A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Sunday, 19 April 2009


At times it seems as if the whole company of nature, ourselves included, is simply at play.
It's evident to me that animal 'play' happens out of sheer spontaneous joy, curiosity and invention - rather than purely to fulfil some narrow, evolutionary purpose. Look at puppies running after a ball. Lion cubs pouncing on their mothers' tails. Young polar bears play-fighting. Dolphins blowing bubbles, chasing them to the water's surface, then bursting them. Homo sapiens applying pigments such as ochre, manganese oxide and charcoal to cave walls and with them creating images of horses and bison, aurochs and reindeer.
Play is the opposite of Management by Objectives, the current creed which rigidly screens out spontaneity, imagination and surprise as parts of the creative process.
Spontaneity. Imagination. Surprise. All of which, at least for me, are essential to the human experience. And the animal one too?
So many of the transactions between different organisms seem almost incidental, wildly gratuitous.
What is the nature, the meaning of these 'gratuitous transactions'? To my mind they can't be completely understood simply by following worthy-but-dull, cause-and-effect scientific reasoning. Is 'sympathetic magic' coming into play?
(All quotations come from Richard Mabey's book Nature Cure. All opinions are mine alone.)


The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Ab-so-lute-ly animals play. Young animals, old animals. Nature writers who sometimes resemble animals.

Management by Objective sounds like a Big Brother plot. Spontaneity. Imagination. Surprise. And wonder. Do animals experience wonder…I wonder.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

It is refreshing to think that maybe there is no 'meaning', purpose or objective to these 'gratuitous transactions' and they are just 'play'!

Like jumping up and down on a piece of old bubble wrap just to hear the nice popping noises, and laugh!

Grace said...

I recently discovered your blog. Just wanted to say hi.

I wonder how adult humans can add more play to their lives?

The Solitary Walker said...


I think there are ways of turning 'work' into 'play' (not all work)...

... and how about dancing more, on the feet, and in the mind...

Val said...

When we forget how to or, rather, when we disallow ourselves play, then we have lost touch with the essence of life.

I've been there before, and I can guarantee I won't be going back.

The Solitary Walker said...

I've been there too. A pretty mournful place. You gotta have serious. But you gotta have un-serious. In equal measure.

Though nothing is guaranteed.