Sigmund Freud reportedly was once asked what make for a healthy mental life, and answered, “lieben und arbeiten,” to love and to work. In his book “The Power of Play” David Elkind argues that he should have included “spielen” … to play. As the developmental psychologist Jean Piaget said, “Play is the answer to the question, ‘How does anything new ever come about.'”
All children play. If toys are not available to children in primitive cultures or in areas of poverty, they will utilize whatever items are available. Imagination animates sticks, old cans, blocks of wood, and discarded cooking utensils. Dolls, toy animals, and imaginary playmates develop lives of their own. Children re-create the world and manipulate it in play, stimulating neurological development and creating the inner space which we call the mind and which will be used to understand the external world and plan for the future.
To our detriment, we forget to play as adults. Some of us were never given much chance to play as children. Some of us just get too busy.
My recommendation is this. Every day, do something for no good reason and with no goal in mind. It should be fun. It helps if it’s silly.
This week’s example: building a Jacob’s Ladder.
I will never forget seeing the scene in the original film Frankenstein (1931) in which the inanimate monster is raised to the roof, lightening cracking, surrounded by fabulous electrical equipment with electric arcs galore. My favorite was the Jacob’s Ladder, in which a tiny electric arc rose, becoming bigger and bigger, only to decintigrate and have the process repeat itself. If electricity can do that, there is no doubt it could bring the dead to life.
To my delight I stumbeled across a wonderful book, Gordon McComb’s Gadgeteer’s Goldmine. $20 later (plus $20 for shipping and about $30 for copper wire and a switch), adrenalin rushing, I turn it on. It works!
Uh … now what? Well, one spark after another travels the gap, and I begin to notice the smell of ozone and figure I had better turn it off. But soon I am back to see it again. I begin to imagine that it mysteriously imparts me with life energy, especially when I am tired and unimaginative.
Oops! I’m missing the point. It isn’t actually supposed to _do_ anything. It’s playing!
PS I tried to photograph my 12,000 v Jacob’s Ladder but the pictures doesn’t catch the fun. Try going to the Arcs and Sparks page to see some really impressive, well, arcs and sparks!