ART AS COGNITIVE PLAY
I propose two principal functions for art. First it serves as a stimulus and training for a flexible mind, as play does for the body and physical behavior. The high concentrations of pattern that art delivers repeatedly engage and activate individual brains and over time alter their wiring to modify key human perceptual, cognitive, and expressive systems, especially in terms of sight, hearing, movement, and social cognition. All of art’s other functions lead from this. Second, art becomes a social and individual system for engendering creativity, for producing options not confined by the here and now or the immediate and given. All other functions lead up to this.
As searching human intelligence evolved out of curiosity in other animals, so human art, I propose, has evolved from animal play.
Play occurs not only in every mammal species in which it has been looked for, and in many birds, but even in some fish and reptiles, and perhaps even in invertebrates (octopi). Especially in animals with protracted parental care, like birds and mammals, offspring can be the most of juvenille dependency by having species with flexible behavior play repeatedly and intensely when young.
Evolution can install general guidelines for action—nature’s factory settings—but for some behaviors fine-tuned choices and wider notice make a decisive difference. This applies particulary to the volatile sphere of social relations, and specially to the most urgent situations, flight and fight. Such behaviors can be fine-tuned by experience and the range of options extended by exploratory action. Creatures with stronger motivations to practice such behaviors and adequate resources, will fare better than those without. The more pleasure that that creatures have in play in safe contexts, the more they will happily expend energy in mastering skills needed in urgent or volatile situations, in attack, defense, and social competition and cooperation. This explains why in the human case we particularly enjoy play that develops skills needed in flight (chase, tag, running) and fight (rough-and-tumble, throwing as form of attack at a distance), in recovery of balance (skiing, surfing, skateboarding), and in individual and team games.
Art as cognitive play augments our capacities so that we can, at least in the domain on which each art focuses, efficiently produce ideas or actions: sounds, movements, visualizations, or representations, and, in the case of story, scenations for reasoning about our own and others’ plans and actions.
© Brian Boyd – On The Origin Of Stories (excerto adaptado) – Belknap Harvard