Mark Godfrey

Football Anatomy and the Coefficient of Reciprocal and Non-Reciprocal Passing Altruism

Mark Godfrey
Football Anatomy and the Coefficient of Reciprocal and Non-Reciprocal Passing Altruism

I met Gordon in the Homo Ludens Bar, at the west end of George Street, on a bright and windy day in February.

The Bar is a lovely old Edinburgh tavern that used to house discussions during the Scottish   Enlightenment, with patrons including Adam Smith and David Hume among others.  The atmosphere that day was quiet, intense, committed, competitive. Groups of drinkers were playing games – dominoes, chess, poker, backgammon, snakes and ladders and ludo – and Lego construction  projects.  The bar is  also known locally as the Alexander Graham Bell Tavern, in honour of Alexander Graham Bell, who was born just a few metres from the establishment. Bell was awarded the first patent for the invention of the telephone in the USA in 1876. He was successful in many other fields of invention, such as optical telecommunications, hydrofoil and aeronautics, and regarded the telephone as something of a diversion from his more serious interests.

 Educated at the Royal High School of Edinburgh and Weston House Academy in Elgin, Moray, he  continued his studies at the universities of Edinburgh and London before emigrating to Canada with  his family. Members of his extended family still return to drink in the lovely and ancient hostelry.

The great Scottish thinker Alexander Dunedin also drank in this tavern in the nineteenth century, with his friend Charles Darwin, who was studying in Edinburgh at that time. Dunedin was the author of a famous book that challenged the notion that the large human brain is the main influence on human cognition and intelligence; he ranked bipedalism instead as the major event separating humans from their primate ancestors. Dunedin, who was also a major figure in the Edinburgh Football Phrenology fraternity, wrote the seminal book, The  Playful and Walking History of Mankind, which was published in Dutch, and according to Gordon P. McNeil was an influence on Johan Huizinga, the Dutch cultural historian and thinker who wrote the pioneering book Homo Ludens, which was first published in 1938 and which articulates the theory that adult play is generative of human culture (a perspective that correlates to neoteny), and to the retention of  infantile physiology and psychology into adult humans, or as Gordon P. McNeil claims, after Stephen Jay Gould – humans never fully metamorphose into their fully formed adult organism, or more simply put, they never truly grow up. According to a local legend, during his visits to the UK, Stephen Jay Gould would often meet with Gordon P. McNeil in the Homo Ludens Bar to discuss the theory of Homo passiens. Although Professor Gould would not accept the theory of bipedal football as generative of human evolutionary advance as correct, he did agree that it provided many interesting insights into the utterly strange evolution of a neotenous upright bipedal species, with flat face, domed head, and with a narrow pelvis, knock-knees, and flat and levered foot, that has eluded evolutionary science for many decades.

This elegant tavern remains a popular haunt of neoteny and game-playing cultural academics,   evolutionary biologists, passienic researchers, free market economists, materialist philosophers, cultural anthropologists, and football cultural historians. The debate about the evolution of Homo and Homo passiens, about the neotenous and ludenic physiology, psychology and psychiatry of Homo and of Homo passiens, the founder species, continues late into the night on most nights of the week.

Among the many visitors are Dutch and international cultural historians: anthropologists who study  the ludenic origins of the genus Homo, and who are influenced by the writings of Johan Huizinga, the author of Homo Ludens. Johan Huizinga was born in the town of Groningen in 1872, and studied Indo-Germanic languages before turning to history. He became Professor of General and Dutch History at Groningen University, and later, in 1915, Professor of General History at Leiden University, where he remained until 1942 when he was detained, until his death in 1945, for opposition to the Nazis. The work of Johan Huizinga has been consistently underestimated by evolutionary biologists of the Homo sapiens mindset, due to their inability to understand the role of adult game-playing in the genus Homo, and its role in the cognitive, emotional homeostatic, and cultural evolution of Homo sapiens and Homo passiens. Only by correlating ludenic psychology and physiology with neoteny, as developed by Gordon P. McNeil, may the species be more fully understood. Of course, the highest expression of ludenic culture, art and behaviour is that of neotenous bipedal football.


