The Idea of Play

When Kant made his argument for the unbreakable barrier between the phenomena and the noumena, he didn’t even leave room for how we know ourselves. Friedrich Schiller, In his Aesthetic Education of Man, writes that, “Man is never so authentically himself as when at play.” Play is what we do to be free. The chief source of play is through the productions of art. Take a fly fisherman for example. His attention focuses, time is arrested, and he can stave off hunger as he prunes and perfects the dance to throw the fly into water and bring in the catch. It’s as if he’s at one with the activity, much like a guitarist is at one with his guitar. When one is an extension of their instrument this is called flow. It’s when one gets to the master level of an activity and one is no longer thinking at every turn and point to do this and do that. It’s when one can finally do the dance without doubt and questioning. The highest form of play, Schiller believes, is when one attaches their childish curiosity drive with the formal drive old age imposes as we understand science, philosophy, and mathematics. If one can fuse childish curiosity with the formal drive then an explosion will happen that we can call the play drive. Through it the affective and cognitive dimensions flourish and one’s activity makes one whole. Forms of play vary as much as personalities do, and must be custom suited to the individual. I’ve seen people in their elder years at a loss, not knowing what their passion might be. For me, I had to touch the depths to reach the heights. Pain made me focus on what could turn my life around. Only when the sun darkened did I turn to the moon, and when the moon didn’t shine, I turned to the campfire, and when the fire went out, I had to turn on the light within.