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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Playing the Game

Whern I run I meditate, I often say. I free my mind and let it wander where it will, conscious of my breathing in and out from the world and back into the world, linking spirit to the wind. Ideas float around sometimes linking with one another in complex thoughts which I write down when I return home, like interpreting a dream, like I am doing now.

But today on my run I realized that it was more like play, making up the rules as we go as children do. Or perhaps play and mediation are the same; and that is why the Buddha is always smiling.

Children play; so do young chimps, puppies, and dolphins. They play what grown ups do. They dress up, they battle, they set the table, they go to work, they make love. But the most important game that human children play is the "language game" as the philosopher Wittgenstein calls it.  And language is most adaptable to children and children to language--needing each other to co-evolve according to Deacon.

Mathematics, like music and other artistic expressions, is also a language game. A good teacher knows how to make mathematics and all of learning game-playing; for play is not drudgery, but fun even if not easy.

To think is to play with ideas, images, mental constructs, combining them, separating them, associating them into ideas of great complexity and simplicity.  Discussing is thinking with others like the members of a jazz quintet play off, with, and within one another to create a masterpiece or perhaps just another attempt at one.

And so what we start as children we continue all our lives. We game. We play and so we learn. When we recognize the playfulness of learning, which is not to take away the stress or pain of it, we put all our learning life including its hardships in the context of play and have fun. Gaming is our way to the world and the world's way to us. This is just another affirmation of our analogical way of knowing and that human existence and behavior is symbolic.

The culture of a society or civilization is often revealed by its games which are usually linked to its religion and how a people finds its meaning. Think of the Aztec and Mayan games where the victors were sacrificed to the gods, the Greek Olympic Games dedicated to Zeus and forging nation from many city-states, the jousting games of medieval Europe, and of course American football. The best players are like gods celebrated with great honor and gifts.

But is all play good? After all today's children play video games, lots of them and many of them violent. In my day we played with guns and took turns being the bad guys (aliens, enemies, criminals) and good guys (cowboys, police, US soldiers). The Game of Thrones complements the game of drones. The conventional answer is that these games are bad only if you don't distinguish between make-believe and reality.

Rather I think that, because of our analogical way of knowing, all reality is make-believe. Scientifically true reality is that which has been verified, at least for now, by evidence; but it is still make-believe. Play is not dangerous because it is make-believe. It is dangerous when we take our dramatic roles too seriously by not recognizing them as make-believe. The game Cheney and Rumsfeld played in Iraq, the games that religions play with salvation of adherents and damnation of heretics, the games played by radio hosts and politial pundits, Wall Street investors and real estate moguls, economists and other fortune-tellers become dangerous when they deny being games and that their beliefs are make-believe.

Some of course recognize the games they are playing when they take on the role of priest or prophet or wiseman or general or president; and then laugh all the way to the bank. Comics and skeptics, self-recognized clowns, are much more honest. But some players actually believe their bull-shit enough to get others to believe in it as well. They are no longer playing with ideas in a search for beauty, meaning, and truth. They think they have it. The Answer! That's when things get ugly, senseless, and unreal. The answer of course is that there is no one answer except for the game of life itself. Play it with passion. Enjoy it. And don't take it too seriously.

Yes, we play to win our games--but that is just because it is more fun that way. Winning ends the game and finally that is no fun."The game is afoot," says Sherlock who is completely bored without a mystery to solve. When the last piece of the puzzle is placed, it's time to mix it up and start all over.

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