Mike:  What do you think, Gordon, are the most significant anatomical and physiological attributes that characterise Homo passiens, the only primate species that is upright, bipedal and plays football?

Gordon:  Okay, Mike. No problem. One: the human head is the same size as a football – one and a half litres. This is not a coincidence; football technology emanates from the Homo brain, and I agree  with the Scottish philosopher Andy Clark that all technology represents and expresses the extended mind. Two: the human head is domed, allowing for subtle and controlled heading.

Mike: Okay, that makes perfect sense. No primate could direct a ball with such precision?

Gordon: That’s right. So, three is: the human face and brow is flat, allowing for power heading with direction.

Mike: The primate face is flat in infancy and then develops fully into the adult, the chin advances and the brow recedes and angles backward … this means that the Homo species just never grew up?

Gordon: Yes, precisely. Humans are neotenous, underdeveloped foetal primates, arrested in extended infancy.

Mike: Well, well, well … Although the benefit of early ejection from the womb, effectively as a foetus at nine months, allows for extended brain development over three decades – thirty years! Hence our big brains!

Gordon:  Again, you have hit the nail on the head.  Number four: the human head is fully upright, centred and hinged on the spinal column, via the unique centralised foramen magnum. This arrangement allows for lateral vision, for forward vision during motion, for spatial awareness when upright, and for motor sensibility in both lower limbs.

Mike: We’re designed for spatial awareness?

Gordon nods in agreement and holds up the little finger of his left hand, then extends both arms outwards and upward with a flourish.

Gordon:  Five. Human arms provide balance during jumping – handy  for  saving  and  heading – and  during upright forward, backward and eccentric bipedal motion.

Gordon: Number six. Let me think. Oh yes! The human hand has opposable thumbs, like all other primate species. So this allows for grasping the ball, particularly useful for goalkeepers, but also for shying – and for holding opponents when necessary.

Mike:   The opposable thumb was biologically engineered perfectly for tool making, but more significantly for bipedal football goalkeeping expression?

Gordon:  Right. Our seventh feature is the human pelvis. It is structured for ease of upright motion, with the legs hinged directly below, allowing for upright bipedal forward, backward and eccentric motion – and more particularly for kicking, dribbling and shooting. Then there is number eight – bipedal motion. What we call walking or running is actually bipedal kicking. This is very easy to demonstrate, by taking a few steps, each so-called step is actually a kick.

Mike: I’ve tried it and it works beautifully. What of our knock-knees?

Gordon:  A-hah. Our knock-knees. Number nine. Bipedal locomotion – walking, running, kicking, jumping (and heading) – would be impossible without that absolute characteristic of the Homo species – knock-knees. The valgus angle of the femur of the upper leg leads downward from the pelvis so that the knees are closely aligned to the centre of gravity! This enables all of the bipedal locomotive features associated with Homo passiens – without which football would be impossible.

Mike: Lovely! And the foot?

Gordon: This is number ten. And I think it is my favourite! That great mystery of bipedal anatomy – the flat foot. It’s cushioned, long-heeled, short-toed and levered for propulsion. But it attains full evolutionary significance only in relation to the non-opposable great toe, which is aligned and parallel to the other digits. This gives not only stability during upright forward, backward and eccentric motion, but also the instep and outstep allows curling and slicing the ball, inside and outside flicking, kicking and skilful ball control. No other primate discovered to date can do this.

Mike: In a manner of speaking, the bipedal foot is the embodied father and mother of the bipedal brain.

Gordon: You know, I think that should be the very first item in any anthropological lecture series, at all levels. Now, where were we. Ten…eleven. Yes, eleven. Bipedalism. When our primate ancestors  came down from the trees and stood upright for the first time, bipedalism emerged as the first step (kick) on the road to Homo passiens. That was around 5 million years ago. The development of the large brain – our domed head, actually, emerged some 2.5 million years ago, and this, along with our relatively long legs – that’s neoteny again and the reversion to infantile form – set the new species on its final path towards Homo passiens, which appears fully formed in the records from some 500,000 years ago. Of course, they went on to developed language, art, burial, farming, culture, religion, advanced tool making, civilisation and all the other aspects of the species we are today.

