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.