The World Series, 100 Mph Fast Balls, and Free Choice

The World Series, 100 Mph Fast Balls, and Free Choice October 27, 2020

How much freedom of choice do you have in choosing to swing at a 100-mph major league fastball? Think fast! You only have 400 milliseconds.

Pitchers in the major leagues can throw baseballs in excess of 100 miles per hour. / Image by Keith Johnston from Pixabay

Yogi Berra, one of the greatest coaches in major league baseball seemed to suggest zero freewill is involved when he said:

“You can’t think and hit at the same time.”

Which is precisely what the latest science suggests too. This is too short of an incremental in time to give us much time to think at all. So, what’s happening? Evidently, the human mind is able to process some information at such lightening speeds that our brains automatically make decisions for us long before we consciously choose a course of action.

Take the science behind the 100-mph fastball. The distance between a major league pitching mound and home plate is 60’6” inches. It takes about 400 milliseconds for the ball to leave the pitcher’s hand and reach the batter. Within this distance, though, it takes the batter 100 milliseconds to see the ball coming, 25 milliseconds for his brain to send to his body the signal to swing, and 150 milliseconds to get his bat around to hit the ball. When you do the math, this computes to only 125 milliseconds of remaining time for the batter to make the choice to swing!

Here’s a quick video on the science of how this all takes place:

Obviously, if a major league hitter had to actually think through this entire process, he would never hit a single ball. But hitting a ball is far more complicated than simply wildly swinging at thin air. A batter has to decide within this 125-millisecond window whether he thinks the pitch will be a ball, whether it will be within the strike zone, and whether or not he actually wants to hit the ball.

Sam Harris and Free Will

Sam Harris, in his book Free Will, builds a pretty good case explaining the brain science behind how our minds can process information faster than we can make conscious decisions. He doesn’t reference baseball in his book as I do here, but the implications are similar. The human brain does process and make many decisions for us, sometimes long before we are even consciously aware that we have a choice that needs to be made.

“Free Will” by Sam Harris. / Photo by Scott Stahlecker

This science is a direct assault on the concept of freewill. The concept of freewill is a fundamental pillar of Christianity, because in order for a person to be saved or lost they need to make a conscious decision whether or not to choose good over evil.

If you are interested in looking into the data that speaks to these processes of the brain, I suggest googling studies about “decoding and predicting intentions.” However, the gist of what the research indicates is quoted below:

“New results show that the specific outcome of free choices between different plans can be interpreted from brain activity, not only after a decision has been made, but even several seconds before it is made. This suggests that a causal chain of events can occur outside subjective awareness even before a subject makes up his/her mind.” Source 

Can meditation make time stand still?

I am also personally intrigued by the way in which meditation may also play into our concepts of free will. Studies are beginning to prove that meditation can change the way in which we perceive time. Overall, meditation has a way of slowing down one’s perception of time and, it also permits a person to become more and more aware of what is occurring in their minds during unconscious periods of brain activity.

I know by my own subjective experiences as a meditator, that the longer I meditate the more I am able to penetrate into the thoughts and processes occurring in my mind, which were previously locked away in my unconscious thoughts.

And as this article in Psychology Today states, meditation can actually make it appear that time moves slower. This suggests to me that a major league batter who meditates might just be able to buy himself a little more free time in hitting a fast ball. This is not because the ball moves slower. It is because meditation has made time appear to move slower.

You see, to the untrained batter, choosing to hit a 100-mph fastball in 400 milliseconds occurs primarily and automatically and a subconscious level. But through meditation a batter can learn to consciously experience more of those 400 milliseconds. This in turn, is going to give him more time to actually “think” about the trajectory of the ball and tweak his swing accordingly.

BTW, tonight is game 6 of the 2020 world series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Tampa Bay Rays.

About Scott Stahlecker
Scott Stahlecker is freelance writer and the author of the novel "Blind Guides and “Picking Wings Off Butterflies.” Thinkadelics is about discussing the benefits of being a freethinker with insightful tips, newsworthy posts, and in-depth features. You can read more about the author here.

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6 responses to “The World Series, 100 Mph Fast Balls, and Free Choice”

  1. Interesting thought about time moving slower to experienced meditators. I’ll have to think about that!

    When it comes to physical things, I think of it this way: just as a guitar player can master “licks” (a series of notes played from muscle memory without giving much thought to them) and join “licks” together, so might baseball players combine evaluate-swing-run movements? Just as there are only so many notes, there are only so many ways a pitcher can throw the ball.

    This is something I was considering in my own life; I’m a software engineer, and part of my job requires running reports and kicking off processes based on what I see. I’ve been doing this for literally decades at this point, and I can flash through some things quickly. I know I’m not reading what I see, but my fingers are primed to type in commands based on the configuration of the results I’m seeing. Does that even make sense to you? It’s akin to what speed-readers do; they’re not carefully looking at each letter and forming words; they’re seeing the shape of the word and their minds fill in the blank.

  2. You question makes total sense to me. They say it takes about 10,000 to master “something,” and it sounds like you probably have around 25,000 hours? Just guessing. I would think your mind is hardwired to do things that others would have to really think about. I happened to meet a programmer / developer this summer who told me that she views programming codes and their outcomes as “organic” in nature. I somewhat could relate, but maybe you can relate more …

    In many respects pro athletes, musicians, artists, or even engineers like yourself have developed far more “meditative” skills in their areas of expertise than a serious meditator. A pro ball player has been hitting balls for decades, so their level of awareness about hitting balls has reached guru-like levels. Mastering and achieving this guru level in a skill or occupation puts the mind in a euphoric zone.

  3. I’m a compatibilist; the batter goes out to hit the ball. That is his goal and intention. Whether they succeed or not is down to their skill, ability, and practice. We have free will. It is, like all things, bounded.
    A lot of philosophy is like this: very, very, silly. It is why it isn’t science.

  4. Along those lines, Scott; I got into work and got a request to do a task I absolutely love to do. I’ve been doing this particular task for more than 30 years and it brings me great joy. I finished and submitted the task and got a nice compliment from someone just starting out saying they couldn’t have put together something like that so quickly. They could, given time to practice. There’s nothing magical in what I do (and there are many who can do it better); it takes time, as you said above. The number 10,000 is auspicious in Japan, which is probably why that number was adopted in subject mastery or in steps walked every day.

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