One would be hard-pressed to find a human who hasn't hit, kicked, or thrown a ball. John Fox, a Harvard PhD in anthropology, has spent the last decade researching the roots of this ubiquitous orb, which goes back a few million years. Why are we all so fixated on balls? Among Fox's findings: "Animals that play are...smarter and more socially intelligent than those that don't." For the full evolution of balls, read Fox's new book "The Ball: Discovering the Object of the Game." Then watch the follow-up documentary "Bounce: How the Ball Taught the World to Play" to be released next year. But first, more details about the world's most playful inanimate object:
Discovery: You were out playing ball with your son when you had a "lightning bolt" moment about the ball. What happened?
John Fox: When my son asked that innocent question, "why do we play ball?" we instantly went from doing something routine and prosaic to something exotic and strange-tossing this sphere of cork and yarn back and forth for no obvious reason. As an anthropologist, I'd spent years thinking about the anthropology of sport but in a somewhat detached, academic way. My son's question awoke in me an innocent, playful curiosity about the subject that I'd never allowed myself to have before.