Does Being Human Matter? On some Interpretive Problems of Comparative Ludology.

Peter Smith’s target article, coming fast on the heels of Fagen’s (1981) monumental book on animal play, leaves the student of human play with a feeling of contented satiety, an impression that our ethological colleagues have finally wrapped up all the comparative information that has been accumulating over the past century, and thus made it readily accessible to scholars in related fields. Why is it then that gratitude for such painstaking synthesis produces a faint echo in the mind, a nagging voice that seems to say: “enough is enough? ” Perhaps it is because perusal of the detailed facts about animal play, and attendant speculations about its func-tions, run the risk of confusing our understanding of human play, rather than bringing light to the subject. It certainly reminds this commentator of the truism that, for a psycholo-gist, the only mistake that is worse than ignoring the evidence of comparative ethology is taking it too seriously.

Peter Smith’s target article, coming fast on the heels of Fagen’s (1981) monumental book on animal play, leaves the student of human play with a feeling of contented satiety, an impression that our ethological colleagues have finally wrapped up all the comparative information that has been accumulating over the past century, and thus made it readily accessible to scholars in related fields. Why is it then that gratitude for such painstaking synthesis produces a faint echo in the mind, a nagging voice that seems to say: “enough is enough? ” Perhaps it is because perusal of the detailed facts about animal play, and attendant speculations about its func-tions, run the risk of confusing our understanding of human play, rather than bringing light to the subject. It certainly reminds this commentator of the truism that, for a psycholo-gist, the only mistake that is worse than ignoring the evidence of comparative ethology is taking it too seriously.

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