I recently read an article entitled “In Defense of Play” in the Atlantic by Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology and an affiliate professor of philosophy at UC Berkeley.
Gopnik asks the question: “Why play?” She then answers that question with some fascinating insights, citing everything from evolution to robotics along the way. But before we delve into the answer let’s define play. According to biologists play has give characteristics:
1) play is not work; it doesn’t accomplish anything
2) play is fun
3) play is voluntary
4) play has a patter of repetition and variation
5) play has special characteristics that distinguish it from non-play
Since most animals play, particularly social animals with long childhoods, parents who care, and large brains, it stands to reason that play has a purpose. One possibility is that because playing often involves pretending, it helps us learn how to deal with the unexpected. In essence, it enables us to formulate more creative solutions to unforeseen challenges. Remember, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
Daphna Buchsbaum, one of Gopnik’s former students, found that preschoolers who pretended more were better at “counterfactual” reasoning–figuring out what could have happened, but didn’t. They were no smarter overall and no better at an “executive-function” task, but they were more likely to imagine other ways the world might be.
Here’s Gopnik: “We don’t play because we think that eventually it will give us robust cognitive functions—although that may be the evolutionary motivation for play. We play because it is just so much fun.” In other words, we do it for it’s own sake.
“Just as we should give children the resources and space to play, and do so without insisting that play will have immediate payoffs, we should do the same for scientists and artists and all the others who explore human possibilities,” writes Gopnik.
And I would argue that this should extend to fitness classes where all too often the approach is hyper clinical, joyless, and overly goal-oriented. Which is precisely why I attempted to make Punk Rope as playful as possible; so that participants could enjoy the movements for their own sake and imagine a fantastic world with no boundaries. By imagining the unimaginable, my hypothesis is that Punk Ropers will work harder, accomplish movements they previously thought unattainable, and as a byproduct will reap the fitness benefits that we all desire. And even if we don’t shed those last 10 pounds at least we’ll have had a damn good time trying.