The Keys to Narnia


Through the eye of a child. Christina Kilgour/Flickr/Getty

If we learned anything from the tales of our childhood, it's that only the young see the world as it really is.

After all, who spoke with Puff the Magic Dragon and plunged through the portal to Narnia? Who ventures to Neverland and dances with the Totoro in the magical forest?

We accept without questioning a child's natural proclivity toward the unreal and imagined. Yet we so easily fall into the trap of thinking science, mathematics and geography are beyond them.

But of course the scientific world is resplendent with unseen worlds illuminated through science, from the cosmic immensity of wheel galaxies to the shadow world of quantum physics. The maps we study and memorize create an unreal version of the world we experience, while mathematics reveals the true magic underpinning reality.

We all know it already, but it bears constant reminding for parents, educators and science communicators alike: Children are natural born dreamers and natural born scientists.

Infants are actually more conscious of the world around them than adults. Their young brains brim with neural connections as they immerse themselves fully in the sense world around them. They can gaze for hours at the wonders of a ceiling fan, while we often forget it's there and never stop to consider how it works.

Our brains come pre-loaded with the tools we need to make sense of this world. It's only as adults that we let preconceived notions stand in the way of statistical clarity, but as children we're masters of Bayesian logic. We're also natural Euclidians, using geometry to understand before we can even wield language.

And when it comes to magical powers, it's only as adults that we convince ourselves that the impossible is real. In test after test, children display an innate understanding of the basic physical laws dictating what is and isn't possible.

Finally, children play, and when they play they engage the hallmarks of scientific experimentation. They celebrate uncertainty, open themselves up to possibility and cooperate as they attempt to touch the unseen.

Crystal castles. Molecular bonds. Dragon fire and the atomic brilliance of a distant supernova. Their minds are open to these unseen wonders. We have but to engage them.


About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.