Play Makes Us Human I: A Ludic Theory of Human Nature | Psychology Today

I’m prompted to share this by way of explanation for why I continue to be fascinated by play.

As you know, there are two audiences for my musings, largely alien to each other. That’s why I’m so niche: the Venn diagram overlap is miniscule.

This one is for Ben Taylor in particular, but really it’s for any management type who doesn’t get why this frivolous thing is so important to business.

It’s also for any play type who doesn’t think biggly enough about play.

And for the record, I’m on record, a broken record in both senses, as saying

“Through play we become human”

well before Peter Gray, who I admire (and I don’t say that often).

Curing kids of the notion that they suck at science – Boing Boing

Q: “Can a new computer-assisted teaching program rid us of the cognitive errors that lead to students believing they suck at math or just aren’t cut out to study science?”

A: No.

How would playworkers do it?

Fascinating. School learns to problem-solve kids behaviour collaboratively, rather than punishing it.

Reminds me of a certain play blog, which featured a 12 year old boy swinging a ‘teepee cane’ about, like it was a samurai sword or a lightsabre, which of course it was, despite some control-freak grownup having designated said bamboo cane to be a ‘teepee cane’. It was, as Wittgenstein would have reminded her, a cane and as such it will remain a fungible ‘loose part’, whilst still embodying its essential caneyness. I digress.

“Can I help you?” said the playworker, momentarily forgetting that she wasn’t working in Boots. Not very playwork.

So how would the Way of Playworking tackle the examples raised in this article?

This is the first question to interest me for a long while.

Over to you dear readers….

Climbing the tree: the case for chimpanzee ‘personhood’

I’m serious. Grant chimpanzees human rights, before they all get killed and eaten. ‘Bush meat’ is cannibalism.

The Latin name for our species is Homo sapiens. “Wise man”.How does that grab you, ladies? Rubbish name. Excludes 51% of the frugging species.

And ‘wise man’? You’re having a laugh, mate. Homo ludens? Better. We is good at laughing, telling jokes and stuff. Showing off. Ladies seem to like that. Homo bellicus? The warlike man? That too. As Douglas Adams pointed out, we think we are more intelligent than dolphins because all they do is fuck about in the sea and eat fish, whereas we invented war machines and nuclear bombs. Dolphins think they are more intelligent than humans because all they do is fuck about in the sea and eat fish, whereas humans invented war machines and nuclear bombs.

An actual wise man, IMHO Jack Cohen, suggested that we rename us Pan Narrans, the storytelling ape. Because we share 99% of our DNA with 2 other chimpanzees, the famous chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes, and the critically endangered, polyamourous, feminist, peaceful Bonobo, Pan paniscus, the gracile ape. We are just the third chimpanzee. We stand upright, lost most of our fur, talk and invent stuff. Big hairy deal.

The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal by Jared Diamond

(“Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen are the source of the coinage Pan narrans, of which they say
”We are not Homo sapiens, Wise Man. We are the third chimpanzee. What distinguishes us from the ordinary chimpanzee Pan troglodytes and the bonobo chimpanzee Pan paniscus, is something far more subtle than our enormous brain, three times as large as theirs in proportion to body weight. It is what that brain makes possible. And the most significant contribution that our large brain made to our approach to the universe was to endow us with the power of story. We are Pan narrans, the storytelling ape”… “…if you understand the power of story, and learn to detect abuses of it, you might actually deserve the appellation Homo sapiens”

The Science of Discworld II: the Globe, Terry Patchett with Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, Ebury Press 2002 )

I don’t need to remind my management consultant chums of the power of storytelling. Or my politician chums, if I had any.


‘Bush meat’ is cannibalism. Show that we are wise and compassionate, that we deserve the label ‘sapiens’: grant chimpanzees human rights, before they are all  killed and eaten.

Those Planet of the Apes movies don’t help either.

You want to know what systems thinking is? Read this: WHEN THE FLOODS CAME: ENGLAND’S WATER

People often* ask me, Arthur, what is systems thinking?

And I say to them: that is a very good question, go read this, and I hand them a copy of James Meek’s piece from the LRB about the floods in Tewkesbury a few years ago. Some selected quotes follow, and a weblink.

” There are a couple of A4 sheets of yellow paper stuck in the pub window. One reads: ‘gl20’ – the local postcode – ‘new houses no insurance’. The other has a picture of a house, with a wavy line representing water cutting off its bottom half. The slogan is ‘stop building on flood plain: no more’ and then in tiny letters ‘please’ and – back to big letters again – ‘mr shaw.’ This is a reference to Chris Shaw, Tewkesbury Borough Council’s director of planning.”

“Much to the surprise of almost everyone in the county, it turned out that this one waterworks, at a place called Mythe, was the sole, irreplaceable source of supply for 350,000 people. For ten days, much of urban and rural Gloucestershire was pushed back in time by a couple of centuries. “

A ‘science bit’:
“The Jurassic limestone of the Cotswolds had started May bone-dry – drier, in fact, than ever previously recorded. But by late July, the soil of the hills just east of Tewkesbury – Bredon, Alderton, Woolstone, Nottingham, Cleeve – was saturated. If more rain fell, the only place for it to go would be down to the valleys. And more rain did fall.”

But they were warned, by experts:
” Gloucestershire’s public servants – the councils, the health service, the police and fire service – had been well warned by the Environment Agency and the Met Office that there were likely to be problems with unusually heavy rain on the Friday, although nobody knew exactly where or when. The county’s emergency command system, known as Gold Command, opened up at its base in Quedgeley, south-west of Gloucester, on Friday morning, ready for the worst. The private servants knew too: Severn Trent says it issued an ‘emergency weather warning’ to its managers on Friday. But the company had locked itself into a mindset that precluded the possibility that its waterworks would flood.”

Risk assessment?
“…I doubt that even Colin Matthews would take his turn at Russian roulette with a light heart on the basis that a revolver had been fired five times and not gone off once. Mathematically, over 137 years, the chance of at least one flood on a site likely to flood every hundred years is 75 per cent.”

Enough already.

Don’t let me mislead you with those extracts, it’s not a simple ‘water company bad’ story; nobody comes out of this one unscathed. Not even you, you water user, you.
Go read it.

Then come back here and read this…

This will feature as a case study at a so-called ‘Systems Thinking Fun Day’ (not my choice of title) I’m planning, probably in London or Manchester.

Contact me for further details. Don’t all rush at once.

*I’m lying. I don’t think anybody has, ever.

I am so very aware that it it is vanishingly unlikely that there is even a single person who might conceivably make this request of me: nevertheless, just in case…

Parenting teenagers (also applies to managing staff, BTW)

“… why [do] adolescents take risks, seek novelty, and bond so passionately with their peers[?] It’s all adaptive behavior even if we sometimes view it as quite the opposite. I walked away with a renewed admiration for the teenaged brain…”

Teacher Tom: In The Bushes

Don’t forget to also read his link to this clear and readable science piece on the brains of teenagers:

It’s all adaptive behaviour….


If all the behaviour of your staff is adaptive, what might that tell you?

Stroke that chin, dear reader…