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About this author
Zack Lynch is author of The Neuro Revolution: How Brain Science Is Changing Our World (St. Martin's Press, July 2009).
He is the founder and executive director of the Neurotechnology Industry Organization (NIO) and co-founder of NeuroInsights. He serves on the advisory boards of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies, Science Progress, and SocialText, a social software company. Please send newsworthy items or feedback - to Zack Lynch.
Follow me on Twitter at @neurorev
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July 28, 2003

Play Ethics and Neurosociety

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By Pat Kane


[As promised, Pat Kane, author of the forthcoming book "The Play Ethic: Living Creatively in the New Century (MacMillan 2004),  is guest-blogging on Brain Waves this week as Zack Lynch begins the heavy lifting of writing a book of his own.]




It’s a delight to be in this space, as I’ve been an admirer of Zack’s diligent and intelligent blogging for a while now. But it’s perhaps best to start by explaining why a social commentator and musician/consultant/activist like myself, with at best a fan-boy enthusiasm for the Third Culture crossover between humanities and science - is interested in the issue of "neurosociety" (never mind neuro-sociology).


Zack's entry on the neurophysiology of laughter and humour was the main point of contact with my own interest, expressed in my website and forthcoming book The Play Ethic. The title started out as a kind of pun on Max Weber's notion of the Protestant Work Ethic, but has expanded into a multidisciplinary passion for understanding human play in all its forms, traditions and conditions.


One of the reasons I turn to cutting edge mind-science - and admittedly to its more dynamical and emergent than determinist models - is that I'm always trying to unsettle the reductive model of human nature and its capacities implied by the "work ethic", particularly as deployed by opportunist politicians and other neo-Puritan miserables. To be "at play and in play" is not only to have a mentality that is far more suited to a knowledge-intensive information economy: but it's also to deliberately embrace the essential abundance of human consciousness.


The "ethics" of play then become an answer to the old question stated in the 1968 edition of the Whole Earth Review: "We are gods, and we might as well get good at it." This is a world which is ever more constitutively "open" and up for grabs - whether in terms of what Zack calls the "nano-bio-info-cogno" realm of transformative technosciences, or the extreme fluidity of our globalised markets and cultures. Can we become "ethical players" of all these possibilities - rather than cynical manipulators of them, or defeated and angry victims?


So one reason for me to be interested in Zack's agenda is precisely in the area of the cognitive capacity and emotional evolution of the ethical player. (The wisdom contained in the "technologies of self" we often call spiritual traditions - see Francisco Varela and Erik Davis - is another agenda worth exploring). To cope with this carnival universe that we've made, is it enough - as the some evolutionary psychologists would tell you - to rely on the old hominid responses: that repetoire of savannah inheritances, tragic and comic, that have become a consoling pop-science myth for so many people?


Or can we begin to explore, as so much of Zack's linking does, the scary but exciting area of neurosocial innovation? Might carefully-calibrated drugs open new doors of perception, enabling players to participate in all the ramifying games and strategies of information societies, rather than recoil from its chaos and complexity? Certainly, in a society where play became a mainstream rather than a marginal practice, the inhibitions on pursuing cognitive and somatic enhancement would be much reduced, particularly in terms of research investment. (In one of my own specialist areas - music - the relationship between craft, technology, innovation, consciousness and, er, "neuroceuticals" (well, that's one word for them) has long been explored in practice: I hope to pick that up, among other themes, over the next few days).


Any comments and questions, I'd be very happy to receive them.

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