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Internal Realism

Alva Noe on the tricky issue of umpiring (in this case, for baseball):

External Realism does a good job accounting for the fact that we all recognize that there are “bad calls” and the fact that dispute and controversy seem to be an ever-present part of the game. Because there are real facts of the matter about what happened, it makes good sense that we reckon umpires can be wrong. In comparison, Internal Anti-Realism seems helpless to make sense of this. If what an umpire says goes, then how can we even take seriously the idea that an umpire might be wrong?

But Internal Anti-Realism gets something right, too. Baseball facts are not physics.

What interests us is whether players succeed or fail, whether they achieve or get lucky. The judgment that a ball is a strike is, really, the judgment that a pitcher delivered a a pitch that the batter ought to have hit. This is not so much a judgment about where the pitch was located, as it is a judgment about whether the pitcher or the batter deserves credit.

It’s a short enough argument that I could almost post the whole thing here, but the point rings true for the controversy over the Umpire Decision Review System (and Hawkeye and Hotspot and so on) in cricket: namely, that these are all “External Realist” approaches, taking us away from the game and interpreting its rules in an overly legalistic point of view. LBW decisions should be about when the batter isn’t offering a shot at a ball that could in other circumstances hit the wicket – not whether the ball, continuing in projected virtual space, would have brushed the leg stump by a millimetre and possibly disturbed a bail sufficient to be counted as a wicket.

These things are taken entirely too seriously, and the pressure on the umpires is getting to the point where they’re going to give up and ask for robotic replacements. The article continues:

Last season Armando Galarraga was an out away from pitching a rare perfect game, a game in which he allowed no opposing runner to reach base. A “bad call” at first base by umpire James Joyce robbed him of his deserved glory. Joyce admitted this after the game and, in a wildly unprecedented move, he apologized to Galarraga. The latter accepted the apology with grace and humility and is reported to have said: “Nobody’s perfect.”

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