The Limitations of Human Imagination

There are those out there who dismiss recent worries about brain injuries in sports as too much whining from millionaires. When an athlete comes out with these concerns, as English soccer player Alan Shearer recently did, they are often mocked for their candor.

The reasons for this are because of the status of those players and the difficulty for people to understand the complex and long-term damage. On the status point, it’s easy to dismiss the issues that affect those who have had in their lives the kind of luck most people only dream of. Alan Shearer has not only made a great deal of money playing soccer, for instance, he has enjoyed decades of acclaim for his skill, moving seamlessly from a career as a player to a career as a commentator. He’s widely respected for both efforts and widely liked.

It can be difficult, when confronted by someone who seems to have so many positives in their lives, to take their complaints seriously. Surely any negative consequences have been earned by some sort of karma. While that thought may be rarely voiced, it is a common enough emotional response. More viciously, some revel in seeing those who have done well get torn down either by their own faults or by some kind of cruel fate. Should Shearer develop dementia, as he fears, there will certainly be those who are pleased by this fact.

On the second point, modern life has shown in many ways the limitation of the human imagination. For instance, mankind regularly runs up against the limits of their empathy. While it is easy enough to rally a town around a known person in their midst who needs help, it is harder to raise interest in issues that affect far more people but at a greater distance. It is for that reason that large funds can be raised for an individual but little is done about, say, a famine in Africa or a drought in southern Asia.

In the same way, humans struggle to picture the consequences of long-term actions. When a player is injured in the midst of a game, the reaction is one of genuine and instant empathy. However, long-term damage done slowly is hard to imagine, and so people react skeptically.

While some may dismiss the issues of Alan Shearer and others in the professional sports world, the consequences of these issues affect a far wider range of people.

For instance, many amateur athletes, including children, are starting in the process of developing these long-term brain injuries. Also, since it is so hard to get people to react without skepticism to long-term issues, it is harder to prove fault in brain injury cases.

It is, therefore, useful to take both Shearer’s example and the example of the reaction to his confession as a sign more must be done to help us overcome the limitations of our minds. These are serious issues, and only through picturing them more clearly will more be done to help those affected.