I lie on a bed, trying out a new sleeping position. By my front left paw is my favourite toy: my aged, trusty ball. In fact, this is more than just a toy: it came with me from the rescue centre, and is also a companion and comfort in times of woe. It smells good.
Yet an itchy thought plays on my mind. Is my ball still a ball at all? It’s been punctured so many times that it’s now far from spherical. Maybe that’s ok: American footballs aren’t spherical, and they’re still balls. But, unlike an American football, my ball no longer bounces. Maybe that’s ok too: snooker and golf balls don’t bounce much but, again, we’re happy with them being balls. But while an American ball bounces and a golf ball is spherical, mine is neither of these things – in fact it lacks most of the things that other balls have.
I ask my friend Ludwig the lion what he thinks. ‘Well’, he says, ‘Maybe having a particular thing or set of things a ball needs to have to be a ball is the wrong way of looking at it. Take families: some people in a family have the family long nose, some the blue eyes, some the waggly ears, and some a mixture of those. Maybe no one person has all those features, and maybe not one of those features is shared by all of them – but they might have some overlapping features so we can say they have a “family resemblance”’.
Hm, I think, maybe. That explains why an American football and a golf ball are balls: one of them has the family ‘nose’ (being spherical) and one of them the ‘waggly ears’ (having a good bounce), while other kinds of ball might have both of those things. But what about my ball? It seems to share no ball ‘family resemblances’. So is it a ball at all?
I muse on the matter as I drift in and out of sleep, affectionately dreaming of my ‘ball’.
Mental walkies with Lola,