Alain Vigneault: Schneider has a ‘body injury’; but what is the body, really?

My guess? He’s got a concussion from all the vicious headbutts his teammates give him after every victory.

The playoffs are just a couple games away, which means it’s time for teams to get vague about injuries. While NHL teams are maddeningly non-specific about injuries at the best of times, the playoffs bring out the slimy politician in every coach, as no one wants to give the opposition any clue as to what injury a player has suffered, lest they target that injury in subsequent games.

A player could blatantly break his leg, with the bone sticking out through his hockey pants, and his coach would describe it as a “lower body injury.” A player with a literal hole punched out of his chest wouldz have an “upper body injury.” At one point, after Rick DiPietro suffered a clear head injury, his coach diagnosed him with “general body soreness.” Seriously.

But Alain Vigneault took the next big step in ambiguity on Wednesday: when asked about Cory Schneider’s injury that will see Luongo start Thursday, backed up by Joe Cannata callup, he refused to even say if the injury was to the lower or upper-body. It was just… to the body.

 

This is about as vague as you can possibly get. Or is it?

Commenters on Twitter were quick to point out how much Vigneault had actually revealed with this disclosure that it was a body injury, as it rules out both the mind and the soul. We weren’t immune to making the joke…

 

…and neither was our esteemed editor:

 

There is a minor problem, however. Not everyone believes that the mind exists, let alone the soul.

A strict materialist (ie. a physicalist) would insist that the mind is, at best, an illusion created by the actions of matter within the brain, as all that exists is the material, physical world. Thus, if Schneider’s mind or soul were “injured” in some way, this would be reflective of a body injury, specifically within the brain.

An example of this would be chemical depression, in which a chemical imbalance in the brain — a material cause — leads to seemingly non-physical symptoms. In some cases, medication is required: a physical, material solution to a non-physical problem.

It’s entirely possible, then, that if Alain Vigneault is a physicalist, his description of Schneider’s issue as a “body injury” could be a misdirection without being a lie. Schneider could very well have some sort of mental issue, which Vigneault could describe as a “body injury,” believing that all problems have their root in the physical world as it is all that exists. Any issue that Schneider might ascribe to his mind would really be an issue within the brain, which is part of the body.

A physicalist would insist that even a moral issue or existential angst — an injury to the soul — is a “body injury,” as all thought processes are better described as physical processes within the brain. Schneider could be struggling with some sort of ethical quandary that is preventing him from playing hockey for the time being — say, day-to-day — which Vigneault could scoff at as an imbalance within his brain — a body injury.

The fundamental question raised by Vigneault’s declaration that Schneider has a “body injury” is the mind-body problem, as most famously investigated by René Descartes. For Descartes, the issue was not the mind. The existence of the mind was the foundation of his philosophy, the result of doubting the existence of all else. His conclusion — that since he doubts, he must think, and therefore he must exist as a thinking thing — is famously phrased in Latin as Cogito, ergo sum.

For Descartes, mind was distinct from matter and from the body itself. Along the way, Descartes’ method of radical doubt led him to the idea that some god could be deceiving him about the existence of even his own body. Others have taken this idea and come up with the “brain in a vat” thought experiment. Imagine a mad scientist who has removed a brain from a person’s body, kept it alive in a vat or jar, and delivered the exact same stimuli to the brain that it would receive if it had a body performing some action.

This thought experiment is essentially equivalent to what the robots do in The Matrix, hooking up a person’s body and delivering all the sensations of a fully-realized virtual life. In this context, it’s entirely possible to view the body as an illusion rather than the mind.

Describing Schneider’s ailment as a “body injury” then becomes a simplified way of saying that a series of sensations have been delivered to Schneider’s brain or, more radically, to his mind, giving him all the sensations of an injury to his body when, in reality, his body does not exist.

My favourite book on the mind-body problem is Drew Leder’s The Absent Body, which argues that the only reason we perceive a separation between mind and body in the first place and see it as a problem is because we are only aware of our bodies in moments of dysfunction. We don’t notice explicitly notice our legs, for instance, until something calls attention to them, such as a torn hamstring.

Since the majority of the occurrences in which we explicitly notice our bodies are primarily negative, when our bodies do not behave in the way we want them to, we see our bodies as other, as somehow opposed to us. When our bodies are functioning normally, they disappear from our notice: we simply act from our bodies. When our legs are working properly, we don’t think about them: we just walk, run, or skate to where we want to go without thinking explicitly about it.

Saying that the body is separate from the mind, then, is a mistake created by our body being absent from our attention whenever it is functioning properly. In this case, categorizing Schneider’s injury as simply a “body injury” minimizes the mental effect that an injury has on a person. An injury truly affects the whole person.

This is particularly true for a professional athlete, as they are more likely to identify themselves with their physical capabilities as an athlete. An athlete like Schneider rarely has to explicitly think about how to position his body to make a save, but simply acts from his body in a way that is almost indistinguishable from instinct. When an athlete’s body fails them in some way, it can cause issues of identity, as their body comes to their attention as being something other and fundamentally opposed to their interests when, previously, their identity was wrapped up solely with their body.