Mike: Astounding stuff. Are there any representations in ancient art?

Gordon:  A search of prehistoric art forms reveals numerous examples of cave art representing balls, and a great variety of early forms of skeletal goalposts. If these clear references to our past have remained hidden from us up to now, it simply tells us that those who have looked have been looking with blinkered vision – a vision biased towards a species with a so-called “rational” mind, a mind disconnected to a body, a disembodied mind…a mind without football! An armless, legless, footless mind.

Mike: What you are saying is that it is only within the context of neotenous bipedal football that all of our special developments may be understood?

Gordon: Exactly Mike. The human brain grew relative to body size from 2.5 million years ago, and may also be viewed from this perspective. Why is the brain this size, and not another? How did thought and language arise in the way that they did, metaphorically grounded as they are in the body in motion – in a bipedal upright body, above all, a body which deals in, and with, space, time, motion, cause and effect (kick–connect), and a body which runs, kicks and scores?

Mike: And saves, Gordon! It seems that bipedal neoteny is the foundation of the human brain.


Gordon: Football – above all – is the metaphorical source of this armed, legged and befooted mind of  humans – this embodied mind. This mind with two arms, two legs and two footballing feet. The  disembodied mind – the so-called analytical and “rational” mind of western philosophy – is a mind arising somehow, in and of itself, without reference to its body; it’s a fleshless, heartless, gutless  philosophical myth, and it’s been foisted on generations of scholars and students by a tradition with no knowledge of football – a  tradition that denies not only our evolutionary heritage, but our very footballing essence.

Mike: And language? Where does language come into this?

Gordon:  When a striker shouts, yells “Cross” to his winger, he shouts a linguistic, striking, and compelling metaphor. A linguistic command in the form of a metaphor, which includes information as to his position in space, and his motion – where he is going – and his timing – when he will get there – and the cause and effect – that is, the connection, from the kick to the header.

Mike: So here we have the real origin of language and thought. Its  embodied, grounded, in flesh, in heads, legs, arms and feet. A mind pregnant, messy, pulsating, sweating, shaking, bursting, convulsing with body. A mind replete, infected with body. A bloodied, boned, fleshed  mind. A muscled mind. A watered, fatted, protein, skinned, earthed and corporeal mind … And yet a mind clothed in rich metaphorical thought and language, and with such potent metaphorical and orally poetic power that it unites the sensorimotor biology of the two players – the striker and the winger – one with the other though space, time, motion, causality and – as it happens – the ball.

Gordon: Well articulated, Mike.

Mike: Only football can explain this.

Gordon: We, the passienologists, are the spectre that haunt not only the anti-passienic evolutionary biologists – the football deniers – but also the philosophers of the “rational” disembodied mind: the legless, armless and footless mind.

Mike: No other species has made the leap to football?

Gordon:  No. That’s right. It’s only within the context of football that all these and many other seemingly – for a primate – bizarre aspects of human psychology, philosophy, psychiatry, physiology, anatomy and biology may be understood. These aspects have puzzled evolutionary biologists, anthropologists, archaeologists, palaeontologists, geneticists, anatomists, physiologists, psychologists, neurologists, and embryologists, for many generations.

Mike: It’s only now with the emergence of passienology – as the science explaining the true driving force of human evolution – that the true essence of man – and woman (Femo passiens) is appearing … that of Man the Footballer: the kicking species, the heading species, the jumping, dribbling, passing, back-heeling, shying, goalkeeping, saving, defending, attacking, stepping over, crossing, free-kicking, penalty kicking, tripping, tackling, injuring, and diving species. And this includes refereeing man?

Gordon:  Got it, Mike. Passienology does not contradict the fundamental tenets of evolutionary biology –  hat’s  heredity, variety and selection – but it refines, develops and extends them scientifically. It provides us with the missing link, a link that so far has eluded all other attempts to explain the how and the when and the why of this strange upright, big-brained bipedal kicking species.

