Departmental Colloquium: Cathal O'Madagain, École Normale Superieure
Developmental Origins of Objectivity
A concept that we repeatedly lean on as scientists is that of objectivity: the idea that the facts are independent of anyone’s beliefs. This is what motivates us to look for evidence that might confirm or disconfirm a hypothesis, and why we have a ‘reliability coder’ double-check our observations; it might even be said that science is unintelligible without invoking the concept of objectivity. What is the developmental origin of this concept? Here I explore the development of false belief understanding – a key component of the concept – and raise challenges for whether tests developed so far should be thought to really get at an understanding of objectivity. I then present preliminary results from a new study that aims to get closer to a general test for objectivity – a test that requires participants to understand that ‘anyone can be wrong’ about the facts. I end with some considerations for how language and social interaction may play a role in the development of this concept.