Players who suffer a serious injury and must spend a long period of time recovering often describe themselves as having to do some “soul-searching.” For Vigneault to simply describe it as a “body injury” is short-sighted.

Or, it’s entirely possible that Vigneault simply meant to distinguish Schneider’s injury from a head injury, as the head is frequently described as separate from the body in popular parlance, which raises all sorts of philosophical problems on its own.

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36 comments

  1. Timmy Wong (@timmywong11)
    April 24, 2013

    I think we all know what happened – http://25.media.tumblr.com/1560d990a95527b5189f23c3e2e82224/tumblr_mjongqu5yD1qercxjo2_r1_500.gif

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  2. Rituro
    April 24, 2013

    *slow clap*

    I’d clap faster but my mind just got blown into itty bitty chunks.

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    • Kenji
      April 25, 2013

      This is one of the PITBliest things I have read on PITB.

      For further (Canadian!) reading on this subject, I recomment Neurophilosophy by Patricia Churchland.

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  3. ZeroTenacity
    April 24, 2013

    Whoa whoa slow down egghead (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yz-TemWooa4)

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    Rating: +12 (from 12 votes)
  4. Nee
    April 24, 2013

    /stands up
    /claps furiously

    I tip my hat to you, Daniel.

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  5. Nee
    April 24, 2013

    On another note, since tomorrow night is likely the last time we see Roberto in net as a Canuck in Vancouver, can I ask a favour of the PITB community? If any of you are going to the game, if you feel inclined, could you make it memorable for Lu? He’s been an integral part of this team for 6 years, and he’s been through a lot (playoff embarassment, suffocating pressure). It would be wonderful if we could give him a nice salute for all he has done.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      April 24, 2013

      I want pre-game Luuuuuu-ing. Like, for the entire pre-game. Non-stop Luuuuuuu-ing. In fact, the Luuuuuuu-ing should continue until he makes his first save.

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      • Nee
        April 24, 2013

        Yes! That would be awesome.

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  6. James
    April 24, 2013

    Hey! Stop that. My mindbody is hurting!

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  7. Peter Diamond
    April 24, 2013

    The single most excellent and hilarious piece of sports journalism – though it’s just barely that – I have read in ages, or maybe ever. Friggin’ Descartes FFS… awesome.

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    Rating: +11 (from 11 votes)
  8. Skaught
    April 24, 2013

    What if Alain Vigneault believes in a universal human consciousness, wherin we are all connected on a metaphysical level. It could be that another player – or more than one – has sustained an ‘injury’ and Alain believes Schnieder is taking their suffering upon himself to be the ultimate team player. The real question is WHICH Canuck is ACTUALLY injured; if we can fix them, then Schnieder can be freed from his transcendental conundrum and get back to playing!

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  9. anotherrob
    April 24, 2013

    Yes, but remember what Monty Python had to say about all this..

    ‘Rene Descartes was a drunken fart
    I drink therefore I am.’

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  10. Mike
    April 24, 2013

    “Take a good look Ma – you said my philosophy degree was good for nothing, but look at this! LOOK AT IT! Right on the Internet and everything!”

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    Rating: +26 (from 26 votes)
  11. Neil B
    April 24, 2013

    Actually, I think all this confusion over Schneid’s injury is due to Coach V’s unfamiliarity with the spelling conventions of his second language, English.

    Schneids, in fact, had a late night with his significant other, as they were celebrating his first Division Championship as starting goalie. He has, you see, a bawdy injury.

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  12. Lemming
    April 24, 2013

    I think I just suffered a body injury from reading this.

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  13. madwag
    April 24, 2013

    brilliant, danielson! as were the comments, all of which i wanted to “thumbs up” but my doing so wasn’t acknowledged. so THUMBS UP! all.

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  14. Technically still a ranger fan
    April 24, 2013

    This is the greatest hockey post ever.
    But what if this injury effects both body and spirit.
    Everyone knows that when the humors are imbalanced it leads not only to illness but to excess and immorality. In our embrace of modern medicine we have forgotten these simple truths. For shame.

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    • Chinook
      April 24, 2013

      Well said Ranger Fan, I salute you. For readers who may not be up on ancient Greek medicine, the four ‘humours’ (vital fluids) necessary to maintain physical and mental health are blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. (Don’t spit on the sidewalk too much, might cause you to go nutso)

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  15. tom selleck's moustache
    April 24, 2013

    *slow clap*

    Well done, Mr. Wagner. Well done.

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  16. DanD
    April 24, 2013

    Well done, Mr. Wagner.

    I might add that to delve into the question of the separation of the body from the head, and differing views of the head and the body, a query into the New Testament would be quite intriguing – particularly Pauline literature.

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  17. nanodummy
    April 25, 2013

    With the broadest grin on my face I say this: “F*** you Wagner.”

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  18. J21
    April 25, 2013

    Someone took intro-level philosophy. Any other McGill grads here who did all this with the memorable (and memorably-named) Storrs McCall? (And holy crap, he’s still teaching).

