Updated: Dec 29, 2021
It's here! The book most of you haven't heard my stop talking about for the past few years is finally published. For you few lucky subscribers who haven't heard me ramble on about my latest book, by blending science, philosophy, religion, and mythology with the latest movies, books, and video games, I explore the world through my eyes. It's an exploration into the human experience that challenges you to see the world from my playful perspective.
Here's what I have for you. Chapter one. If you enjoy it, buy the book because you enjoy it and fair enough. If you don't enjoy it, let me know. Either way, I appreciate your time.
Enter the Ludus “God alone is worthy of supreme seriousness, but man is made God’s plaything and that is the best part of him. Therefore, every man and woman should live accordingly, and play the noblest games and be of another mind from what they are at present...What then is the right way of living? Life must be lived as play, playing certain games, making sacrifices, singing and dancing, and then a man will be able to propitiate the gods, and defend himself against his enemies, and win in contest.” Plato
I’m dozing off in a warm tub as my phone buzzes non-stop in the kitchen. It’s congratulations on finishing my sixth marathon a couple of hours ago. It can wait. Eventually, I get out of the bath and head downstairs to meet my buddy at the bar with my medal dangling off my neck. When I arrive, rubbing victory in his face, he gives me a look of, “now’s not the time.” I look up at the TV, then down at my 67 missed texts, and read one, “Bomb.”
If you utter the precise phrase, you govern history. How people speak or pen a single word holds the potential to carve humanity’s story. Campaigns align around words as a tactic of shaping the way people act. Empires rise and collapse upon the sounds sliding through lips. Whispers into ears destine decades of love. Your relationship with the words I scribe affects how you visualize this tale. On April 15, 2013, upon reading one word, my story adjusted trajectory. I haven’t run The Boston Marathon since, but I’ve marched it three times in my Army uniform.
Language bridges ideas to reality and culture grows from the seeds of words. Words are energy that cast spells, that’s why it’s called spelling. Philosopher Richard Rorty reminds us that “the world does not speak, only we do.” The world exists separately from language and ideas, and if humanity’s achievements collapse, the world still spins. When stores, gyms, and churches closed during the COVID- 19 pandemic in 2020, nature did not seem to notice. But the words spoken by people with influence swayed the reactions of nations. Words are an abstraction akin to numbers. They don’t exist yet reflect reality sharper than a mirror.
In a stroke of genius, the psychiatrist and philosopher Carl Jung shared the idea that “people don’t have ideas. Ideas have people.” In other words, you think you believe something because it’s right, but you think it’s right because you believe in it—science questions what’s real. Once an idea infects our mind, we no longer steer the ship. It’s the seed of confirmation bias, and it’s a looming threat to science. It takes a well-trained mind to fight it.
Literary genius Fyodor Dostoevsky came to a similar conclusion in his book Demons. He refers to why people do evil things and concludes that people aren’t demons; instead, their ideas are demons. We turn our ideas into idols and sacrifice ourselves and others to them. People are merely pawns with much greater forces moving us around.
When you see the word play, dreams of exploration, fun, games, pleasure, and enjoyment may flood your mind. When we create a phrase such as work, images of projects, commuting, long hours, budgets, and deadlines may overtake your attention. The ideas of play and work are different and determine how people perceive and relate to the concepts. Their associations determine how people interact with their ideas. As much as the words are abstract constructs, they resurrect real memories.
What if play and work vanished from the English language? If we still have the acts of play and work, but the words disappear. If entire societies can alter their destiny on terms such as, “I have a dream,” what happens to societies when the word dream is forgotten? If Dr. King said, “I have a thought,” it would be an accurate statement, yet lack the wonder to improve the world.
Every word carries a story. It’s a keyhole into what can be. When we change the key, we modify what that keyhole unlocks. We feel, think, and act in a different direction. The ancient Romans have a word merging play, sports, school, theater, poetry, games, and training. An expression encompassing the entire spectrum of engaging activities. A word used to capture the thrill of sports, the learning of school, the creativity of art, the struggle of training, the pain of war, and the glory of achievement all in a single encapsulating idea.
Ludus is a world in itself, and the word Romans created to express the complex social matrix in which we live our lives. The world of Ludus is a world where all these elements of action intersect. It’s a world where everything from childlike playfulness to training for combat converge. To borrow a line from Morpheus in The Matrix, the Ludus
“is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work ... when you go to church ... when you pay your taxes.”
Imagine how people who see the world as a Ludus act. If we gamified the world and experienced every moment as an opportunity to develop our storyline, would you look at your choices another way? If you were the protagonist of a profound quest, would you reconsider what used to be tedious tasks? How would a world where people experience play and work as the same present itself? Professor and author Brené Brown said, “the opposite of play is not work. The opposite of play is depression.”
