Playing Pretend

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”1 Corinthians 13:11

“Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.”Desiderata

– I can’t remember the last time I played with an action figure or ran around the house in a make-believe gun fight. I’ve “grown up” and ‘surrendered these things of youth.’ Or have I?

When you doodle on a napkin, you’re essentially playing pretend. When you zone out for a moment, daydreaming about that thing you should have said or imagining that place you really want to go, you’re simply pretending.

Imagination is our mind’s playground. It’s a way for us to toy with ideas and situations which may or may not ever happen. Even as you gaze at a particularly appealing painting on a wall, your brain is frolicking; tinkering with ideas and concepts that it’s never thought of before.

Playing pretend is essential – it’s not something that we should be ashamed of. As far as we know, it is *the* thing that separates humans from all other forms of life. No, we’re not the only species to have a
conscious, be sentient, or even be self-aware… Experiments have shown that many species exhibit behavior that demonstrate self-awareness. But as far as we know, humans are the only ones who can contemplate scenarios inconsistent with reality.

Do giraffes, while grazing on the sweltering savannahs, wish for wings to sprout from their sides as they dash away from the pursuing lion? Probably not. Science has shown that their brains just aren’t built that way. Surely the mollusk isn’t tossing around the idea of what it would be like to live a life on dry land, right? Do chimpanzees conceive of situations that they’ve never encountered? That they’ve never had a real-world experience with? Of course they’re thinking and have the capacity to use tools, plan ahead, and imagine a future… but scientists don’t yet believe they can indulge in internal games of magic, wizardry, or any other fictional phenomena.

So the fantasizing will be left up to us and us alone. And I’m not ashamed of that. Some of my projects and hobbies may seem moot and pointless to some; just childish pursuits with no real-world benefit. But I consider them an exhibition of my species’ unique ability. I proudly ponder, silently, as I gaze up towards the heavens pretending I’m a space traveler sailing the black seas between the stars on those dark, star-
filled nights. No other animal can do that…

They say ‘necessity is the mother of invention,’ and that’s true. But without imagination, there is no invention. There is no progress. There is no epic future. There would be no globe-covering civilizations without imagination. Where would the idea for sailboats have come from if not from the daydreams of ancient pretenders? Mars – an actual planet inhabited purely by robots (at this point) – would still be nothing but simple geology if it weren’t for the dreamers who wished to know more with the thirst for exploration. The impossible became reality because people played pretend.

Picasso paintings and particle accelerators, the Eiffel Tower and the International Space Station… Your beloved phone in your pocket was pure science fiction just a few short decades ago, but it has become physical proof of the power of our innate desire to pretend. ‘Childish things’ should be embraced. Creativity is what got us here today, and I’m not ready to give that up. So let’s all go out and play!

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