As a kid I noticed that many cats seemed to lose their playfulness as they matured. What were once playful kittens would mature into rather less playful adult animals with irritability issues. Many humans I know seem to have “matured” away from a general disposition to playfulness in a similar way. It is a shame. Playfulness is an important expression of brain vitality.

Play can be manifested in many ways. One form is where one teases out a response from a stimulus. It can be done for simple joy, as in the case of teasing your sister. Or it can be directed to somewhat more useful and enduring outcomes as in the case of research.

As I look back on my meager list of useful developments in the laboratory, I can see that most were the result of play. I was just curious as to a particular outcome. If I had simply paid more attention to my boss and focused on getting expected results (a production activity), it is unlikely that I would have fallen into some interesting and useful insights. No doubt almost every scientist can make the same claim.

On the other hand, if I had paid more attention to my boss, perhaps I’d be  a tenured prof at a decent university or a mid-career manager at Pfizer. Hmmm.

What happens to many people when they age is the same thing that happens to cats. They settle into comfortable patterns and try to exclude surprises from their lives. Just like it takes discipline to get regular exercise, it also takes some discipline to keep imagination and playfulness a central part of your consciousness.  Go out there and try something that has been on your mind all these many months! See if it works.

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