Curiosity – It keeps us moving forward, exploring, experimenting, opening new doors.Walt Disney
Early in the creation of Practice Playfulness we discussed how we are adults much longer than we are children. This became a cornerstone for our exploration of why play and playfulness could be as important if not more so for adults than children.
An original touch point that sparked our enthusiasm was Zat Rana who believes “life is a playful act best guided by curiosity.” His essay “Why Playfulness is More Important Than Ever” blew us away. His contemporary, thoughtful and interesting perspectives jump started our thinking.
He shares “We can roughly divide life into two realms of existence: a period dominated by exploration and a period dominated by exploitation. You spend the first part of your life exploring, seeing, and understanding, but once some of it has sunk to a satisfactory level, you start to exploit the fruits growing on the foundation you have laid.”
Our adult brains prevent us from play? That a child’s brain is built for exploration (one way we think of play) and the adult brain exists to process or exploit learned info? How then do we get back to a kid’s brain, more fun, more play, more exploration?
In our prior post “Spend More Time Thinking Like A Playful Kid” we highlighted a fascinating podcast with Alison Gopnik. She shared how kids’ brains and adults’ brains function differently including a funny anecdote of how an octopus seems to use both brains at once.
She suggested “you’ve got one creature that’s really designed to explore, to learn, to change. That’s the child form. And then you’ve got this other creature that’s really designed to exploit, as computer scientists say, to go out, find resources, make plans, make things happen, including finding resources for that wild, crazy explorer that you have in your nursery. And the idea is that those two different developmental and evolutionary agendas come with really different kinds of cognition, really different kinds of computation, really different kinds of brains, and I think with very different kinds of experiences of the world. So, the very way that you experience the world, your consciousness, is really different if your agenda is going to be, get the next thing done, figure out how to do it, figure out what the next thing to do after that is, versus extract as much information as I possibly can from the world. And I think adults have the capacity to some extent to go back and forth between those two states.”
In her recent WSJ article, “The Many Minds of the Octopus”,she added “Human adults are “neotenous apes,” which means we retain more childhood characteristics than our primate relatives do. We keep our brains in our heads, but neuroscience and everyday experience suggest that we too have divided selves. My grown-up, efficient prefrontal cortex keeps my wandering, exploratory inner child in line. Or tries to, anyway.”
Does this mean we can in fact (as adults) be more like the octopus, but with just one brain, capable of both exploring and exploiting out of the same space?
The explore/exploit theory isn’t new. Gopnik playfully leans into it’s importance for adults. Yet what will it take for us, in America, to truly embrace the benefits of play and playfulness for adults?