[2008 - Edge Foundation] In response to the Edge 2008 World Question: "WHAT HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR MIND ABOUT?"
Imagination is Real
By Alison Gopnik, Psychologist, UC-Berkeley; Coauthor, The Scientist In the Crib
Recently, I've had to change my mind about the very nature of knowledge because of an obvious, but extremely weird fact about children - they pretend all the time. Walk into any preschool and you'll be surrounded by small princesses and superheroes in overalls - three-year-olds literally spend more waking hours in imaginary worlds than in the real one. Why? Learning about the real world has obvious evolutionary advantages and kids do it better than anyone else. But why spend so much time thinking about wildly, flagrantly unreal worlds? The mystery about pretend play is connected to a mystery about adult humans - especially vivid for an English professor's daughter like me. Why do we love obviously false plays and novels and movies? ... For human beings the really important evolutionary advantage is our ability to create new worlds. More