    I’d just like to point out that a strict determinist would also note that all of this, from Schneider’s injuries to the Canucks’ annual woes to Daniel’s posting on the Internet to my commenting right here about it, to my pointing out something about this comment, and so on, are all just the inevitable and invariable sequence of events triggered by matter and energy interacting in a predictable, mathematical fashion, like billiard balls rolling around in a perfectly calculated manner. And there’s never been anything anyone can do about it.

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    • gravi-T
      April 25, 2013

      That is true only if you believe in a strict Newtonian (i.e. determinist) model of the universe. However, the theory of quantum mechanics allows for random events to occur in the universe, even if one’s model of the mind/body problem is still physicalist. Thus, according to the theory, it is perfectly possible for seemingly-crazy things like Schneider’s own “injuries” (whatever their true form) to spontaneously heal or, even crazier, for the Canucks to not suffer massive injuries in the post-season in general to occur; only the second law of thermodynamics makes such events infinitesimally unlikely.

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      • Chinook
        April 25, 2013

        And Quantum Mechanics also allows for a Canuck of sufficiently high energy to jump from one side of the net (where he is in check) to the other side, thereby scoring a playoff-winning goal – with ZERO PROBABILITY of being inbetween. How’s that for getting open!

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      • J21
        April 25, 2013

        In this house, we obey the second law of thermodynamics and don’t you forget it!

        Random events (to the extent they are truly random and not simply beyond human calculation) may make the universe less objectively predictable to the awesomest computer ever, but under a phsyicalist model it still would not afford us any agency or make our interventions any less a product of these automatic chain reactions whose unfolding is invariable. So lo, even my comment in response to your comment in response to my comment in response to Daniel’s post in response to Schneider’s injury was still totally stuff that totally came about given the position and energy level of all particles at the beginning of the universe.

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        • akidd
          April 25, 2013

          quantum eh? so then using the ‘schneider’s cat’ model perhaps cory’s body is both injured and uninjured AT THE SAME TIME!

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    • Daniel Wagner
      April 25, 2013

      Ha! We definitely didn’t cover Drew Leder in intro-level philosophy. That was an upper-level Philosophy of Mind class.

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      • J21
        April 25, 2013

        Oh yeah, Drew… uh… Lieber. Ah. Well, we, uh, totally covered him… in, uh… high school. I mean, elementary school. Yeah, we were all about Drew Leather in grade school. We used to play Drew Ladder at recess, that’s how much I totally know that topic that you described up there in all its details and inner-workings.

        Drew Litter was (is?) the man! (Woman, maybe?)

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  19. West Van Tree Dweller
    April 25, 2013

    It seems that as we approach the playoffs, the quantum system that is a hockey player’s body moves from a known quantum state (injured / not injured) to a superposition of states (a player can be both injured and not injured simultaneously). However, according to the Copenhagen theory, the superposition of states collapses as soon as the quantum system is observed (or in this case, reported upon…) and the system moves to one of the known quantum states (in this case, apparently, injured…)

    So Schneider could have remained both injured and not injured, and, possibly, able to play, if it weren’t for the media (specifically, bloggers) reporting on it. So, way to go, Wagner…

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    • akidd
      April 25, 2013

      oops, shoulda read all the comments before posting my ‘joke’. i guess that joke being made was as inevitable as those billiard balls.

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  20. garth
    April 25, 2013

    Homer didn’t have a comprehensive word for mind. The psyche and the conscious self had not yet been combined. He understood events as repetition of the past, and individual consciousness was not a part of that. But early Greek thought played a role in the complicated history of the concept of the soul.1

    By the time of Plato these ideas had taken shape. The Phaedo and Timaeus are works which demonstrate the consious separation of the knower from the known and the dual nature of the body and the soul. Modern thought was possible: the complicated history of the concept of the soul.
    Whoa!

    Pythagoras and Orphic doctrines all came into play, because Plato was a mystic in his own Platonic way. The pre-Socratic Naturalists saw things in terms of “stuff”. But Plato’s metaphysics showed that this was not enough. This is the incredible complicated history of the concept of the soul.
    Rock and roll.2

    1For an interesting discussion, see E.R Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational, Berkeley, 1953, pp. 45-150.

    2ibid.

    here’s the video:

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  21. ColbyD
    April 25, 2013

    The problem with the body is that it is attached to the head, and within the head, rests the brain.

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  22. DeBovil
    April 25, 2013

    I love you, Daniel Wagner… even if you are a brain in a vat.

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  23. cathylu
    April 25, 2013

    Wow, that made me flash back to my college philosophy class and that was a LONG time ago. I think I’ll have to re-read that about 5 times to understand it. In any case my husband’s theory about AV’s announcement was that he wanted to let Lu play one last time in front of the home crowd.

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  24. EllynBleu
    April 25, 2013

    WOW! Mind-numbing! You lost me after : ” There is a minor problem, however.”

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  25. Ferenczy
    April 25, 2013

    TL;DR

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