Silly Is Serious

One of humanity’s biggest mental blocks is a reluctance to admit the functions of fun. Since we are intricately designed highly adapted and successful creatures, all of our major long-established behavior habits must have (had) important adaptive functions. And they must also be intricately designed, with many specific features that match the details of how such functions are best achieved. So, since we are inclined to spend a large fraction of our time on play and fun, such things simply must have important functions. Moreover, the details of our play habits must be intricately matched to good ways to achieve those functions.

But we also seem to be designed to talk and act as if such functions didn’t exist. For many common behaviors, we are conscious of some of their important functions, we plan how our behaviors can better achieve those functions, and we coordinate with others to realize such plans. For example, we say that nutrition is one function of eating, and we coordinate to ensure we get nutrition regularly.

But we usually treat play and fun differently. Not only aren’t we in the habit of coordinating to achieve accepted functions, we often object quite loudly to those who speak of there being such functions. We insist that we aren’t trying to do anything other that enjoy ourselves and have fun. We play an instrument or a sport because its fun, not to impress people. We dance because its fun, not to meet mates. We aren’t trying to get a promotion, no, when playing golf with our boss; golf is just fun.

Play and fun seem especially important for mating and friendship. So if you analyze the function of your play too explicitly in front of your mates and friends, treating such functions too seriously, you risk alienating and losing your mates and friends. You might be able to get away with such analysis if done jokingly, but only if it doesn’t hit too close to home.

You might think that this is only a minor problem, and that you and your mates and friends are mature enough to openly discuss the serious functions of fun. But my experience suggests that this is just much harder and more dangerous than you think. Give up and accept that, for the most part, you are human and humans are designed not to consciously understand such things.

I suggest that if want to understand the functions of your play, you split yourself. Analyze mating and friendship in a general way away from situations where those issues arise among your discussants. When situations arise when those functions are especially relevant, don’t talk, or even think much, about the functions of your fun. Just … have fun.

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