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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Is Childhood Causes All reaction And Action In Later Life?

It's not a secret that the general population hangs on to no end of non-scientific beliefs despite contrary evidence; the Nobel Intent forums have been visited by proponents of homeopathy and intelligent design, to give just two examples. Two developmental psychologists at Yale are now suggesting these and many other non-scientific beliefs—their list includes "unproven medical interventions; the mystical nature of out-of-body experiences; the existence of supernatural entities such as ghosts and fairies; and the legitimacy of astrology, ESP, and divination"—all originate in childhood. Becoming scientifically literate, in their view, requires overcoming our early mental development.

They argue that most resistance to scientific ideas derives from what children learn before they get exposed to science. They point out that children have some understanding of solids and gravity and recognize that people act with distinct goals in mind. These implicit understandings are enough to help them navigate the physical and social worlds successfully.

The problem is that many of these implicit understandings wind up being limited or misleading. As an example, they note that the early understanding of gravity keeps most children from comprehending the spherical nature of earth until they are over eight years old. Prior to that, they are apparently prone to coping with this conflict in creative ways: the authors note that some will draw the earth as a sphere with a flattened top and suggest that's where the people live.

For concepts that students are constantly exposed to, like a spherical earth, the scientific understanding will gradually prevail. But some of the less prevalent aspects of childhood's intuitive understanding can last well into adulthood. The authors cited a paper that showed that many college students erroneously believe that a ball traveling through a curved tube will continue to travel on a curved path once it exits.

The authors go into extensive details about two cases: rampant teleology and mind-body dualism. Children tend to believe that every object has a specific purpose or function, which fits in nicely with the teleological view of life espoused by many forms of creationism, such as intelligent design. They also view the mind and brain as operating on different levels and performing distinct functions. Among their examples, the authors note that preschoolers believe that the brain is involved in analytical tasks such as math but plays no role in behavioral activities like pretending to be a kangaroo. They suggest that this produces a tendency to accept various forms of mysticism, such as astrology and psychic powers.

So, is society hopelessly stuck in the grasp of our childhood intuitions? The authors argue not, as the age with which children can deal with a spherical earth varies by country, as do the rates of acceptance of evolution. They propose a few factors that contribute to these differences. For one, they emphasize the role of general cultural acceptance. Nobody argues about the existence of germs or electricity, and children are constantly warned against these invisible menaces. For the authors, it's no surprise then that the ultimate acceptance of the science behind them tends to be high.

But many scientific fields, like climate and evolution, a detailed understanding is impossible to generate through experience and is beyond the education of most people. To confuse matters further, people receive conflicting messages as they mature. For evolution, they may receive no message at all or have the scientific understanding of it presented as a belief. In these situations, scientific knowledge is often presented by assertion, and its acceptance depends on the level of trust in the people doing the asserting.

More at:http://arstechnica.com/journals/science.ars/2007/05/21/science-education-requires-overcoming-childhood-understanding

Posted by Ajay :: 9:44 AM :: 0 comments

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