Saturday 20 September 2014

Men of Yore: Jean Piaget

This is another in a series of posts about men from history who have either achieved great things in one form or another by pushing boundaries: either in themselves or in society or science or exploration of some form. Boundary pushing and growth is what men do, it's their nature: to grow and push outwards. We, as men, are the frontiers men, the first to discover/uncover new territory, in a metaphysical sense (i.e. including both material and the immaterial) that is later colonised and 'civilised' by the rest of humanity.

Jean Piaget

Jean Piaget was born on August 9, 1896, in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. Over the course of his career in child psychology, he identified four stages of mental development, called “schema.” He also developed new fields of scientific study, including cognitive theory and developmental psychology. Piaget received the Erasmus Prize in 1972 and the Balzan Prize in 1978. He died on September 16, 1980, in Geneva, Switzerland.  

Early Life
Biologist and psychologist Jean Piaget was born on August 9, 1896, in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. He was his parents’ first child. Piaget’s mother, Rebecca Jackson, attributed his intense early interest in the sciences to his own neurotic tendencies. Yet Piaget’s father, a medieval literature professor named Arthur, modeled a passionate dedication to his studies—a trait that Jean Piaget began to emulate from an early age. At just 10 years old, Piaget’s fascination with mollusks drew him to the local museum of natural history, where he stared at specimens for hours on end. When he was 11 and attending Neuchâtel Latin High School, Piaget wrote a short scientific paper on the albino sparrow. By the time he was a teen, his papers on mollusks were being widely published. Piaget’s readers were unaware of his age and considered him an expert on the topic.

After high school, Piaget went on to study zoology at the University of Neuchâtel, receiving his Ph.D. in the natural sciences in 1918. In 1918, Piaget spent a semester studying psychology under Carl Jung and Paul Eugen Bleuler at the University of Zürich, where Piaget developed a deeper interest in psychoanalysis. Over the course of the next year, he studied abnormal psychology at the Sorbonne in Paris.
Psychological Studies
In 1920, working in collaboration with Théodore Simon at the Alfred Binet Laboratory in Paris, Piaget evaluated the results of standardized reasoning tests that Simon had designed. The tests were meant to measure child intelligence and draw connections between a child’s age and the nature of his errors. For Piaget it raised new questions about the way that children learn. Piaget ultimately decided that the test was too rigid. In a revised version, he allowed children to explain the logic of their "incorrect" answers. In reading the children’s explanations, he realized that children’s power of reasoning was not flawed after all. In areas where children lacked life experience as a point of reference, they logically used their imagination to compensate. He additionally concluded that factual knowledge should not be equated with intelligence or understanding.

Over the course of his six-decade career in child psychology, Piaget also identified four stages of mental development, called Schema. The first is the "sensorimotor stage," which involves learning through motor actions, and takes place when children are 0–2 years old. During the "preoperation stage," children aged 3–7 develop intelligence by using their natural intuition. During the "concrete operational stage," children 8–11 develop cognitively through the use of logic that is based on concrete evidence. "Formal operations," the fourth and final stage, involves 12-to-15-year-olds forming the ability to think abstractly. Piaget called his collective theories on child development "Piaget’s Genetic Epistemology."
Death and Legacy
Jean Piaget died of unknown causes on September 16, 1980, in Geneva, Switzerland. He was 84 years old. His body rests at the Cimetière des Plainpalais.

Piaget is responsible for developing entirely new fields of scientific study, including cognitive theory and developmental psychology. The recipient of the prestigious Erasmus (1972) and Balzan (1978) prizes, he summed up his passion for the ongoing pursuit of scientific knowledge with these words: "The current state of knowledge is a moment in history, changing just as rapidly as the state of knowledge in the past has ever changed and, in many instances, more rapidly."


Empathising with children is something that I think we can all agree is, on the whole, a good thing as it allows us to make there lives on planet Earth more pleasant than they otherwise might be.  If we didn't empathise with them and see the world from their perspective then we would see them as more like other material possessions.  Material possessions which could either be good, like economic resources (e.g. child labour) or pets (e.g. child-pageants), or material possessions which could be bad inconvenient (e.g. abortions) or an annoyance (e.g. corporal punishment).  None of these perspectives are human/humane ones.

Thankfully though we see, or are beginning to see, children as more than material possessions and as (relatively) autonomous human beings who have thoughts and feelings of their own.  Jean Piaget was one of the men who was responsible for this change in perspective, to viewing children in a more positive light and treating them as human beings rather than possessions who can be filled with data, or dressed up and put on a stage, or whatever.


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