. Their opponents, Forfar, were twice the height of the Livvy players and, when the ball was in the air, invariably got to it first.

No, what perplexed me was why I was remotely bothered that a football team, forced to drop two divisions as punishment for someone else's financial mismanagement, were on the way up again.

I get baffled like this quite a lot. Sometimes I cannot stop reading a book, because I need to know that a certain character will be OK. Why should it matter? How do I explain the frisson I get reading James Robertson's poem "The Twa Cuddies"? The surge in spirits when the live version of the Skids' "Animation" comes on the car stereo as I cross the Forth Bridge? The quantum ping of delight on seeing a finely-resolved spectrum through a spectroscope made out of an old DVD?

"Ah ha!" you might say, should you be in the mood to pick a fight with me because I'm a physicist and thus supposedly Vulcan in my outlook, "it just goes to show that there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your natural philosophy, Spock". There is certainly more in heaven and earth than is covered by natural philosophy as it stands just now.

Someone I was talking to the other day felt that the cost of the Large Hadron Collider could not be justified. At one level, this might be true. How many people could you house or feed for the cost of that project? You could make the same point about the National Gallery of Scotland, all the opera houses in the world or Livingston Football Club. Now look at the defence budget (the national one, not Livingston FC's). Feel differently?

I don't know that we could stop ourselves as a species dabbling with the arts, scientific investigation and sports, simply because they are part of what makes us human. The day may come when all the above can be explained in terms of molecules and electrical impulses, but that isn't something to fear. If being human all comes down to equations, it doesn't make us less human any more than being able to explain the geology of the Highlands makes Glencoe less beautiful.

Having said all that, I would be a pretty odd sort of human if I spent a lot of time at a Livingston game doing all that analysis. In truth, it was a fleeting thought as the team brought everyone forward, setting up a 92nd-minute corner in a last attempt at an equaliser. If they'd scored, it would have clinched the championship. They didn't, but Ross County beat Celtic the same day. My joy at that was not inexplicable.

Gregor Steele is pleased to relate that Livingston FC clinched the championship the following week.

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