In this often heady blend of science, philosophy and sociology, Simons (Univ. of California Graduate School of Journalism; Darwin Slept Here: Discovery, Adventure, and Swimming Iguanas in Charles Darwin's South America, 2009) tries to get at the root of fandom, that sometimes appalling display of irrational behavior, which appears to be “a species-level design flaw.”
“[E]mpathy, action, language, pride, identity, self, reward, relationships, love, addiction, perception, pain and happiness,” writes the author—“all this stuff is frothing around on the inside trying to beat its way out of your body like an alien chestbuster.” In the course of his investigation, Simons touches on each of these and more: the hormonal changes sports provoke and the malignant force of the endocrine system; the part played by mirror neurons in empathy and in addiction and violence; the emotional push that keeps us coming back; the possibility that defeat can physically warp your brain; dopamine, the brain’s reward system, inciting passion or addiction; the human need for belonging and the deep meaning that comes in being part of the enterprise; the biological, cultural and individual motivations for going to war on the field or court. The book is mostly enjoyable not least of all since so much is nebulous and untethered but achingly real to any sports fan. Simons is open and patient to intelligent theories but skeptical and willing to trust in his own experiences. He is also a bit of a tempered hepcat—“Plato’s rigging the thing so that Socrates goes last and blows everyone away with his crazy philosophical skills”—informal amid all the lab work and theory building, yet diligently fashioning a window through which to witness the arch of human emotions and, surprisingly, the degree of choice and control we possess over those emotions.
An intriguing ride through “all the wondrous quirks and oddities in human nature.”