Saturday, January 9, 2010

Baloney as Delicacy

It seems that sometimes false beliefs are effectively treated as luxury items. Many adults feel that they are depriving their children of childhood if they do not teach them that some fanciful story is in fact true, at least for a while. There have been several explanations proposed for this practice. One is that it teaches the children by experience that not everything that they are told is true. This tactic seems unnecessary since young children will generally readily believe anything an authority figure tells them is true, and if this is the case it would follow that the need for skepticism could be taught in a more honest and informative way by direct explanation. Another is that it is good to let children enjoy some "magic" before these notions are ripped away by cold reality, and such enjoyment is somehow valuable in itself. I believe this kind of thinking has troubling implications. We begin developing causal models of the world in infancy. Viewing the ability to hold false beliefs with little consequence as valuable seems to be a learned behavior. Perhaps this is related to sense of nostalgia in adults looking back on what they recollect as a care-free time of little responsibility (and relatively little freedom and influence). If we are tempted to indulge this kind of urge in other ways we may neglect making the effort to develop accurate judgments. If holding to falsehoods is a luxury does this not imply that the truth is burdensome? We can not assess the costs of ignorance in a state of ignorance, and only in truth can we know genuine wonder.