In Nicaragua in the 1980s, deaf children were collected in schools where they could be taught together in one location.  They had developed individually various sign conventions, and a language spontaneously emerged where they were gathered in one place.  The oldest children learned this language slowest.  The youngest developed lightning fast sign fluency in this brand new nonverbal creole lingo.

One of the things that makes humans unique is this ability to play with time.  Language, by prying apart the present into a future and past, offers an ability to imagine being in two places at once.  Language lets you realize that the person you are communicating with is a different person, with the rather astonishing insight that the world is not just here and now.

There was a time when we were animals, experiencing the world through an infinitely lingering present, unclear on the boundaries between self and others, where dream was not only night but the every day.

Animals may not have developed humor exactly, but they have fun.  Animals don’t generate and participate in symbolic language, but they play.  Animals that have fun and play are mostly young animals.  Consider that human humor and language, two things characterized by abstract thinking that involves deep intuitions for variations in time and place, have their origin in the play behavior of the very young.

Think of those tiny Nicaraguan children effortlessly synthesizing and systemizing a wholly new language from the behaviors of the children that surrounded them.  You can bet that they were having fun.

Play is symbolic.  Play is the precursor to the symbolic behaviors that follow that include humor, language and abstract thinking.  Play has its origins with the young.  Perhaps play is the foundation of what it is to be human.

Where does play come from?

I would like to suggest that in the womb we are not just growing larger following a genetic template to only revel in the fun after being born.  Consider that while in the womb, we are engaged in deep play as genetics interact with the environment, constructing unique growth pathways while weighing the varying options made available.  Play in a sense is to practice, being here and now while being either far away, older, having a different emotion, being a different person….play is to be both what is and what might be.  In the womb we are engaged in an unfathomable play that is exploring an almost infinite number of ways to be grown-up.

Again, consider those Nicaraguan toddlers outgesturing every other child in the school.  How is it that the youngest have the deepest intuition for possibility?

Perhaps because the younger we are, the closer we are to creation.


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