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The Story of the Mind by James Mark Baldwin

The Surplus Energy Theory considers the play impulse


advocates of this theory attempt to meet these objections by saying that the imitative instinct accounts for the particular directions in which the discharges of energy occur. A kitten's plays are like those of the cat tribe because the kitten is accustomed to imitate cats; when it falls to playing it is with cats, and so it sheds its superfluous energies in the customary imitative channels. In this way it grows to learn the games of its own species. There is a good deal in this point; most games are imitative in so far as they are learned at all. But it does not save the theory; for many animal plays are not learned by the individual at all, as we have seen above; on the contrary, they are instinctive. In these cases the animal does not wait to learn the games of his tribe by imitation, but starts-right-in on his own account. Besides this there are many forms of animal play which are not imitative at all. In these the animals co-operate, but do not take the same parts. The young perform actions in the game which the mother does not.

All this goes to support another and most serious objection to this theory--in the mind of all those who believe in the doctrine of evolution. The Surplus-Energy Theory considers the play-impulse, which is one of the most widespread characters of animal life, as merely an accidental thing or by-product--a mere using-up of surplus energies. It is not in any way important to the animals. This makes it impossible to

say that play has come to be the very complex thing that it really is by the laws of evolution; for survival by natural selection always supposes that the attribute or character which survives is important enough to keep the animal alive in the struggle for existence; otherwise it would not be continued for successive generations, and gradually perfected on account of its utility.

On the whole, therefore, we find the Surplus-Energy Theory of play quite inadequate.

II. Another theory therefore becomes necessary if we are to meet these difficulties. Such a theory has recently been developed. It holds that the plays of the animals are of the greatest utility to them in this way: they exercise the young animals in the very activities--though in a playful way--in which they must seriously engage later on in life. A survey of the plays of animals with a view to comparing them in each case with the adult activities of the same species, confirms this theory in a remarkably large number of cases. It shows the young anticipating, in their play, the struggles, enjoyments, co-operations, defeats, emergencies, etc., of their after lives, and by learning to cope with all these situations, so preparing themselves for the serious onset of adult responsibilities. On this theory each play becomes a beautiful case of adaptation to nature. The kitten plays with the ball as the old cat handles the mouse; the little dogs wrestle together, and so learn to fight with teeth and claws; the deer run from one another, and so test their speed and learn to escape their enemies. If we watch young animals at play we see that not a muscle or nerve escapes this preliminary training and exercise; and the instinctive tendencies which control the play direct the activities into just the performances which the animal's later life-habits are going on to require.

On this view play becomes of the utmost utility. It is not a by-product, but an essential part of the animal's equipment. Just as the infancy period has been lengthened in the higher animals in order to give the young time to learn all that they require to meet the harsh conditions of life, so during this infancy period they have in the play-instinct a means of the first importance for making good use of their time. It is beautiful to see the adults playing with their young, adapting their strength to the little ones, repeating the same exercises without ceasing, drilling them with infinite pains to greater hardihood, endurance, and skill.

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