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随着年龄增长,我们的创造力哪儿去了?

更新时间:2017-8-21 19:09:03 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

What Happens to Creativity as We Age?
随着年龄增长,我们的创造力哪儿去了?

One day not long ago, Augie, a 4-year-old Gopnik grandchild, heard his grandfather wistfully say, “I wish I could be a kid again.” After a thoughtful pause, Augie came up with a suggestion: Grandpa should try not eating any vegetables. The logic was ingenious: Eating vegetables turns children into big strong adults, so not eating vegetables should reverse the process.

不久前的一天,4岁的奥吉——戈普尼克(Gopnik)家的孙辈——听到他的祖父在哀叹,“真希望做回孩子。”奥吉稍作思考,给出了一个建议:爷爷应该停止吃一切蔬菜。这是个巧妙的逻辑:吃蔬菜让孩子成为强壮的大人,那么不吃蔬菜就可以逆转这一进程。

No grown-up would ever come up with that idea. But anyone with a 4-year-old can tell similar stories. Young children’s creativity seems to outstrip that of even the most imaginative adults.

成人是不可能想出这种主意的。但任何一个4岁孩子都有类似的故事。即使最善常想象的成人,似乎都无法与年幼的儿童比拼创造力。

How does the ability to come up with unusual ideas change as we grow older? Does it begin to flag in adolescence? Before then? To investigate these questions, we and our colleagues recently conducted several experiments, which we relate in a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

这种产生不寻常想法的能力,是如何随着年龄渐长而改变的呢?是不是从青春期开始枯萎的?还是在那之前?为了调查这些问题,我们和一些同事近日展开了几项实验,并在发表于《美国国家科学院院刊》(Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)的一篇新论文中做了阐述。

We began with a group of participants of various ages: 4- and 5-year-old preschoolers; 6- to 11-year-olds; 12- to 14-year-old teenagers; and adults. We presented them with a scenario involving a physical machine that lit up when you put some combinations of blocks on it, but not others. Either of two hypotheses could explain how the machine worked. It could work in a usual and obvious way: Some individual blocks would make it light up, and the other blocks were irrelevant. Or it could work in a more unusual way: It would take a combination of different blocks to make the machine light up.

我们从一组年龄不一的参与者入手,其中有4–5岁的学龄前儿童;6–11岁的孩子;12–14岁的青少年;以及成年人。在我们给参与者设定的场景中包含一台实体机器,在以特定方式组合积木时会发亮,此外的方式都不会亮。有两种假设可以说明机器的运行原理。一种是普通的、明显的方式:个别积木可以让机器发亮,还有一些积木则不起作用。还有一种比较不寻常的方式:不同积木的组合可以让机器发亮。

We presented the participants with another scenario as well, also with two possible explanations. This scenario was social: We told a story about Sally, who approached a skateboard, and Josie, who avoided a scooter. How come? The usual explanation was that something about Sally’s and Josie’s individual traits made them act as they did — maybe Sally was braver than Josie. A more unusual, though equally valid, explanation was that something about the situation was important — maybe the skateboard was safer than the scooter.

我们另外还给参与者准备了一个场景,同样存在两种可能的解释。这个场景是社会性的:我们讲了一个故事,说的是萨丽尝试了滑板,而乔茜不愿玩踏板摩托。为什么?通常的解释是,萨丽和乔茜的个人特质决定了她们的行为——也许萨丽比乔茜更有胆量。然而还有一种不寻常的、但同样有道理的解释,即需要考虑到情境——也许滑板比踏板摩托更安全。

Presented with these two scenarios, most adults did indeed explain the events by talking about a single block, or about Sally’s traits — they gave the obvious explanation.

面对这两个场景,大多数成人的确会选择某一块积木或萨丽的个性角度——他们给出的是最显而易见的解释。

Then we added a twist. Another group of participants saw the same scenarios, but this time they saw an additional set of facts that made the unusual explanation more likely than the more obvious one. Would the participants go with the obvious explanation, or try something new?

