Play, Creativity & Genius – Part 1: Play

This is going to be a two part blog updated, I could make it into one but to help keep me focused I find it best to break it up intwo two. I’m going to discuss play and later creativity.
The gorilla, when it is not travelling or eating spends a good amount of it’s day playing. Organisms all across the animal kingdom play. The Dutch historian, Johan Huizinga (1872-1945) wrote a book entitled ” Homo Ludens”. In this book Huizinga argues that play has a big part in how we learn. As children we learn how to interact appropriately with others through play. The paradox of this of course is as we enter grade school play is slowly pushed away from us as we are told that we need to learn rather than play. It appears as we get older w play less but that is only an illusion. What are we doing when we engage in sports? when we try to negotiate? Hell when we engage in politics? It’s all play.
I’ve been accused more times than none of playing way too much. If I’m not tinkering with something in my hands I’m tinkering with a thought in my head, daydreaming none the less.
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Albert Einstein was a theoretical physicist who spent more time in his own head than he did in an actual physical lab running physical experiments. Einstein’s brain was his lab.
Einstein died in 1955. When he died the scientific and the academic world was ready to see what his brain was like. Einstein’s brain is currently at the National Museum of Health & Medicine in Maryland & a small portion at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia. Upon the autopsy following Einstein’s death, his brain was dissected (and later digitized for public viewing) to examine where his genius came from. Examination of Einstein’s brain showed that his brain was different than the average. In Einstein’s brain, the region associated with the creation of abstract thoughts and the manipulation of symbols known as the angular gyri was larger than the average on both hemispheres by 15%. Everything else about his brain is what would be expected. The question remains and it is a chicken or the egg puzzle – was Einstein a genius because his angular gyri was larger than average OR is his angular gyri larger because he used it more?
By default the human brain isn’t habituated to thinking abstractly. Our brains prefer to play by the rules and stick to protocol because it is easier (remember our brains have limited capacity and doesn’t like to work harder than it has to). Thinking abstractly – out of the box comes from repetition, practice and habit.
In my early days as a magician, and as a mentalist this day when I receive a new gadget or principle my first instinct is to throw away the instructions and take it part – find a new novel way of using the item. Sometimes I get lucky and reinvent the wheel and sometimes I have to given in and stick to the protocol of it’s original purpose. That leads into my next topic, creativity and I will leave it at that until next month.
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