The New York Times:
When it comes to play, humans don’t play around.
And in doing so, they develop some of humanity’s most consequential faculties. They learn the art, pleasure and power of hypothesis — of imagining new possibilities. And serious students of play believe that this helps make the species great.
The idea that play contributes to human success goes back at least a century. But in the last 25 years or so, researchers like Elizabeth S. Spelke, Brian Sutton-Smith, Jaak Panksepp and Alison Gopnik have developed this notion more richly and tied it more closely to both neuroscience and human evolution. They see play as essential not just to individual development, but to humanity’s unusual ability to inhabit, exploit and change the environment.
Dr. Gopnik, author of “The Scientist in the Crib” and “The Philosophical Baby,” and a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, has been studying the ways that children learn to assess their environment through play. Lately she has focused on the distinction between “exploring” new environments and “exploiting” them. When we’re quite young, we are more willing to explore, she finds; adults are more inclined to exploit.
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