]]]]]]]]]    PLAY, BY DEFINITION, SUSPENDS THE RULES     [[[[[[[[[[[[[ 
                 Discovery is born of risk-taking
                        by K.C. Cole
           Op-Ed page of The New York Times 11-30-88
The author is the author of the recently published "Sympathetic Vibra-
    tions: Reflections on Physics as a Way of Life" (Bantam)

             [Kindly uploaded by Freeman 07656GAED]

  SIR ALEXANDER FLEMING, the Scottish bacteriologist (1881-1955),  had 
a  most peculiar pastime.  He liked to paint pictures in petri  dishes 
with  a  palette  of living germs.   Being  thoroughly  familiar  with  
microorganisms -- their individual colors, textures, growth rates  and 
so  forth -- he was able to produce striking portraits: a  mother  and 
child, a ballerina, his houuse.
  Fleming is far better known for his breakthrough discovery of  peni-
cillin  than for his microorganic art.  But he was clearly a  man  who 
knew  how to play.  "I play with microbes," he once said of his  work. 
"It is very pleasant to break the rules."
     How  sad that the rest of us seem to have such a hard time  being 
serious  about silliness.  Even when grown-ups go out to  play  these 
days,  their  games seem oldly intense and  rigid:  handball,  tennis, 
running  (who  skips  anymore?), swimming laps.  We  no  longer  cheer 
ourselves  up  by  buying  a frivolous hat.   We  dress  for  success.  
Children's fashion has become serious business.  We "power eat."  Even 
in  video  games,  we compete with ourselves.   There's  a  noticeable 
absence of giggles.  
   Scientists  have  always  known  the  value  of  fooling   around.  
Einstein was famous for his "thought experiments," fantasic flights of 
fancy  that led him to imagine, for example, what it might be like  to 
ride on a light beam, a cerebral magical mystery tour that offered him 
the insights he needed to produce the special theory of relativity.
   "It  is striking how many great scientists have  incorporated  play 
into their lives and work," Robert S. Root-Bernstein, a  physiologist 
at  Michigan  State  University,   wrote in  a  recent  issue  of  The 
Sciences.   "One  mental  quality  that  facilitates  discovery  is  a 
willingness to goof around."
   The rest of us are frightened of play and perhaps for good  reason.  
Play,  by definition, is a suspension of the rules, an  invitation  to 
re-invent  reality, to reformulate established ways of  doing  things.  
Play is out of control.  In real play, we try things just to see  what 
happens. In other words, we take risks.  What we risk, above all,  is 
making a fool of ourselves.
   Making  a  fool  out  of ourselves, however  can  be  essential  to 
success.   Only  by risking ridicule can we come out  from  under  the 
covers  of  conventional  wisdom.   Without  breaking  rules,  it  is 
impossible to come up with truly new solutions.
   Yet  corporate and political American have become so cautious  that 
they rarely serve up anything untested: we are focus-grouped and  mar-
ket-researched to death.  From such sterile ground no fertile  product 
can  issue,  be  it  a prototype for a  new  product  or  a  political 
   Even foundations and Federal agencies have become so careful  (with 
a  few very notable exceptions) that researchers must submit  lengthy, 
detailed  descriptions of the expected outcomes of the experiments  or 
projects  they  wish  to  pursue.   Ironically,  this  precludes   the 
discovery  of  anything unexpected, which, in  effect,  precludes  the 
discovery itself.  "Discovering" something you already know is  there 
is like "discovering" the eggs that the bunny hid on Easter  morning. 
Nature, unfortunately, isn't so cooperative and may hide treasures  in 
the  most peculiar places.  She may even decide to  hide  toothbrushes 
instead of eggs, perhaps in a fifth (or 10th) dimension.
  In  science  the  stories of making  fundamental  discoveries  while 
poking  around  in  places we don't belong  are  legendary:   Johannes 
Kepler  (1571-1630)  discovered  the  true  elliptical  shape  of  the 
planetary  orbits  after devoting a lifetime to trying to  prove  that 
they  had  to be circles.  Kepler's method was nothing more  than  an 
elaborate game of blocks -- trying to fit spherical orbits into  cubic 
(and tetrahedronal) holes.
   Play  is the name we give to the freedom to go out on a  limb  with 
the  full  knowledge that we might fall flat on our  faces.   In  this 
sense,  democracy  is  a  very playful  form  of  government.   Making 
mistakes is built into the system, along with the means for correcting 
them.   We  even send up trial balloons -- the safest way  to  take  a 
risk,  like  the child who lobs a fresh remark, then smiles as  if  to 
say,  "I  didn't  mean  it."   Play  allows  us  the  flexibility   to 
continually tune our responses.
   The  one place we can all recognize the crucial role of play is  in 
the arts.  Annie Dillard, the essayist, takes an idea and toys with it 
like  a cat: for example, the oddity that birds should sing.   Perhaps 
it is a form of bird play.  Word play.  Bird word play.
   Creativity   always  comes  from  such  odd   juxtapositions   [?]. 
Inventions and discoveries are always based on unexpected combinations 
and  strange  connections. Everyone can remember sitting  in  meetings 
where silly ideas were tosed about like paper airplanes; occasionally, 
someone would pick up the idea and turn it into something brilliant.
   Today, ideas are rarely thrown about.  They are proffered on silver 
platters, meticulously packaged in well-researched presentations.  Yet 
the best ideas rarely come in shiny boxes.  They come off the wall.
   Off  the  wall  means, simply, coming  from  somewhere  unexpected.  
Being open to the unexpected is what play is all about.    

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