Friday, December 02, 2005

Metaphysics and the toddler mind

Yesterday, Helena and I went for a walk after supper.

At the end of our street is an elementary school. We stopped to look at all the lovely animal pictures taped up in the windows, drawn by, I'm guessing, 6-year-olds.

Helena is obviously more tapped into the mind of the child artist than I am. She did a much better job of identifying the creatures depicted than I did, according to the teacher's labels.

What is essential to the zebra, from the toddler's perspective, is black and white striping. Not equine features or discernible number of legs. Not its proportion relative to its surroundings. Its zebra-ness is black and white.

Similarly, the tiger was not recognizably feline. No ears, no semblance of whiskers or fur. A bunny-like tail. A pleasantly suburban environment, over which it towered. But orange-and-black stripes is tiger.

What is essential to the giraffe is "tall." Lion has haloed face.

They all looked like blobby elephants to me.


Anonymous said...

There's a Teletubbies "Animal Parade" game that B likes, and in it there's a tiger, only the stripes are made of contiguous circles (it's a bit of stylistic weirdness -- all the animals in that game have spots, for no apparent reason). Anyway, stripe made of spots, readable to adults as "stripe", equals "spots" to toddler, and that means "jaguar".

I don't argue with him. I think it's clever that he noticed.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I wonder if a child who had never seen cartoons or coloring books would see the salient parts of animals the same?