Alison Gopnik asks
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?
In fact, I think now that the two abilities – finding the truth about the world and creating new worlds-are two sides of the same coins. Theories, in science or childhood, don’t just tell us what’s true – they tell us what’s possible, and they tell us how to get to those possibilities from where we are now. When children learn and when they pretend they use their knowledge of the world to create new possibilities. So do we whether we are doing science or writing novels. I don’t think anymore that Science and Fiction are just both Good Things that complement each other. I think they are, quite literally, the same thing.