Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Carl Sagan on Why Sports Are So Popular

Most of us watch our favorite sports without really thinking about why we enjoy them so much. Seriously, think about it.

In Baseball, why do we care whether someone can successfully hit a ball with a stick and run around the bases? Why do we hold these athletes in such high regard?

Why are team sports such as Baseball, Football, and Soccer so popular world-wide, especially compared to things that really matter such as science?

Carl Sagan has an interesting theory in his book, "The Dragons of Eden". These sports "stress the remarkable abilities of human beings to throw projectiles accurately, to move gracefully .. and to outrun and immobilize game animals."

If Alex Rodriguez, or some other top athlete were alive during prehistoric times, they would almost certainly be incredible hunters. They would be seen as heros to the entire tribe, and especially the men, whose lives depend on their fellow hunters.

Back then, hunting was not a sport, it literally was a matter of life and death. Something like that reaches deep into the core of every human being. Our species has only recently domesticated animals and discovered agriculture. You cannot erase something so hard-wired into our brains over such a short time period.

The brain of a 40,000 year old human is practically the same as it is today. Everything that was hard-wired into their brain is also hard-wired into ours. 40,000 years ago, hunting was the main avenue of survival. Our hunting ancestry goes back several million years.

To people who hold science in high regard, it can sometimes be frustrating when the majority of the population cares more about sports than the wonders of science. But it is quite understandable. Without our skills for hunting, we would have no civilization, no culture, no language. Celebrating athletes and sports is akin to celebrating our species.


  1. There is another aspect to sports that I find most attractive: intelligence. I find no such thing in today's popular sports. Appearance is 100 times more important than substance. If we should continue to appreciate the significance of sports, then I would hope as a society (in the United States) we encourage sports to utilize brain as much as brawn. Unfortunately, the target audience only seems to care about later. This is a sociological and cultural phenomenon that should say mountains about the progress of a society. This would take books to explain and it feels like the author of this extremely short article spent as much time on this as he did sneezing in a day.

  2. I don't know what the heck Okodol's problem was but I thought this was a great post. I haven't read The Dragons Of Eden yet but this makes me want to go get it, I love all of the other Carl Sagan books and essays I've read so I'm sure I won't be disappointed.

    I think as well as sports appealing to the hunting aspect of our ancestry that it also serves as a safe outlet for our hardwired warring tendencies.

    In many ways sports teams have become modern day tribes, even to the point of people wearing different colors and emblems all the time to identify themselves as part of certain tribes and not others. Sports events allow us to go to war with each other in our day to day lives yet still remain safe.

  3. Ever think those of us who follow science as opposed to sports are simply the next evolutionary step? That's a possibility. '

    And I find sports incredibly boring. The only time I can watch is football - when one team is absolutely trouncing the other. It's too much. Just go in the locker room and fuck it out of your system.

  4. If nothing else, this is an intresting theory.
    Except the part about hunting. Humans did not depend on hunting for the vast majority of it's existence. We were a gathering species, and lower in the food chain than apes. The idea of tribalism simply transforming into sport teams, instead of actual tribes, is probably true. Sort of the same idea as switching communities with nations. Nice article anyways.

  5. I find this explanation interesting but unsatisfying. I understand the appeal of sports but I can't understand how so many people are willing to pay insane amounts of money to people who are playing a game. It makes as little sense to me as asking someone to film me while I play scrabble and pay me to broadcast it and approach me with a million dollars to use my image to sell detergent (which makes as little sense as buying a cologne advertised by a football player).

    I think there must be something else... A primal instinct or something that drives us to paying "professionals" for doing otherwise mundane and repetitive things in front of a camera.

    Oh, I get it! It's like porn!

  6. I think it has more to do with the way our brains are hard-wired to process stories. Each match is its own little drama, and humans are naturally drawn to that drama.

  7. I think it has more to do with the way our brains are hard-wired to process stories. Each match is its own little drama, and humans are naturally drawn to that drama.

  8. These fours types of birds are the main ones that get hunted in upland hunting situations. Their mannerisms are different from birds that are primarily water based. Content