Mike: That missing link is football?

Gordon: It has been said many times, Mike, that for new ideas to emerge a generation has to die. This is a call to arms – and legs, if you will – for the new generation of passienologists. We will not wait for this to happen! We announce our arrival in the field of human evolution with scientific confidence … with energy, with dynamism, with industry, with optimism, with pride, self-belief and  enthusiasm. With motivation. And with professionalism. If at present we languish in the lower divisions of the evolutionary scientific leagues, make no mistake – we are on our way up.

Mike: Homo passiens has arrived?

Gordon:  Homo passiens has most certainly arrived! And evolutionary science must finally grasp this most fundamental and beautiful truth.

Mike: And your book on the subject?

Gordon: Yes, there is one. It’s called The Evolution of Neotenous Bipedal Football Anatomy. It’s going to be published by the Journal of Passienology at the University of Dublin in the next couple of years.

Mike: Great!

The drinkers, who had been listening to our discussion with studied interest, were discussing their own ideas about Homo passiens. The conversation on that particular morning in the Homo Ludens Bar, was around the question of brilliant and skilful football players, especially  strikers, and whether willingness to drive for an individual goal, or release of the ball to a better positioned teammate, was a learned or a genetic trait. I relayed the question to Gordon.

Mike: Do you think, Gordon, that the key to team survival and success is to be found in selflessness and  altruism? That is, in suppressing individual talent and skill if that’s required in any given game –if you like, a “reciprocal passing altruism”?

Gordon:  The key to all great football teams, Mike, is the coefficient of non-reciprocal passing altruism. Every pass – every given ball – is an example of passing reciprocal altruism, a pass that may benefit the team but not necessarily the passer – the assist. Of course, the gifted pass may be returned later – or in another game. If the giver expects or demands the ball in return – or refuses to return the pass – he expresses non-reciprocal passing altruism. He wants, demands the ball – even if the outcome may not benefit the whole team. And having been given the pass, he is not likely to return it, regardless of the outcome. Cristiano Ronaldo in his early years was such a football player. He would reluctantly part with the ball only on the condition that it would be returned, and score – or not score – on his own initiative. He was generally incapable of reciprocal passing altruism!

Mike:  An attacking forward in a difficult situation around the penalty box always has the advantage of surprise, because the defenders would expect him to pass in such a situation. By not passing, he opens up space to allow him to shoot?

Gordon:  This is true, Mike. Non-reciprocal passing altruism is not usually learned or adaptive. It’s always more genetic. Because, by doing the unexpected, space usually opens up and a potentially unfruitful situation becomes a situation in which a goal is a distinct possibility.

Mike: This selfish non-reciprocal passing altruism may result in a positive outcome, then?

Gordon: Yes, yes. This is where the “selfish” team gene benefits both the individual team player and the team as a whole. For example, in a two-on-one situation, where two forwards are approaching the goalkeeper, where one’s been given the ball by the other in the approach, the keeper would usually expect a reciprocal pass. If the striker carrying the ball rounds the keeper instead of passing, the outcome is likely to be a goal – especially if there is little room for the holder to make an angle to score. The greater the odds against scoring, the greater and more beautiful and lucidic the goal! So you see, selfishness pays off for both for the ball carrier and for his marginalised teammate. It’s a striking example of the selfish team gene in action.

Mike:  Or an example of successful non-reciprocal passing altruism. It may even be termed “reverse-reciprocal passing altruism”?

Gordon: Yes. Reverse-reciprocal passing altruism is okay.

There was much nodding interest among the drinkers, and satellite discussions were flowering all around the crowded bar. Gordon continued.

