Play, Evolution, and the Unspeakable

Creation-of-adam-detailSteen and Owens ground play in human evolution. Now sociologist Robert Bellah makes play not just any element of human evolution but a core element of it. From play, he believes, springs almost all culture, including the topic I steadfastly refuse to bring up on this blog because of the anger it generates among TN readers; therefore I will not raise it here. It is the topic that Tolkien also believed was intimately bound up with fantasy and subcreation.

Recently in First Things, a scholarly magazine about the unspeakable topic I am not discussing, scholarly experts on that topic discuss Bellah's work and spend quite a bit of time on play. Huizenga is mentioned approvingly on several occasions. Interesting to see play given such weight by this brand of intellectual.

Also, I owe to this edition of the magazine a quote I will savor for many years: "The only time I ever saw Richard Dawkins reduced to stuttering silence was when an Irish philosopher repeatedly asked him about human freedom." Professor Dawkins, as you may know, though a biologist by trade, has positioned himself as a rather indomitable expert on the fantasies of certain ancient goat-herders. I have long wanted to ask him whether he is free and if so, how that could be. According to Professor Bellah, being free, and free to play, implicates a host of other assumptions all of which are closer to the goat herders' way of thinking than Professor Dawkins would likely accept.

Comments on Play, Evolution, and the Unspeakable:

Andy Havens says:

Don't worry we won't comment on the unspeakable.

Posted Jun 17, 2013 3:55:20 PM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Why did the Irish philosopher stop at human freedom?

Posted Jun 19, 2013 3:03:36 AM | link

CherryBombSim says:

Behavioral evolution is a lot more complicated than these people make it out to be.

Posted Jun 23, 2013 8:31:49 PM | link

Chris Bateman says:

Hi Ted,

In the first case, to generate anger among TN readers there would have to be TN readers. >:) Although wait, you have comments - perhaps Terra Nova is not yet dead! I can but hope.

While a provision against discussing that particular topic may help prevent outbreaks of incensed rage from the more enthusiastic parties on either side of that fence, it does make it rather difficult to discuss certain topics of great relevance to game and play studies, the new Bellah book being a case in hand. I haven't read it yet, but it's been on my radar for a while now.

If you ever want a forum where you can discuss that-which-must-not-be-mentioned, you are welcome to guest-post on my blog - it's a place I have always tried to bridge this particular gap, since I'm not really convinced not talking is actually helping the situation... To be fair, not talking *did* help keep the peace in India for half a millennia - but that was before global media and post-modernism. A new approach is long overdue on this particular issue.

Although not quite moving in the same direction, I remain more convinced than ever that you will enjoy _The Mythology of Evolution_. Part of the discussion is framed around the question of who or what it makes sense to say is acting in the case of animals (let alone humans!). Ah,it wouldn't be a Terra Nova comment without the Shameless Plug(TM)! ;)

All the best,


Posted Jun 24, 2013 4:32:53 AM | link

Edward Castronova says:

Oh yes, I know the blog is dead. I just like posting to it anyway. It is like singing in the shower. With one exception: Although you always sing badly, on rare occasions the shower yells at you about it.

Posted Jun 24, 2013 10:35:36 AM | link

Lisa G says:

'From play, he believes, springs almost all culture.'

I agree!

Posted Jun 26, 2013 10:27:08 AM | link

Rory says:

Play is definitely key to some fantastic human achievements. It's human beings in one of their purest and most beautiful states. We all need a bit of a kick every now and then to remind us of this, life is short, have fun, be happy!

Posted Jul 7, 2013 10:24:08 AM | link