The Construction of a World: The Importance of Play in Evolution

  • Jorge Luis Hernández-Ochoa
    Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México jorge.luis.hdz.ochoa[at]
  • Melina Gastelum-Vargas
    Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
  • Agustín Fuentes
    Universidad de Princeton
  • Francisco Vergara-Silva
    Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México


Multicellular organisms are not passive entities. Understanding this is important to increase our knowledge about the evolution of species, and to clarify how we perceive and interact in the world. Through multiple mechanisms and processes involving developmental as well as phylogenetic dimensions, these organisms actively navigate their environments. Despite current academic interest in these viewpoints, though, play has not been a central topic in this discussion, particularly in hominids and specifically in Homo sapiens. In this work, we contribute to elucidate the importance of play for niche construction processes and for the emergence of cognition, two fundamental fields within contemporary debates in evolutionary thinking and embodied cognitive science. We claim this is relevant because play is a path through which a very large number of multicellular species inquire, know, build, and transform the world. In the first section, we situate the discussion, and we describe the structure of our arguments. Then, we present the importance of niche construction theory, and the definitions of cultural and developmental niches, to highlight the active role of organisms in modifying (selective and ontogenetic) environments. Later we explain the enactivist perspective and its implications concerning the dynamics, and the embodied and situated properties of organisms for the study of cognition. Afterward we highlight the value of play in this wideview of evolutionary and enactivist frameworks. Finally, we offer conclusions on the implications that this kind of research could have for diverse disciplines —e. g., biological anthropology, cognitive science, philosophy of biology or pedagogy.
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