Placebo

Jean Piaget, the great child psychologist— or, as he preferred to call himself, “genetic epistemologist”— tells a wonderful story about two little boys. (He doesn’t say so, but I expect that they were his own children.) One night when the moon was full, the older, who was about four, led his younger brother into the front garden of his house and ordered him to walk back and forth. As little brother faithfully did so, big brother carefully observed him— and the moon. “I was trying to see if the moon follows him when he walks,” the older brother explained. “But it doesn’t, it only follows me.”

Alan Jacobs, How to Think (p.38)

Children make all sorts of hilarious inferences. Jacobs cited this story to show that sometimes we come to the right conclusions for entirely wrong reasons. As a parent, it’s great fun to see the little scientists trying their experiments on each other.

When our youngest daughter. Susanna, was five, my wife saw her scrubbing her legs with mashed wild strawberries. Naturally, Rachel asked her to explain herself. Susanna told her simply that Judah (an older brother of seven) had recommended the salve as a remedy to her irritating mosquito bites.

After Rachel confronted Judah about giving such advice to his suffering sibling, she asked him why he thought his idea would have worked at all.

“Oh. Placebo.” Judah offered with with his hands up, showing he was just trying to help. Little scientists indeed.

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