Thursday, June 13, 2013

Childish Thoughts

File under "coincidence:" after composing last night's post, I turned on the television and channel surfed over to an episode of PBS' Nova that documented psychological experiments on children based on a premise very similar to the Sally-and-Anne-cell-phone scenario discussed in last night's post.  Rather than confusing  kids with stories about buying rounds of drinks in a bar, however, the experiment involved placing a ball into one of two paper bags, and then moving the ball from that bag to the other bag while one of the children was away. The child who saw the switch was then asked where the second child would think the ball was when he returned.  

Interestingly, almost all children aged three and under thought that the second child would think the ball was in the new location, even though the second child had no way of knowing that the ball had been moved.  They believed that others would think the ball was where they correctly knew it to be, which is to say, very young children are apparently incapable of anticipating the thoughts and perceptions of others.  It is only after about the age of four that children are apparently capable of creating the mental models necessary to anticipate the perceptions and behaviors of others.  What was amusing was how adamant many of the children were that the second child would look for the ball in the new place, how certain they were that their knowledge and understanding were shared by everybody.  

Which brings us back, once again, to Erich Fromm, who argued that we adults are often unaware that all our concepts and beliefs rest upon commonly accepted frames of reference, and when confronted with a fundamentally different view of life, we tend to judge it as "crazy," or "irrational," or even "childish."  Yet it is we ourselves that are being "childish" when we cannot grasp that others may have a different understanding than us, a different view, a different mental model, a different samskara.      


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