The Decision has Disappeared: A Metaphysical Critique of VAR

In March of 2019, physicists at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh performed an experiment. Initially proposed as a problem challenging a paradox of quantum mechanics, Eugene Wigner’s idea behind testing whether two irreconcilable realities can co-exist has long been but a thought in a Ph.D. candidate’s head.

Wigner, as it turns out, was right.

The findings, though contested by some, seem to confirm the possibility of multiple, irreconcilable realities at a quantum level. A harrowing possibility in and of itself, the mainstreamification of the results brought forth an interesting idea. Talk of a world without objective facts may be a bit overblown as the planet and its societies have yet to come to a grinding halt, but it does underline the fallacy of our universally assumed reality.

It’s not exactly news that everyone perceives things differently. That might not be exactly what the experiment confirms, but the learnings of perception at a quantum level contain parables to our metaphysical experience and reinforce important distinctions about how we differentiate the same event. To put it as simply as Wallace Stevens did, when twenty-two men cross a bridge into a village, it is twenty-two men crossing twenty-two bridges into twenty-two villages.

This kind of distinction of experience, one never really resolved by the ruminations of either school of metaphysicians, brings us back to one of Immanuel Kant’s most important conceptions. The distinction between what he called the noumenal- the world as it exists in itself outside the bounds of our perception- and the phenomenal- the world as it reveals itself to us through perception- is key in understanding our current footballing predicament. Though Kant had some faith in the possibility of knowing the noumenal in planes of math and physics, his acceptance and signaling towards that which makes us human, one might call it our perpetually flawed experience of the world, is a musing that’s as relevant today as it was in his time. With his definition of a realm of the experiential differing from that of some empiricists, as Kant never classified the noumenal as an ‘objective’ reality, the acknowledgment of what Locke called ‘the veil of perception,’ feels both an accurate description of how it is we conceptualize reality, as well as a humble acceptance of what is the human condition.

Ostensibly, VAR seems an equalizing measure. To have the means with which one might arrive at a more ‘accurate’ decision in near-real-time is something almost any sporting fan could get on board with. But it’s within its own synthesis that one can understand the ideological fallacy of its use. Say one were to take VAR to its logical end. Say a robot could differentiate, with molecular accuracy, whether an attacker is offside or not. In real-time, an automaton could make a decision, one imperceivable to the human mind, that a player is offside. Would this seem a more fair, satisfying application of the technology? Or would it, as it does now, appear an entirely unnecessary addition to the way in which we judge a game?

It seems, then, with offside decisions -even now- erring into the realm of the imperceivable, that we uncover what has always been true- there never was an absolute decision.

The above serve as perfect examples of this synthesis gone haywire. It is no longer apparently clear how these players are in violation of the rules because the game, when adjudicated as such, is no longer played in the realm of the perceivable- it exists beyond us. It is then only through a consolidation of linguistic and aesthetic power in sporting institutions that fooled us, for the sake of greater ease in its instilling rules, that there could be a final, correct decision. The ossification of this kind of trust in governing bodies allowing us to believe that we maintain the authoritative, physical ability to be totally correct about something- much less anything.

Of course, this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t strive for adjudicatory accuracy, rather that we must peel back the false perception of a totally correct decision within a game. Though the aforementioned concepts from Locke and Kant are disconnected, used to illustrate differing ontologies, they do well to explain how it is we must accept our imperfections- specifically in regards to the game of football. The noumenal nature of anything underlines that football exists within itself in a way that we can never know it. There is an existent dimension with which football is, but through our own individual veils of perception, that is to say, the manner with which we are forced to conceptualize and digest reality, not only can we not know that existent plane, but we are colored in our ability to interpret it.

VAR, then, should be seen to represent something of a false dawn. The misguided idea that, through technology, one can synthesize to an absolute decision is to misunderstand the nature of our reality and, more importantly, how we exist within it. To side with artificially intellectual decision making is not to actuate a world with which the best decision or conceptualization of reality has been reached, rather to choose one interpretation and insist that it is the only one. It is both our blessing and our curse that we can simultaneously never hope to truly share what it is we perceive, and still maintain the linguistic capacity to share inklings of our perspective. In the same way that Kevin De Bruyne or Kalidou Koulibaily interpret space and play a game, so to do the arbiters creating a world within the one we all share. Those who enforce the confines with which we find entertainment have always played the game and have always been varying degrees of right and wrong. To assume that we can one day transcend what it is to be human is to be so arrogant in misunderstanding the multi-dimensional nature of what we should enjoy sharing- a game.

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