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The centrality and origins of play

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The existence of play in non-human animals is a direct challenge to old-fashioned scientific ideas. Play is dismissed as a human projection or as functional practice for adulthood that only ‘higher”  mammals are capable of. Not so, writes Gordon Burghardt, the contemporary study of play finds it across the animal kingdom from birds to spiders, and help makes sense of why, for us humans, play can be spontaneous, purposeless and fun.  Although evolutionary approaches to understanding most areas of human and animal behavior are popular, play behavior has been largely neglected. Partly this may be since the debates on the function of play have been heated and unresolved, leading to the view that its evolutionary basis is not ready or able to be studied fruitfully. Thanks to advances in several fields, this is no longer true, though that message has difficulty being heard today. I have been studying the mysteries and origins of play for several decades and this essay reviews the progress I …

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