LeBron James Proving René Descartes Wrong

Starting at guard for the dualists, standing in a self-rejected body in the metaphysical world, we have Réne Descartes. And as he dribbles the ball during warm-ups, he immediately confirms to himself, “Oh yes, I do have a body.” “But is this me as I know myself? Am I just an entity dribbling a ball?” He pauses and lets these questions linger in his mind before the game begins. 

Before the Game

Warmups and practice are much more different than the real thing; Descartes has time to think while just going through the motions. These questions that he asks touch on the question: “What is the self?” To that the irritated Descartes repeats for the 1000th his most famous line, “I think therefore I am.” This isn’t to say that the self only consists of the thinking mind. Descartes obviously doesn’t reject the fact that he has a mean granny shot that only one with a body could muster. However, he assures that his body is just for practical knowledge and memory, a sort of vehicle that reacts and responds to a changing environment. During the last game, the 5”1 Frenchman praised his capabilities to get out of the way of a Stifle Tower (Rudy Gobert, 7”0) poster. But on the metaphysical plane Descartes and Gobert are the same because they use their intellect consisting of only the mind to perceive their innate knowledge of metaphysical reality. This place doesn’t require bodily sense perception, all it needs is the mind; “cogito, ergo sum.”

In this stadium, however, the self is obviously not just the mind. As Descartes takes one too many steps for a layup, he is distracted and vexed with interpreting this metaphysical plane in a measly stadium. He is trying, but to no avail. He just can’t do it because the mind can’t differentiate between its thoughts and projections (res cognitans) vs. external reality (res externa) (Hawkins, Truth Vs. Falsehood). For the time being he’s stuck here and ready to face the Los Angeles Lakers. 

Lebron James plays for the Lakers and knows all too well about the importance of taking care of his mind to fuel the body. As an aside, Descartes was known to consider the dualistic nature of mind and body yet was a believer that the two are intimately connected. Lebron James evidently knows and has practiced this for his whole career. Descartes idolizes this aspect of his formidable opponent and wants to know his secrets. He goes up to Lebron just before tip-off hoping to gain some insight, and Lebron replies, “Just watch me do my thing.” 

Tip-Off

Descartes starts to bring up the ball. His palms are sweating as he anxiously tries to think about what Lebron meant in relation to his pre-game thoughts. In Descartes’ Error, Antonio Damasio argues that sometimes emotion (and the lack of it) negatively impacts thinking along with decision making. Descartes throws the ball right to Lebron and Lebron goes to the other end for his signature slam. Descartes shakes his head in disappointment and brings up the ball revelling in the unfortunate outcome of the last possession. He passes it to his teammate as he does not want to bear any responsibility of coughing up the ball again. Still thinking of what Lebron meant by just “doing his thing”, Descartes stands in a trance, right now he is his analytical mind. His teammate swishes the ball over LeBron. Descartes turns his focus outward to observe Lebron patting his chest. This is something which Lebron frequently does when he gets scored on in order to literally brush off the misfortune and focus on the next possession. This serves the same purpose as what neuro linguistic programmers call anchoring or what mindfulness practitioners refer to as grounding. Both these techniques serve to divert attention away from the analytical mind to center the person in the present. I don’t know if Lebron does this consciously, but the ability of a player to remain present in the game usually favours their success. Descartes observes Lebron on the next play looking in rhythm and totally opposite of how Descartes was after his turnover. Was anchoring the key to Lebron not getting caught up on the last possession and remaining focused in the present? 

It seems so as Lebron hits one of his signature jab step threes to put the Lakers up 5 to 2. Now it’s Descartes’ turn to try this anchoring technique but instead of tapping his chest like LeBron, he strokes his luscious lock of hair backward and brings up the ball looking refreshed. Instead of thinking about his next move, he goes with the flow of the game and follows his gut – a swift euro step around Lebron and a little Tony Parkeresque floater kissed off the glassed for 2. Descartes now realizes what makes Lebron a great athlete and how much he was wrong to say, “I think therefore I am.” Surely thinking is a component of being but too much of it on a basketball court can be detrimental. After all, that’s what timeouts are for. Listening to your gut (body), or what Antonio Damasio calls the “somatic-marker hypothesis”, makes for good decision making in the moment, especially when decisions are to be made quickly when playing a sport. Getting caught up in both positive and negative outcomes earlier in the game often means you’re not locked in on what’s happening now. A way Lebron gets out of his thinking mind and into his body is by using his own body to ground himself. This is called bottom-up conditioning. Grounding oneself in the present is obviously not confined to sports. It is practiced through many disciplines, like Yoga or meditation, which both use the breath as an additional anchoring point. 

Descartes’ mind has shifted to this newfound knowledge which ironically involves less of his mind and more of his body to dictate his play. It is often the case for philosophers to formulate their opinions based on their life circumstances, and conversely have their opinions dictate their circumstances (Russell, History of Western Philosophy). Above is obviously an imagined scenario of Descartes playing a sport that didn’t exist in the time he was alive. I would propose that if Descartes played basketball, he would venture to say that not all existence involves thinking. 

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