Gordon: We all love individual ball skill, but, in general, players with the greatest individual skills are a questionable asset in the team. In any football team, team genes are shared equally by each player. A team is composed of eleven individuals who carry and contribute to one eleventh of the team “genome”, for want of a better word. If we include substitutes who are called on to play, they contribute a proportional amount to the team genome depending on how much time they spend on the pitch. For example, a substitute who comes on at half-time would contribute a one twenty-second portion of the team genome of the total to that game, and the substituted player, one twenty-second portion less.  And so on. Pro rata for other substitutes. Each player’s relationship with  his teammates is genomically identical, and therefore – theoretically – we should have a completely altruistic genomic environment. In this situation, reciprocal passing altruism should be a given. However, a ‘give and go’ need not necessarily be reciprocated if the dynamic favours the first receiver. The altruistic gene does not need to be expressed at this moment. Here, reciprocal passing altruism should be suppressed. A pass should – or should not – be delivered according to the state of play, the nature of the opposition, the period in the game, and any particular dynamic circumstances. The key parameter for expressing or suppressing reciprocal passing altruism depends entirely on the outcome and benefit for the team.

Mike: Where is the faculty in which this has been studied?

Gordon: Of course, the George Best Faculty of Reciprocal and Non-Reciprocal Passing Altruism, at Cregagh, East Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Mike: Have you written about this Gordon?

Gordon: I have, Mike, in my book, The Decline of Non-Reciprocal Passing Altruism, to be published by Reciprocal Passing Altruism Publications in Lisbon next autumn. Modern and bureaucratic coaching is destroying the free-rider non-reciprocal passing altruism genetic expression.

He pulled a battered manuscript out from under his seat, briefly waved it around, and returned it. Around the pub, the drinkers were furiously discussing, arguing, describing and displaying the relative benefits of reciprocal and non-reciprocal passing altruism, using pints as the players and glasses of whisky for the balls.

Mike: Are team genes derived from, or adaptations of, kin genes, and if so what if a player moves from one club to another, and how does this affect his original team genes?

Gordon: Mike, genes are not absolute entities. If this were so why bother to train? Moulding, sculpting and modulating team genes takes place during training, and are profoundly influenced by the coach, himself a carrier. If team genes were fixed absolutes it would be impossible to change club. Think of young adolescent primates. They leave their mother troop and join another. Their genes have to adapt to the new situation, via gene enhancement expression or suppression, a move that improves gene diversity. There are powerful pressures on the young primate to move troop, to increase his reproductive opportunities, to spread his genes. Football is similar.

Mike:  Modern coaches have adapted this genetic manipulation and environmental exposure via the loan system?


Gordon: Yes. There is certainly overriding selfish gene pressure, but in the new environment the primate youngster is going to have to find comrades and friends, and here he will have to mobilise his cooperative or altruistic genes, or he will not survive. A new terrain opens for him, no need here for some random mutation to appear, simply switching team gene sequences becomes the survival mechanism. How often have we seen great individual footballers, with the finest passienic genes, move club and fail to succeed? Any good team, any great team, may be ruined by a player with a poorly adaptive football team genome. Human and passienic team genomes are adaptable, they are not fixed entities.

Mike: Does this also apply to fans?

Gordon:  My team is Hibs. If I watch Hearts do you think my genes are indifferent to that? No disrespect, Hearts is a very great club with a wonderful history. However, it is not my club, and therefore do you think watching Hearts would express the same metabolic, physiological, psychological, psychiatric, cognitive, and emotional outcome as would be the case if I were watching Hibs?

Mike: No. Never. The passienic, the football environment, is now hostile – not so much physically but psychologically. Dawkins is right to suggest that genes are inherently selfish, but is any team genome that lacks empathic cooperative genes heading for trouble, or for relegation, and are fans likewise deeply affected?

Gordon:  Yes, however, we have to admit that football teams with these rogue free-rider selfish genes provide us with excellent spectator sport, wonderful individual skills, unexpected changes of pace and direction, and occasional bursts of explosive and lucidic brilliance. They are prime examples of non-reciprocal passing altruists, or as some players would have it – passing free-riders. When you give the ball to such a player, you do not wait for the return pass. Also, they tend to be greedy, impulsive and inconsistent, and often may represent a burden that other teammates may not wish to carry.

Mike: May this be calibrated mathematically?