In the mid 20th century, John Huizinga introduced the concept of Homo Ludens as a way of presenting people as players in the culture at large. Huizinga sees people not as bystanders or beings but as creators through play. The world is risk and randomness, and play is order. People derive purpose from absurdity through play. Homo Ludens means Human the Player. To Huizinga, people create meaning by playing. That beautiful act of creation fueling childhood is how adulthood can be rendered.
People interact with the world by playing with it, setting boundaries and rules with specific consequences. They section off areas like playgrounds. Within the playground, events and interactions have a different meaning than they do outside the frontier. In my previous book, A Vigorous Life, I almost discovered the Ludus but missed my mark. Forming a similar concept I referred to as The 3Ps, Potential, Play, and Purpose. People create their purpose from their potential through play. The 3Ps are a symptom of the Ludus, but the real gold is deeper.
Within the Ludus, anything is possible. You have the freedom to create a game that fits your uniqueness. Or you can choose to excel in any existing game. Viewing the world as a Ludus is how successful people subconsciously interact with every aspect of life.
When children play a game, they voluntarily agree to arbitrary rules with no seen value beyond the entertainment. Religious ceremonies, war, science, and society are similar. When you travel between communities, you notice cultures have different values. These values are the culture’s rules to their game. Rewards go to people who follow these rules. Living outside the rules makes you an outlaw or misfit, and people who link aspects between games are geniuses.
Leonardo Da Vinci is one of history’s greatest minds. What makes Da Vinci remarkable is his childlike curiosity or desire to play with ideas in novel ways. Da Vinci would play with hundreds of ideas in his notebook, spending dozens of pages on a single topic. Da Vinci did not read how others do something as much as he played with the idea. He is perhaps the first to dive deep into the scientific method by playing with his thoughts and breaking old ways rather than relying on dogma.
When others were spectators to an activity, Da Vinci changed the world by playing with it. He was one of the game’s misfits. Someone who understands the rules and benevolently bends, breaks, links, or creates them. His astounding achievements are the result of a child’s curiosity in an adult’s body. He believes in a world where the frontier of what exists kisses the boundary of the impossible. Bridging that gap is a matter of playing with the rules.
In this book, I reference ancient wisdom as well as modern science. Ancient humanity’s lessons stand the test of time. That makes its teachings rational. They have proven helpful over millennia. Although I share scientific insights, my teaching and coaching background has taught me that stories open people’s minds. Stories touch our emotions and become part of us. Data operates on a different system that we will discuss later.
My role in this story is that of a gardener, planting a seed in your mind. I want that seed to germinate into a new way of interacting with the world and living your life phenomenologically (yeah, that’s a real word) true. Meaning, if you live as if it is true, it helps. Life is not a literal game with a scoreboard hovering in the sky. Still, we sustain a record of how people treat us and keep their actions in mind when making future decisions. For that reason, we will explore ageless philosophy as well as modern science. Just as we can’t ignore our emotional intuitions providing flavor to life that our logical thoughts forgo, we shouldn’t overlook the mythological and philosophical in favor of the scientific and methodological.
This book examines what life looks like when we view it through a playful perspective. One in which your friends, family, co- workers, enemies, everyone, and everything are game-like. You may believe life is too serious to be studied as a game, but I beg to differ. You may have become upset when I mention war in the context of a game but allow me to explain. Play is not pleasure. Pleasure can arise from play, but play is exploration and creativity. It involves varying degrees of challenges and unknowns. This book explores you as the player and society and all its constitutes as things worth investigating and improving. Serious matters such as war need exploratory and creative minds to solve their grave problems.
We will delve into ancient heroes and explorers as well as modern warriors and scientists. Their stories may not seem like play as you know it, but if you define play as:
unraveling and charting the unknown,
then you may see their stories differently. Play is an attempt to solve or explain something complicated then make a helpful map of what you’ve learned. That’s what children do when they play, and that’s what adults attempt when faced with complex problems. In this sense, scientific theory, sports, education, military strategy, and art are play forms. When we enter their unique Ludi (plural for Ludus), we are obeying their rules to produce the best possible game.
We will explore questions like, are challenges essential to happiness? Am I traveling the right path? How do I form better relationships? What’s the best way to live? And, how do I make sense of the randomness in life? This playbook to life’s game encourages you to ask yourself the best questions. Questions that define you as the hero of your game and quests which lay ahead.
How’s your life? Does everything make sense? Do you know your purpose? Do you feel you matter? Is everything aligning in a way that makes life meaningful? If not, no worries, the following chapters have you covered.
Call to Action What would your life look like if all your problems were solved?
Did you enjoy chapter one? If so, click the link and buy the book. Again, thank you!