“…for without magic, we are cut off from our roots in universal human existence and wander forever homeless.”
I always get a little choked up when I recite this quotation for friends. This eloquent sentiment comes from, of all places, a textbook on child development written many years ago by Vassar College Professors Joseph Stone and Joseph Church. It appears towards the end of a chapter describing Piaget’s theory of cognitive development.
Magical thinking is a characteristic of pre-schoolers, who, according to Piaget, accept perceptual events in literal terms and believe that other people and things must think and feel just as they do. People get smaller as they move farther away. Cartoon characters are real. Inanimate objects have feelings. There are tiny towns, people, and animals that live inside the television set. As children mature, they become more able to determine the true nature of the world around them and begin to develop logical operations.
Stone and Church noted that many of the characteristics of childhood thinking remain in adults, mixing with the more grownup ways of thinking in various proportions. How else can you explain the popularity of stories of super heroes or vampires or ghosts or monsters, or the intemperate adherence to our religious myths?