Playing makes you smarter. That’s what Melvin Konner, an anthropologist and neuroscientist’s 900-page tome, The Evolution of Childhood basically says. And he took 30 years to finish the thing, according to a review in The Atlantic.
[P]lay…is not unique to humans and, indeed, seems to have been present, like the mother-offspring bond, from the dawn of mammals. The smartest mammals are the most playful, so these traits have apparently evolved together. Play, Konner says, “combining as it does great energy expenditure and risk with apparent pointlessness, is a central paradox of evolutionary biology.” It seems to have multiple functions—exercise, learning, sharpening skills—and the positive emotions it invokes may be an adaptation that encourages us to try new things and learn with more flexibility. In fact, it may be the primary means nature has found to develop our brains.
As someone who’s frequently expended great energy and taken considerable risks in service to apparent pointlessness, I’d like to think Dr. Konner’s work settles, once and for all, what exactly I was up to.