Home Forums Critical Thinking On the willing suspension of disbelief

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      When our kids woke up this morning, they were treated to an exciting scene unfolding by the fireplace. Two elves, sliding down a snowy hill, apparently having a great time. Having apparently consumed the treats we left for them last night, these red figurines were posed just so as to show how much of a magical time they were having, their toques fluttering in the nonexistent wind.

      The kids were thrilled to take in the scene with nary an ounce of disbelief. In fact, they spoke of the entire scene as if it was a given that the protagonists were participating in a fun event of their own making, oblivious to the youngsters in the audience. Aged between 8 and 11, these are children who relish in poking holes at contrived media arguments about astrological predictions and supernatural beings, unsubstantiated medical claims and their father’s feeble attempts at both magic and ESP.

      And so it strikes me as a fascinating capacity on the part of children, to effortlessly manage the cognitive dissonance they experience as they enjoy a fantasy story by Pratchett or Riordan without needing to immediately disprove or analyze it through the lens of reality. Moreover, I am led to think that the willingness of the public to suspend disbelief in the face of public narratives that are clearly unfounded in truth, reality and rational thinking, may have something to do with the strong desire to see the world through a lens that just makes things seem better.

      Not that this is a particularly insightful observation, but it is clear that magical thinking and critical thinking both have a place in the developing mind. However, as brain plasticity decreases under the weight of responsibility, the weighting necessarily shifts to the rational side, creating the need for personal and societal safeguards to ensure that as adults, we resist indulging in flights of fancy and tolerating dangerous narratives. And so it is a relief that we have both children and elves to balance out the serious, mature and consequential thinking that pervades the days we are resigned to spending as responsible adults.


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