Our latest podcast is called “Think Like a Child.” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.) Why would anyone want to think like a child? Aren’t kids just sloppy, inchoate versions of us, who can’t even say “I Don’t Know”?
Hardly. As Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt describe in their new book, Think Like a Freak, thinking like a child can be very fruitful.
LEVITT: I think the beauty of thinking like a child … is that sometimes doing things differently and simply and with a kind of joy and triviality leads you to a really special place that as an adult you don’t get to go to very often.
Kids are relatively unbiased; they don’t carry around many of the pre-conceptions that adults do. And, as we all know, kids don’t “pay attention” the same way that adults do. This makes them more likely to notice or care about things that the rest of us don’t — and, if you happen to be a magician, it makes them a hard audience to fool. In the podcast, you’ll hear from journalist and magician Alex Stone, author of Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind. We brought Stone down to WNYC to perform for a room full of middle-schoolers from I.S. 318 in Brooklyn (thanks, guys!). You’ll hear the results and you’ll hear Stone dissect what happened:
STONE: [Adults] watch it and they’re waiting for the punch line, and then they sort of see it, and then they maybe go back and think about it. With kids, you get this sense that with every step of the way they’re trying to understand it. From the second they see it, they’re always coming up with theories.
You’ll also hear from Alison Gopnik, who has done fascinating research on children’s cognitive processes and development. Gopnik is a professor of psychology and philosophy at the University of California-Berkeley and the author of The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life. Gopnik describes how modern research shows that kids are much more than just underdeveloped adults, and that they have a variety of traits we’d do well to smuggle across the border into adulthood:
GOPNIK: Think of the kids as being the research and development division of the human species. And we’re—adults—we’re production and marketing. So from the production and marketing perspective, it might look like the R&D guys are really not doing anything that looks very sensible or useful. They sit around all day in their beanbag chairs playing Pong and having blue-sky ideas. And we poor production and marketing people, who are actually making the profits, have to subsidize these guys! But of course, one of the things that we know is that that kind of blue-sky, just pure, research actually pays off in the long run.