How Kids See the World
As we grow up and learn about things like gravity,
do we really lose the child's view of nature? Know is it still there, Or buried by knowledge and reason?
Two of the most endearing characters in Disney's "The Lion King" are the clownish pals Timon and Pumbaa. Timon is a know-it-all meerkat and Pumbaa a bumbling warthog, and late one night they are out on the savanna wondering about the origin of the stars. "They're fireflies," says Timon, "that got stuck in that big bluish-black thing." To which the less sophisticated Pumbaa replies, "Oh. I always thought they were balls of gas burning millions of miles away."
Pumbaa is scientifically correct, of course. That's why the joke is funny. But many children watching "The Lion King" would probably find Timon's theory more appealing. Kids seem to have a natural inclination to see the world as purposeful and things like stars primarily in terms of their function instead of their natural causes. Laboratory tests have shown this again and again: when psychologists ask children why mountains exist, most say they exist so animals have a place to climb. In kids' "theory" of the natural world, trees don't just happen to provide shade; making shade is their primary purpose. And so forth. In fact, unless there is really good evidence to convince kids otherwise, they want to see everything as having a precise function in the grand scheme of things.
But is this childish yearning for purpose and design simply a sign of cognitive immaturity, a primitive habit of mind that we grow out of as we age and our brains sprout new neuronal connections? Psychologists are very interested in how both kids and grown-ups explain the world, because our theories about stars and eyes and lakes are closely tied to our understanding of creation and creator—our personal cosmology.