At play in the fields of the lord: the role of metanoia in the development of consciousness

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The task I have set for myself is to extend John McManus' and my earlier theory of play and games (Laughlin and McManus 1982)1 to account for playfulness in the transpersonal domain of human experience -- in the domain described by Abraham Maslow (1968, 1971) under the labels "self-actualization" and "transcendence." In the earlier theory we advocated a neurobiological explanation of play and games, and found the anlage of these in the behaviors of non-human animals. In the course of our research, it became evident to us that many of the definitional hassles encountered in the study of play derive from too great an emphasis upon the external (or behavioral) features of play -- what Teilhard de Chardin (1959) called the "without" of phenomena -- and too little a concern for the internal (or structural) processes essential to play -- Teilhard's "within" of phenomena. Our approach is thus in opposition to the more "without" formulations taken by theorists like Huizinga (1970) and more towards the "within" perspectives of theorists like Norbeck (1974, 1979) and Tipps (1981), the latter types usually being more sensitive to the role of play in neurocognitive and spiritual development.

Many theorists systematically miss the boat by linking their interest in play too closely with easily observable patterns of behavior, and not closely enough with the more difficult to observe metanoic2 phases of the internal organization of the nervous system -- metanoia being our label for those phases during which neural structures become relatively free from adaptational press and are more able to develop. I wish to show that metanoic "play" is a characteristic of phases of consciousness at every level of development, from the earliest pre- and perinatal period of growth (Trevarthen and Grant 1980) which may involve behavior a good bit of the time, to the most mature stages for which there may be little or no behavioral concomitants.

While extending the earlier theory, I will endeavor both to examine playfulness in techniques leading to higher phases of consciousness, and to eliminate some of the major conceptual stumbling blocks that have hampered our understanding of play. These stumbling blocks include: the false dichotomy between work and play, the related distinction between what is playful and what is serious, the limiting of our definition of play solely to behavioral phenomena, the relationship between play and dreaming, the uncritical equation of play with flow, the view that play is uncreative and unproductive, the opposing of play and religion, and whether we are to use the term "play" to refer to all forms of metanoia, or only to the behavioral aspects of metanoia.

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