A sweeping view of cognitive development and cultural evolution that attempts to explain kids today.
Parents often complain that today’s youth are slow to grow up, settle down or hold a steady job. Cerridwen, in this debut work, agrees: “Young people drift in and out of school and in and out of a variety of jobs while they try to get their bearings.” Here, she offers an explanation based in psychology, history and literature. She begins with her slant on theories of cognitive development, which divide our lives into periods of increasing mental capacity; infants focus on sensory and motor skills, and in early childhood, humans form the ability for abstract thinking. Cerridwen contends that the “linear period,” in which “people have the ability to step outside their native world view and determine if it is the correct one or not,” begins in late childhood and, until recently, continued through adulthood. She proposes, however, that a new stage of development has emerged over the past 60 years: “the complex nonlinear period.” This cognitive capacity allows people to hold conflicting views, understand open-ended systems and deal with continuous feedback. In the second part of her book, Cerridwen surveys literature from the past 3,000 years in a bid to show that cultural evolution roughly follows the stages of cognitive development. Primitive cultures advanced only as far as today’s 7-year-old, she writes, while classic and modern cultures reached the aforementioned linear period. The book’s final section looks at current cultural and cognitive shifts, which Cerridwen likens to a midlife crisis. Citing such diverse sources as scientist James Lovelock’s earth-system hypothesis and Helen Fielding’s 1996 novel Bridget Jones’s Diary, she contends that ours is the first historical era to have an additional stage—complex nonlinear thinking—before we reach full maturity; hence, we need an extra 10 years to grow up. Intriguingly, she pins this shift on a rejection of authoritarianism rather than on the rise of the information age. Cerridwen’s intellectual scope is impressive; true to her own ideas on complexity, she eschews academic boundaries, mixes scholarly and personal writing, and frequently shifts scales from the historical to the individual. Her point may require more synthesis and fewer examples, but devoted readers will certainly find kernels of wisdom here.
A dizzyingly expansive book on cognitive development with some intriguing ideas.