Tuesday, June 04, 2019

It Wouldn't Surprise Me

If you follow the research on how humans learn most effectively, you know that self-directed learning, or what we in the business call "play," is the gold standard.

Humans aren't the only ones who play. If you have a dog or a cat, you know that animals play as well. Indeed, I'm not aware of any mammal that doesn't play.

And birds play too, don't they? It sure seems like it.

What about reptiles? I've watched a turtle chase a beachball around, bumping it with it's shell, the bumping it again and again. And not long ago, the Reptile Man visited our school. He sure described his alligator and python as being playful, although I was a bit too phobic to attempt to play with them.

I'm not even sure it's limited to vertebrates. A couple years ago, a child brought a couple "pet" snails to school to show us. At one point, his mother held a snail on the palm of her hand next to a stream of water that was flowing from a tap. The snail at first drew in its tentacles (the proper term for what I used to call antennas) defensively, but after a few minutes it reached them out again, touching the flowing water, then drawing them back. It did this over and over, becoming increasingly bold. Soon it began raising its entire foot (the proper term for what I used to call belly) to test the water, eventually caressing it, and ending up sort of dancing with it. If that isn't play, I don't know what is.

I even once read an article in which a researcher claimed to have found evidence of amoeba at play. I might need more convincing on that one, but in the end, it wouldn't surprise me.

Indeed, play may well be one of the universal conditions that make life life, right along with things like growth, reproduction, and death. I used to joke that I expect to one day learn that plants play, but these days, it's less of a joke that I originally thought it. Scientists like Peter Wohlleben, author of The Hidden Life of Trees, believes we are now seeing evidence that trees are social, communicate with one another, care for one another, teach and warn one another, cooperate, and have families and friends. Their interconnected root systems operate very much like the brains of animals. I don't know that he argues that they play with one another, but again, with so much else seemingly going on, it wouldn't surprise me.

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