Mind's Eye Blog

PIAGET, The Very Fascinating Problem of Knowledge

“Young children cannot achieve the mental operation necessary for thorough comprehension of numbers. A 4 year old child might think that two sets are equivalent in number (Set1 = Set2) if they have the same length. The child focuses on a single quality of each set: LENGTH.”

Set 1:      O                O                   O                      O

Set 2:      X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X

This example comes from dozens I have been enjoying in PIAGET’s THEORY OF INTELLECTUAL DEVELOPMENT, AN INTRODUCTION, by Herbert Ginsburg and Sylvia Opper (Prentice-Hall, 1969).

Jean Piaget was born in 1896, in Switzerland. During his adolescence Piaget concentrated on two major intellectual pursuits: biology and epistemology. Soon, he was wondering how to investigate the very fascinating problem of knowledge using the scientific framework of biology. His early work in intelligence testing led him to the conclusion that older children were not just “brighter” than younger ones; instead the thought of younger children were qualitatively different from that of older ones. From then on, Piaget dedicated his life to discovering the different methods of thinking used by children at different ages.

Reading the exercises, the dialogues or the monologues collected by the famous psychologist, I noticed his acceptance. He is fascinated by the “incorrect” answers. He sees them as windows into the children’s mind.

I spend my working days with older adults who experience cognitive difficulties. I treasure their “incorrect” statements and the following open-questions dialogues that I initiate.  Listening and observing guides me along the meanders of the elders mental operations.

Aline was looking for her son. At ninety four years old, she was energetically wandering up and down the hallway. “Where is my son? Where do I live?” For reassurance, a nurse guided Aline, who is very hard of hearing, towards her room. The nurse pointed to a sign ALINE pasted to the left of the door. The name was printed in large characters on a “letter-size” sheet of paper. “This is my name. He left a note for me!” exclaimed Aline joyfully. She ripped the paper off the wall, and turned it over. Disappointed to see no message she said: “Why didn’t he write something?”

Piaget’s research started nearly a century ago. By now, a lot is known about normal and pathological children’s psychology. Naomi Feil started her studies with disoriented and forgetful elders in the 60s. When will we be ready to accept and admire our elders capacity to fathom a reality according to their needs?

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