Brief Thoughts on Play

"playfulness is ... not only to be enjoyed but to be accorded high value for its fundamental role in the success of all organisms, including humans." -- from Variability in Brain Function and Behavior
Serendip (with its Playground) is not the only one to have thought about play and its signficance. Provided below is an evolving list of brief quotations about play. Updated summer 2005 by Kate Shiner, as part of the activities of the Serendip/SciSoc 2005 working group. Suggested additions to this list are welcome.


The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.
Carl Jung

Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature.
Tom Robbins

No behavioral concept has proven more ill-defined, elusive, controversial, and even unfashionable.
E.O. Wilson

If a man insisted always on being serious, and never allowed himself a bit of fun and relaxation, he would go mad or become unstable without knowing it.
Herodotus

Life is like playing a violin in public and learning the instrument as one goes on.
Samuel Butler

You've achieved success in your field when you don't know whether what you're doing is work or play.
Warren Beatty

You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.
Plato

To play it safe is not to play.
Robert Altman

If you want creative workers, give them enough time to play.
John Cleese

I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.
Isaac Newton

If life doesn't offer a game worth playing, then invent a new one.
Anthony J. D'Angelo

The most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things.
Plato

Victory goes to the player who makes the next-to-last mistake.
Savielly Grigorievitcyh Tartakower

Blaise Pascal used to mark with charcoal the walls of his playroom, seeking a means of making a circle perfectly round and a triangle whose sides and angle were all equal. He discovered these things for himself and then began to seek the relationship which existed between them. He did not know any mathematical terms and so he made up his own. Using these names he made axioms and finally developed perfect demonstrations, until he had come to the thirty-second proposition of Euclid.
C. M. Cox

The game of life is not so much in holding a good hand as playing a poor hand well.
H. T. Leslie

The Paleolithic hunters who painted the unsurpassed animal murals on the ceiling of the cave at Altamira had only rudimentary tools. Art is older than production for use, and play older than work. Man was shaped less by what he had to do than by what he did in playful moments. It is the child in man that is the source of his uniqueness and creativeness, and the playground is the optimal milieu for the unfolding of his capacities.
Eric Hoffer

Innately, children seem to have little true realistic anxiety. They will run along the brink of water, climb on the window sill, play with sharp objects and with fire, in short, do everything that is bound to damage them and to worry those in charge of them, that is wholly the result of education; for they cannot be allowed to make the instructive experiences themselves.
Sigmund Freud

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