What do you think of when you hear the words “Nick Rumbelow”?
Maybe you can instantly picture Nick Rumbelow, the 6’0”, 188-pound Mariners reliever. You can visualize his 94 MPH, Yovani Gallardo-esque fastball. Mmm. His curveball, that [checks notes] does indeed appear to meet the basic criteria of a curveball. You probably don’t think of his changeup. To be honest, I just learned that he had a changeup.
It’s not weird to think about Nick Rumbelow, because Nick Rumbelow is extremely normal [ed. note: he most certainly is not, see today’s Prospect Countdown]. Do you know what is weird? Thinking about thinking about Nick Rumbelow.
What happens when the human brain thinks about Nick Rumbelow? Depending on your upbringing, you may picture many things.
At some point, I was told that thoughts were electric signals that traveled around 300 MPH. As it turns out, nerve impulses travel anywhere from 2 to 200 MPH. Unfortunately, those aren’t thoughts — they’re nerve impulses. Nobody really knows what a thought is. Is it an electric potential propagating from one area of the brain to another? If we assume it has a physical basis, then probably, yes. But how? Do thoughts about different things connect different areas of the brain? Which part of the brain thinks the Nick Rumbelow thoughts, and to which part of the brain does that part of the brain send the Nick Rumbelow thoughts? Can I re-partition those parts to make room for other stuff?
Where are my Nick Rumbelow memories stored? Long-term memories (for better or worse, my Nick Rumbelow memories now qualify as long-term memories) are stored throughout the brain. If I wanted to surgically excise only the Nick Rumbelow memories, I would have to just kind of cut random pieces of brain until I forgot about Nick Rumbelow. Unfortunately, I think I would also forget about most other things at that point.
All of this is to say that while neuroscience has come a long way, the nervous system is probably the least understood part of the human body. We assume that thought has a concrete and physical basis, because everything that we understand has a concrete and physical basis.
It’s kind of an “the eye can’t see itself” situation. At the heart of the issue is the inability of human consciousness to conceive of itself. It’s a common refrain in eastern ideology (and western appropriations of eastern ideology) that one must be mindful of one’s thoughts, because our thoughts do not belong do us. It’s easy enough to meditate for a minute or two, and watch thoughts drift by like clouds. One... two... I’m hungry. I’m going to go and get a sandwich after this. How long has it been? I’ll open my eyes and check - no! Focus! One... two... I wonder whether Nick Rumbelow has ever done this? Is he a cool dude? What’s he doing right now? Does he have a cat? What kind of kitty litter would he spring for? Wait, fuck! One... two...
But then — who is doing the watching? Can we watch that? Perhaps by super-meditating?
One of the joys of baseball is its ability to provide a form of escapism. At its high points, it enthralls. Even at its low points, it distracts. I would love for the Mariners to shock the world, and make the playoffs, but it probably isn’t going to happen. What will happen, though, is that I’ll get to watch baseball, and at worst, I’ll be distracted from thinking about thinking.
I can’t help but wonder, though, just how distracting Nick Rumbelow will be. After he missed half of last year—first with a shoulder injury in spring training, and then a scary-sounding neck/nerve issue that kept him limited to short stints even when he returned—and threw just 17.2 dismal innings with a rapidly sinking Mariners team, I don’t feel like we learned anything about Nick Rumbelow. He is essentially the same milquetoast reliever we had last year, except a year older and without a year of progress to show for it. Maybe he’ll surprise us. As a reliever, maybe his best-case-scenario is that he doesn’t give us a reason to think about him at all.