Gordon:  Of course, Mike. Team success can evolve where the benefit of the ratio of non-reciprocal passing altruism over reciprocal passing altruism is higher than the cost of the ratio of reciprocal passing altruism over non-reciprocal passing altruism, and that is where the benefit of not passing, exceeds the cost of passing.

Mike: How did you derive this formula – an algorithm?

Gordon:  No – an algolithim, Mike. I have to thank the great evolutionary biologist William Hamilton, from whom I developed a mathematical algolithim, for his analysis of reciprocal and non-reciprocal altruism in kin selection, for pointing out these relationships, and providing me with a mathematical model for passienology. Team genomes and their expression do offer us an excellent model for the operation of, may I say, kick and kin selective forces, both in evolutionary biology and passienology. I have further elaborated these questions in my seminal book A Brief Introduction to Passienic Team Genomes – available soon from the Passienic University of the Isles at Barra.

Mike:  What, Gordon, are the correlations between Homo passiens’ success and Homo evolutionary advance – are there parallel genes, gene sequences and consequent hormone and enzyme expressions?

Gordon:  There are, Mike, certainly so. We can refer again to the fabulous work of William Hamilton many decades ago, who based his ideas on social insect genetic evolution, and suggested that altruistic genes may be related to the altruistic loss of reproductive ability, whereby some insects are  infertile but facilitate fertility, and reproduction in close kin.

Mike:  A bit like a brother or sister, who does not reproduce, but consciously helps siblings to do so in some way, such as via shelter, food, or economically?

Gordon:  Yes, we can correlate passienic gene expression for bipedal football fitness in a similar way.

Mike: Okay. The direct correlation would be the creative football artist who facilitates and assists teammates, but never personally scores a goal?

Gordon: Yes, great creative players may rarely, if ever, score a goal, but they altruistically serve as facilitators for their team genome.

Mike: It may be said that they are non-reproductive in goal-driven football  terminology, but are profoundly productive as team genome facilitators?

Gordon: Exactly – they may carry…

Mike:  But not express the football gene for goal-driven reward expression, expressed by dopamine reward-seeking facilitation?

Gordon: Of course.

Mike:  And also facilitate the use of the goal-driven gene in teammates who may carry the gene but have difficulty in expression?

Gordon:  This is key – it matters not so much what genes a passienic bipedal footballer may carry. It matters significantly more which of these genes are activated and not suppressed.

Mike: Are there any specific studies in this field?

Gordon:  You may not be surprised that we have a wonderful study from the Alex Ferguson Passienic  Faculty of Genomic Studies in Broomloan, Govan, Glasgow.

Mike:  No, I am not surprised. Did they reference any Homo sapiens work?

Gordon: Yes they did. A brilliant 2013 Canadian paper published in the journal Biology Letters by a Homo sapiens team led by Graham L. Thomson at Western University, Ontario, opened the door to a passiens interpretation. They referenced studies on altruism and social behaviour, and compared them to eusocial and altruistic behaviour in social insects.

Mike:  And found variations in expressions of oxytocin and arginine vasopressin?

Gordon:  Precisely – these are critical, genetically modulated variants in altruistic phenotypic expression and each of these is profoundly involved.

Mike: And dopamine?

Gordon:  Likewise – dopamine is one of the most versatile of monoamine hormones, is correlated to both arginine and oxytocin expression in Homo sapiens, and in Homo passiens bipedal neotenous footballers, and modulates …

Mike:  Homo passiens super-lucid REM wake regulation in its dopamine form, in football hymning and chanting, in mirror activation during dream-play, and fan-dream manipulation?

Gordon: Absolutely.

Mike:  Fascinating – we learn about neotenous bipedal football dream-songs, dream-chants, football genetic altruism, and mirror neurone articulation from songbirds, tree frogs and social insects, expressed in a variety of passiens genetic activation and hormone release cascades?

Gordon:   Yes, but we do have some progressive sapiens researchers to thank for opening new fields of passienic research.

Mike: Wonderful.

This feature is an excerpt from Homo Passiens: Man The Footballer by Mike McInnes with illustrations by Matt Kenyon. The book is available from Amazon HERE