Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Play! (part 1)

After tying up loose ends of various other research projects these past 4-5 years, I am now officially investing my intellectual energy into a new book project on play. Over the course of the months and years to come I hope to return to regular, substantive posting on the ideas for this book as they evolve and develop. This post touches briefly on some preliminaries. What is play?

Play is notoriously difficult to define. The more I read the play literature the greater my appreciation for the title of B.S.S's book The Ambiguity of Play. There are different types of play that interest me for my argument- physical, social and imaginative play.

The most significant insight about play, the one that will orient the normative political theory I intend to develop based on play research, is that play is evolution based. The fact that play is evolution based means that the political theory I develop will take our evolved biological history seriously. Rather than falsely assuming, as rational choice theory does, that we are "homo economicus" [the rational man], the theory I develop highlights our nature as "homo ludens" (Man the player).

In addition to the evolutionary story of our play nature, two other key aspects of play I plan to emphasize are the facts that (1) play is fun, and (2) play is developmentally beneficial. I will have much more to say about these points in due time.

For now, how should we define play? What is play? Here are some main contenders:

C. Garvey (p. 4) identifies the following features of play:

(1) Play is pleasurable, enjoyable. Even when not actually accompanied by signs of mirth, it is still positively valued by the player.
(2) Play has no extrinsic goals. Its motivations are intrinsic and serve no other objectives. In fact, it is more an enjoyment of means than an effort devoted to some particular end. In utilitarian terms, it is inherently unproductive.
(3) Play is spontaneous and voluntary. It is not obligatory but is freely chosen by the player.
(4) Play involves some active engagement on the part of the player.

S. Brown describes play as "preconscious and preverbal- it arises out of ancient biological structures that existed before our consciousness or ability to speak” (2009, 15). According to Brown (2009), play is apparently purposeless (done for its own sake), voluntary, has inherent attraction, frees us from time, diminishes consciousness of self, and has improvisational potential and continuation of desire.

And S. Eberle defines play as having the following 6 characteristics: anticipation, surprise, pleasure, understanding, strength, and poise.

I will have more to say about defining play as I undertake more serious research on this topic in the months to come, and try to piece together a coherent story about the normative significance of taking our playful nature seriously.

One final point-- why focus on play? To most of my colleagues this might seem like a trivial, perhaps even objectionable, topic to focus my attention on when there are so many pressing societal problems in the world. Of all the issues I could address- from global justice, to racism, patriarchy and climate change- why the focus on play? I have a lengthy answer to this question, but for now I will just quote from Brian Sutton-Smith, who has this to say about what the opposite of play is (p. 198):

The opposite of play... is not a present reality, or work, it is a vacillation, or worse, it is depression. To play is to act out and be willful, as if one is assured of one's prospects.

I think, given the current state of Western democratic culture, there is a very important message to be heard by the emphasis on play. And I hope to spend a good deal of time thinking through what the message ought to be.


Sunday, August 19, 2018

Freedom and Aging Paper (Update)

A followup on my previous post, I was very pleased to learn that my new paper on freedom and aging has been accepted for publication in the scientific journal Rejuvenation Research.

I decided to write this paper because I believe that, for the first time in human history, senescence itself poses the greatest threat to our freedom. And yet aging is basically not on the radar of any political theorists or philosophers. Hopefully that will change.

I am very pleased the 8000 word article will be published in a high impact science journal, and will hopefully reach a large readership to garner greater societal support for modulating the aging process.


Thursday, August 16, 2018

Genetic Ethics new available!

My latest book titled Genetic Ethics: An Introduction is now available from Polity Books for those interested in how the virtue ethics tradition can help us address the societal challenges posed by the genetic revolution.

I did a publisher's blog about the 5 years I spent writing the book here. An excerpt from that blog post:

When I first decided to start writing Genetic Ethics: An Introduction (nearly five years ago), I wanted the book to accomplish two, inter-connected, goals- the first goal was practical, and the second goal was more theoretical.

The practical goal was to help the reader confront the myriad of ethical and societal concerns that arise from the rapid advances in genetic knowledge and technologies like genome editing, sex selection and a potential anti-aging intervention. And I wanted this engagement with the ethical quandaries posed by the genetic revolution to be empirically informed not only about the science behind these innovations, but to also be informed about our evolved biology (e.g. why we age?) and the relevant realities of the world today (e.g. the global disease burden, patriarchy, climate change, etc.).

Is the prospect of “genetically engineering” humans- to make us live longer, healthier and happier lives- something to be hailed or feared? Would going down this path necessarily take us in the direction of re-visiting the unjust eugenic policies of the past? Is it desirable to extend human life longer when doing so could threaten to exacerbate problems like climate change and population density? And should parents have the liberty to select the sex of their offspring? These are pressing questions we must answer this century as the science is rapidly progressing, making these technologies a reality.