接下来我们加入了一点变化。另一组参与者看到了同样的场景,但这一次他们看到了额外的一系列事实,导致不寻常解释出现的几率会大于寻常的解释。参与者会选择寻常的解释,还是尝试新鲜的角度?

When it came to explaining the physical machine, the pattern was straightforward. The preschoolers were most likely to come up with the creative, unusual explanation. The school-age children were somewhat less creative. And there was a dramatic drop at adolescence. Both the teenagers and the adults were the most likely to stick with the obvious explanation even when it didn’t fit the data.

在对实体机器的解释上,规律是很清晰的。学龄前儿童会得出有创意的、不寻常的解释。学龄儿童的创意相对较少一些。到了青春期出现急剧下滑。青少年组和成年组选择平常解释的可能性最大,尽管有时这解释与数据不符。

But there was a different pattern when it came to the social problems. Once again the preschoolers were more likely to give the creative explanation than were the 6-year-olds or adults. Now, however, the teenagers were the most creative group of all. They were more likely to choose the unusual explanation than were either the 6-year-olds or the adults.

但在社会性问题上出现了另一种规律。学龄前儿童得出不寻常解释的几率依然比6岁儿童或成人高。然而在这里,最具创意的群体变成了青少年。无论是6岁儿童还是成年人,得出不寻常解释的可能性都低于这个年龄段的人。

Why does creativity generally tend to decline as we age? One reason may be that as we grow older, we know more. That’s mostly an advantage, of course. But it also may lead us to ignore evidence that contradicts what we already think. We become too set in our ways to change.

为什么创造力总体上会随着年龄的增长而下降?其中一个原因是年纪越大,知道的越多。这在多数时候当然是一种优势。但这也会导致我们忽视那些有悖于我们的既有认知的迹象。我们变得过于固守陈规。

Relatedly, the explanation may have to do with a tension between two kinds of thinking: what computer scientists call exploration and exploitation. When we face a new problem, we adults usually exploit the knowledge about the world we have acquired so far. We try to quickly find a pretty good solution that is close to the solutions we already have. On the other hand, exploration — trying something new — may lead us to a more unusual idea, a less obvious solution, a new piece of knowledge. But it may also mean that we waste time considering crazy possibilities that will never work, something both preschoolers and teenagers have been known to do.

与此相关的是,这些解释涉及两种思维方式的对立,也就是电脑科学家所说的“探索”(exploration)与“利用”(exploitation)。每当遇到新问题,我们成年人通常会利用迄今获得的知识。我们试图迅速找到一个相当不错的解决方案,要与已有的方案差不多。而探索型思维方式会尝试新的东西,可能会促使我们得出一个不那么寻常的想法,一个不显见的解决方案,一项新的知识。但与此同时,这可能也意味着我们会浪费很多时间在完全不可行的疯狂假设上,学龄前儿童和青少年都有这个倾向。

This idea suggests a solution to the evolutionary paradox that is human childhood and adolescence. We humans have an exceptionally long childhood and prolonged adolescence. Why make human children so helpless for so long, and make human adults invest so much time and effort into caring for them?

这一理念也许可以解释人类童年和青春期这个演化怪象。我们人类有着格外漫长的童年和没完没了的青春期。为什么要让幼年人类经历如此漫长而无助的阶段,让成年人类要花那么多时间和精力去照顾他们?

The answer: Childhood and adolescence may, at least in part, be designed to resolve the tension between exploration and exploitation. Those periods of our life give us time to explore before we have to face the stern and earnest realities of grown-up life. Teenagers may no longer care all that much about how the physical world works. But they care a lot about exploring all the ways that the social world can be organized. And that may help each new generation change the world.

答案:童年与青春期可能是用来化解探索与利用的对立的,这至少是一部分目的。在面对成人生活的严酷与真切现实之前,我们可以在人生的这几个阶段去探索。青少年可能已经不太关心实体世界是如何运转的。但他们会非常用心地探索社会的组织方式。这也许有助于新生的一代人去改变世界。

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