Laker Notes: There's a method to this madness
March, in many ways, has been a month of involuntary disappointment. The college rejection letters have started to roll in, the brief sunny interludes keep drifting back into rain, and it's far enough from the end of the year that I can't really get excited about graduating yet. The month is a strange interlude between the drudge of deep winter and the exultation of mid-spring, a time where everything seems stuck in the realm of the "not quite."
But there is one aspect in which I'll gladly let March disappoint me: the NCAA Tournament, a 63-game gauntlet that for a few weeks every year completely takes over my life. Every year, I fill out a March Madness bracket, and every year, my hopes for a perfect bracket are dashed when a team I have no real loyalty to (usually Michigan State. Or Duke. Duke sucks.) loses to a team they probably shouldn't have. It's painful and it's stressful, but it's also incredibly entertaining. There are always a few days at school where no one pays any attention, spending their time instead glued to their phones and talking about this game or that.
My bracket this year is putting along; I haven't missed too many games, though by the time this column is published, it'll probably be busted. So, instead of writing about that coming catastrophe, this column is about a thought I had while filling out my bracket this year: maybe a bracket reveals more about you than you might think.
Yes, I know, that sounds like the headline to a Buzzfeed quiz, but let me explain before you toss your paper away in horror. Each person has their own philosophy for picking winners: there's the statistics-based approach, where you use as many stats as possible to determine, on paper, which team should win each game; there's the bet-hedging approach, where you pick the higher seeded team to win each game (my little brother does this every year, it's incredibly annoying and incredibly effective); and then there's the intuitive approach, where you choose winners simply off of the top of your head.
Most of the time, your final bracket reflects a combination of these philosophies. I picked Virginia to win the championship because of what seemed like good offensive and defensive stats, but I picked Michigan State to beat Duke because, as I've mentioned, Duke sucks.
Each bracket, then, is a balance between what I'm going to call "artificiality," the statistics and the seeds and the numbers, and "natural intuition," that gut feeling you get about a team's chances that you can't really explain. But when you think about it, isn't that just the same conflict that half of our modern world seems to be facing?
Parents oppose vaccinating their children because the "artificial" aspect of vaccines seems dangerous. Video games and touchscreen devices prevent our kids from going outside, hampering their "natural" development through "artificial" means. The list goes on and on: is recent genetic editing of embryos in China an incredible achievement of "artificial" science, or does it violate the "natural" order of things? Will robots and automation cause thousands, if not millions, of humans to lose their jobs, despite the loss of "the human element" that comes with "artificial," mass-produced goods? Creating a bracket asks the same questions: do you trust the artificial, knowledge-based realm of statistics or the more natural, intangible field of intuition?
My bracket may end up perfect, and it may end up busted; I can only hope that my own unique combination of philosophies will be good enough to win my pool. But maybe the weaknesses of my bracket represent the flaws in my own value system. When Duke inevitably wins more games than they're supposed to, I'll be back to the drawing board once again; society can't seem to balance the natural and the artificial, and clearly, neither can I.