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Science + Tech

June 06, 2019 - Nautilus

Why It Pays to Play Around

Why It Pays to Play Around
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Play is so important that nature invented it long before it invented us.

The 19th-century physicist Hermann von Helmholtz compared his progress in solving a problem to that of a mountain climber “compelled to retrace his steps because his progress stopped.” A mountain climber, von Helmholtz said, “hits upon traces of a fresh path, which again leads him a little further.” The physicist’s introspection provokes the question: How do creative minds overcome valleys to get to the next higher peak?

Because thinking minds are different from evolving organisms and self-assembling molecules, we cannot expect them to use the same means—mechanisms like genetic drift and thermal vibrations—to overcome deep valleys in the landscapes they explore. But they must have some way to achieve the same purpose. As it turns out, they have more than just one—many more. But one of the most important is play.

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