Oh Say Can You See? Why our offices, labs and research fields should be peopled by kids

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An article in the New York Times related how the offhand query of a young graduate student has spurred seasoned medical researchers on viruses to make significant advances into understanding Zika.

Without the student's suggestion, the experts would still be stymied over finding a way forward in the kind of foundational research vital to eventually stemming this pernicious virus.

How is possible that a young and curious dilettante can take an interest in a virus about which he knows next to nothing, and learn just enough to make what turns out to be a remarkably penetrating and fruitful suggestion?

That's how the young among us roll. That's what they do best.

My question is: What if all our labs and research fields, indeed all our professional offices, were as a rule of thumb peopled with open young curious inexpert minds -- minds of blooming generalists that can absorb quickly, if explained to them properly, what the experts are up to -- not as an end itself, not simply as a means for the young to learn about new fields. Rather, once they are brought somewhat up to speed, my hunch is that they'd be in a position to pose refreshing, piercing and startling questions that actually could spark advances in these fields.

Questions that the experts, alas, are rarely capable of formulating, because of the loss of their childlike sense of onefulness -- of seeing things clearly and wholly -- and their penchant for microscopism (and all the mind-numbing jargon that clusters around that). Such narrowness of vision that adult professionals all too often succumb to inhibits the very kind of creative and critical thinking that would be of most service to them if they're to make their mark and make significant advances.

Oh, but wait, you'll say, after all, this young man in the NY Times article was a graduate student. So he's really not that young. Well, he's certainly a novice in the field.

My radical suggestion is this: let's populate all research with very very young people. Elementary age and up. My hunch is that their questions will prove invaluable to those professional experts whose brains they're picking.

Why do I propose this? Here's how I explain my view in my new book, The Philosophy of Childing:

(Children) do not see things in a blur; they see clearly, wholly. ...Children not only look at the world holistically, but with a sense of oneness. To them, there are no neat divides between their inner and outer cosmos, no more than there are between parts and wholes. e mind-bending questions they pose reflect this--and the more we take the time and trouble to inform them of what we're inquiring into, the more probing their questions.

If only all our laboratories were peopled with children milling about, pouring over the work of scientists, who felt obliged to explain to them in intelligible terms what they're up to, I have no doubt that the questions the children would then pose to them would further their experiments and explorations by leaps and bounds.

My view certainly is supported by much of the latest neuroscience research, which confirms children's capacities to see what is invisible to those of us adults who've grown blinders. As cognitive-scientist philosophy Alison Gopnik insists in The Philosophical Baby, her latest research and that of her peers shows that our youngest "are vividly aware of everything without being focused on any one thing in particular." I won't be at all surprised if one day cognitive scientists come to find that children have the capacity to focus on any one thing and everything at one and the same time.

If I'm right, this singular ability of kids to see in ways the rest of us at older (but not necessarily more 'advanced') ages and stages aren't capable might well lead to unparalleled humanistic advances in the sciences and social sciences, among other fields. Worth a try? Have we anything to lose by attempting this prescription at further 'childing'?