Stages of Cognitive Development

Childhood and Developmental psychology classes helped me learn and understand the different stages that children pass through as they grow, particularly the stages of awareness and consciousness. Piaget’s 4 stages of cognitive development highlight the ways in which we all expand our perception of ourselves and the world around us as we age.

In the first stage, we gain object permanence, we begin to understand that we are separate entities from others, and that our actions affect the world around us. In the second stage we are largely only focused on ourselves and our own perspective. This stage is also where we first begin to be able to think symbolically, grasping that images can represent ideas and objects. We still think in concrete terms and struggle with abstract concepts. The third stage is where we begin to develop our logic and reasoning skills. The fourth and “final” stage is where we form the ability to think abstractly and contemplate hypothetical situations.

You may notice that I’ve put the word “final” in quotation marks, and I have good reason for that. It occurred to me the other day when I was thinking about the idea of faith and the many aspects of reality and life that we cannot know. I began to wonder why it is that it seems so absurd to consider there being more to reality than we can hope to conceive of in our current human state. Psychology has already laid out the ways that a child’s brain is different than an adult’s and has a more limited ability to process the world. Why do we assume then that a fully formed adult brain necessarily has overcome all of these cognitive limitations? In fact, based on Piaget’s theory, it seems logical to infer we may still not have all the pieces of the puzzle when it comes to perceiving ourselves and the world around us.

It practical terms, it does us no good to try to operate in the world on this premise. All we can do is use the information available to us in order to live. However, this idea that there is potentially much more to this world than we are able to understand is one that brings me comfort. This is my rather garbled attempt to emphasize the fact that faith may not be as groundless as I, myself, once thought. It allows me to more easily surrender to that unknown aspect of this universe and trust that, even when I don’t understand it, there is some higher purpose, or meaning to all of this. There is much more going on than my brain is capable of grasping. Perhaps death is the final stage of cognitive development.

The Comfort of Not Knowing

If you saw my post yesterday, you already know that I have little to no expectations for the future. I am just trying my best to be grateful for the amount of life I have been given and not worry about the years of growing old that may be lost to me. I’ve always had a hard time imagining myself being old anyway. The thought is pretty unsettling actually. However, obviously I don’t know everything.

I am simply making an educated guess based on all of the information I have available to me. I recognize that there are still things in this existence that I don’t know about or understand. Laugh if you like, but taking LSD has humbled me. It showed me that even when you think you are seeing everything, there are always new perspectives and new discoveries to be made. There is still so much about this life that we do not understand, and most likely never will.

For someone will such a dark outlook on the world and the future, this is a great comfort. Not knowing is something to be grateful for. There are few things more beautiful and enlivening than being surprised. No matter how much you learn or know, this life is always full of surprises. Amongst the monotonous daily drudgery, lurk the most unlikely things.

If I’ve learned anything, the farther in the future something is, the less accurate any predictions you make will be. It’s almost like the butterfly effect played out before our eyes. Small, seemingly insignificant details can snowball into relevant factors for the future in unpredictable ways. Now perhaps this is just a depressed mind grasping for some shred of hope, but even though I’ve lost any expectation that humanity can or will rise to the occasion, I have opened my mind to other (albeit somewhat ridiculous) possibilities.

This strange comfort of “not knowing” struck me one day as I was watching alien conspiracy theories. *Pause for laughter* Yes, I realize how silly that may sound. But hear me out. From a purely mathematical and probability perspective, aliens exist somewhere out there in the vastness of space. This I’ve accepted with not much interest. It doesn’t mean they have or will ever make any kind of contact with us. However, there are a lot of unexplained wonders that exist across the world that some people suspect have alien origins.

Obviously just because something can’t be explained, doesn’t mean we can assign any fanciful explanation we want. But the fact remains, there are quite a lot of things in this world that for the time being we are completely at a loss to explain. Whether that means there are aliens or ghosts or whatever is irrelevant. It simply means we don’t know everything.

Sometimes I like to amuse myself by coming up with outlandish ideas of how the world may not end. Maybe aliens arrive and save us and the planet, maybe something like this pandemic takes out the majority of the population before we have the chance to put the final nail in our environmental coffin, maybe the world governments have some kind of contingency plan that will save us at the last moment, maybe an amazing technology is being invented as we speak that will change everything. It could also very well be something I am entirely unable to imagine. I’ve also learned from taking acid that even our imagination doesn’t define the limits of what is possible.

It seems like most of the population has been continuing on with a foolish sense of assurance due to a vague idea of these ace in the hole possibilities. I’m not among those that always think everything will work out for the best somehow. I don’t believe there is a god up there that has a plan for all of us. I don’t believe humans are some type of miracle of creation or evolution. The universe couldn’t care less whether we exist or not. Despite all of that though, I do accept I don’t know everything. And I am interested to see what surprises are still waiting for me.

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