Behavior / Evidence

Playing at Evolution

Picture taken from www.blogs.simplyfun.comTake a look at children playing, and undoubtedly you’ll smile at their innocence and fun. But did you know the evolution of humanity depends on this seemingly unstructured playtime?  Researchers now postulate that the ability of human children to play has differentiated us into a unique species that can actively manipulate and change our environment.

As David Dobbs of the NY Times writes, “Other species play, but none play for as much of their lives as humans do, or as imaginatively, or with as much protection from the family circle. Human children are unique in using play to explore hypothetical situations rather than to rehearse actual challenges they’ll face later.”

The article goes on to demonstrate the innovative work of Dr. Alison Gopnik, who has shown that children are actually quite expert at exploring their environments without prior bias or reliance on the safer, high-probability choices. By contrast, adults lose some of this play-like attitude and utilize our capacity to “exploit” our environment, using what we know and have previously experienced to provide us with the choice or direction most likely to succeed. Children speculate, adults spectate.  But, importantly, even adults still retain some of this explorative mindset. And this, Dobbs writes, is what gives us “some of humanity’s most consequential faculties. [We’ve] learn[ed] the art, pleasure and power of hypothesis — of imagining new possibilities.”

Picture taken from www.jrlawfirm.comOn a less playful topic, a recent analysis of paid medical malpractice claims from the National Practitioner Data Bank indicates that errors of diagnosis are the leading type of malpractice claim. Diagnostic errors account for almost 30% of claims, are the most costly and more often result in death than any other medical error. This is important for patients to understand because we typically seek additional/alternative opinions for medical treatment and procedures, but not as frequently for diagnosis of an illness or condition. However, treatment and surgical errors rank second and third behind diagnostic errors. Therefore, next time you visit your doctor and are diagnosed with a medical condition, seek a second opinion.

And finally, there is a well-known quote by Donald Rumsfeld that talks about the known knowns (what we know we know), the known unknowns (what we know we don’t know), and the unknown unknowns (what we don’t know we don’t know). The circumstances surrounding this quote (in reference to justification of the Iraq War) have been criticized. However, I recently heard the Reverend Matt Laney expand upon this theme to provide a different interpretation that is quite inspiring (and thus a good way to end a blog post). When we open ourselves up to discovering the unknown unknowns we began our true intellectual, emotional and/or spiritual adventure. There is huge joy in discovering what we don’t know we don’t know.


2 thoughts on “Playing at Evolution

  1. There’s a relatively recent study out of Scotland ( that describes an overabundance of diagnostic imaging errors related to CT. 225 interpretation errors in a study involving only 222 patients. 155 of the errors were false-negatives! Scary!!

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