Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Imaginary Friends

In keeping with the general theme of this book so far, that causal thinking makes possible counter-factual thinking, we move to the imaginary.  And, well, to jump to the fun facts: (1) it's more social kids, not less, who have imaginary friends -- they find people so interesting that when people aren't around, they make some up; (2) imaginary friends are very common and (a) typically forgotten and (b) frequently passed on to siblings; (3) kids don't really think that the imaginary friends are real; (4) fiction writers frequently have 'imaginary' friends - we just refer to them as 'characters.'

Allegedly I had an imaginary friend when I was a kid.  I say 'allegedly' because my parents claim that said friend was only mentioned once - to a teacher, I think.  I'm inclined to think that I was testing the boundaries of what my adults would believe and not that I actually had an imaginary friend the way that some people have.

The idea behind the imaginary friend is that kids are starting to understand other minds and so come up with imaginary people to play around with the notion of someone else having a mind different from their own, but still understandable and subject to some common psychological laws.

I'm particularly intrigued by the discusison regarding fiction writers since, well, I've always found intriguing the claim that many writers experience their characters as real and, ultimately, in charge of what happens in the story being written.  I've spoken with folks who write fiction to find out if they really do experience characters this way and they say they do -- and who am I do say that they are lying?

Another interesting point was that kids who don't have characters presented to them (via books, tv or movies) are more likely to make up their own characters -- kinda makes sense (and would explain why I didn't have imaginary friends seeing as I read nonstop as a kid).  And, kids who spend more time interacting with adults are more creative -- again, not a huge shock seeing as spending time with adults probably means that the adults are attending to the child, asking the child questions about why, how, etc. Constantly asking the kid to imagine different scenarios and explanations.  Happily for the development of most kids, we don't teach children the way we teach college students - by telling them the right answers and then getting irritated when they don't remember them.

So, this makes me think that one of the questions of teaching - how to help students become creative is the wrong question.  We all begin creative and then most of us stop -- just like we all start out curious, loving to learn, etc and then somehow that part of us is killed (or at least viewed as the immature, unrealistic, naive part of us).  The better question may be how to we help folks to embrace the curiosity we are all capable of and once revelled in?  Work on that.

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