As Alison Gopnik notes in The Philosophical Baby, the dependent stage of childhood presupposes the care-giving parent. The exploratory and experimental stage in development requires sustaining and supporting adults, protecting the child and putting their own interests second. This practical altruism is at the root of Adler’s Gemeinschaftsgefühl, usually translated as community feeling or social interest. Where this is fully developed it extends to an interest in the welfare of all. The child too has the rudiments of this feeling, both in the need for contact and in its interest in other people. The child senses that its security depends on the community feeling.
Defeating, undermining or weakening this bond is the self-centred, self-concerned impulse of the adult. Where this frustration of the bond is deep, the child feels the vulnerability of its world and seeks to defend it. Seeing life as a field of danger, the child finds and elaborates a system of defence.
Alison Gopnik shows us in her book The Philosophical Baby how the child playfully builds up its map of the world, always seeing the counterfactual alternatives, alternative possibilities. Instead of seeing the child as some kind of defective, unfocussed adult, she demonstrates that childhood is the Research & Development stage of our lives.
“Human beings don’t live in the real world… we live in a universe of many possible worlds… that we call dreams and plans, fictions and hypotheses. They are the product of hope and imagination.”
Learning and imagination are two aspects of the same process of the soul’s movement into reality, towards absorption and mastery of it. At the same time as learning how the world is, the child is learning to see what the world could become, how it could be changed. The child is by nature an active participant in the world, an insatiable learner and imaginer of worlds.
The evolutionary advantage of counterfactual thinking is that it allows us to change the world.
This activity of learning, imagining and acting is the basis of all human creativity and productivity. From the many possible counter fictions we choose the goals of action.
Over the course of childhood we establish a causal map of the world, both of the physical world and of human relationships.