EMPATHY AND NARRATIVE.As I posted yesterday, David Foster Wallace argued that a function of a liberal arts education is to improve our ability to enter into the thoughts of others.
An article by Jeremy Hsu in the September Scientific American (summary only at the link) reports on studies of narrative by scientists. One of the studies claims that at the age of five children are able to follow the (highly simplified) thoughts of an imaginary character. Three year olds can’t do it. Wallace believes that it takes years of study of the liberal arts to perfect the raw ability of the five year old.

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  1. elmer says:

    When she was very young — what I’m going to quote uses words in a way that I associate with a two-year old who’s not yet two and a half — my granddaughter Elizabeth, when she saw a picture of Eeyor lookig sad , said “Mommydaddy.” This sort of comment happened several times, and obviously meant, “He’s sad because he misses his Mommy and Daddy.” And the following story must have taken place before my greatnephew Teddy was three and a half. Teddy is crazy about cars, both toy and real (though no one in his family is very interested in them). His grandfather, Tom, took him to an art exhibit and saw a cast of Rodin’s The Thinker. “Teddy, what do you suppose he’s thinking about?” “Cars.” Later they saw a Modigliani of a sad-looking woman. “What ‘s she sad about?” “She doesn’t have enough cars.” These remarks may not exactly represent following the thoughts of an imaginary character. but rather are triggered by images, but that would seems to be a very subtle distinction. Elmer

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