Anyone in the bay area who doesn’t want to spend the whole weekend playing, there is a FREE neuroscience conference in Berkeley about the importance of playfulness


The Minerva Foundation in Berkeley is hosting a free conference on “The Importance of Being Playful” on the UC Berkeley campus all weekend. (Schedule here).

The topic is play. Playing is a serious matter, according to academics who study such things, and we should do more of it, according to them. (See a WaPo article here). It seems that play serves pro-social functions, as well as nudges creativity along. The topics look interesting and if the HVAC is in order and the room isn’t sweltering or freezing we think we’d stay for most of the day instead of heading over to the bike path to play. Wha?

Sometimes play is forced, and turns into a pre-planned performance, rather than a spontaneous activity. We see the foosball-ping-pong-sliding board décor as overly trying-too-hard-to-be-fun, and a put-off.  If your bosses/funding sources put in all this stuff and you aren’t interested, do you feel like you have to look like you’re having fun? This would seems to defeat any creative spark because all that neural energy would be channeled into thinking, “do I look fun or will I get fired for not looking fun?”

We, on the other hand, were just treated to a lab full of different color vials (heh, we initially misspelled this as “viles“, subconscious slip?) and fooled around with conductivity and pH meters for a while, in an effort to eliminate some precipitates. That’s play.

Maybe this is why the topic is the importance of being playful rather than actually playing.  One can possess the quality of playfulness and yet believe the bean bag conference room is awful.  And play is subjective, rather than objective.

We note the inability of psychopaths to ever really play. The psychopaths in our lives don’t have that play instinct, or even curiosity about the natural world, for that matter. Notably, they are not creative, in a pro-social/productive sense. They are curious about others to store information to pull out for exploitation later on. They are joyous only when contemplating someone’s impending demise. For instance: Who, may we ask, is the psychopath that keeps sending us Google Talk invites with vulgar names? So you see, this is the kind of play we see with psychopaths — play that is for demonstrating power, and, in this case, by stalking/harassing. * So, given that psychopaths have white matter troubles,  we can see how there might be a connection between white matter wiring and neural plasticity and play/creativity.

But, maybe not. Compulsive liars are reported to have loads of white matter wiring, and after all, it does take some creativity (not a lot though) to spin the whoppers they spin and convince themselves to believe. As one psychopath complained to us, lies and false personas take a lot of energy to maintain. Perhaps the trouble is not so much neural wiring or inadequate plasticity, but rather energy depletion: being a psychopath takes a fair amount of energy (remembering all the lies and false personas and all) that there’s no energy left to play.

Anyway, we are going along with those we know who are actually in the academic science areas, so we actually are legit and can look like we belong. We always get a severe case of impostor syndrome when trying to act academic-y, but we’ll try to fit in. But if any of the speakers decide to require audience participation in any kind of awkward “play” quote unquote we are going to skulk over to get a soy latte. Bah.

*Yes, we think our stalker has woken up again, perhaps because we recently moved. You know those stalkers. Our posts here, and here,for example.