Santa and other delusions

Given how I seem to support no delusions, how can I justify perpetuating the myth of Santa Claus with my kids (oldest nearing 10)? First, I have to say I am not entirely convinced it is a good idea. I’d be open to evidence (not just opinion!) of the harm, but I haven’t actually seen any. Further, there seems to be a need for fantasy play with children below a certain age (somewhere around 10). I am not sure of the developmental role, but the behavior (even without adult help) is ubiquitous. Finally, it is fun and interesting. Here’s a little sample story that happened this year, that made me understand that I have no idea how kids are actually perceiving the world.

We had gotten an Elf-on-the-Shelf this year for the first time. Our kids had seen them before, at school and at friends houses, so they were familiar with the rules: no touching the elf (or he loses his powers); the elf can’t touch the ground at all; you can talk to him all you want (but he won’t talk back to you); he goes off each night, and returns in a new place in the house where you need to find him. Now, one morning we hadn’t secured our little elf too well…he was sitting on a stuffed Santa, hanging on a door. At one point the kids started shouting because the Elf was leaning way over about to fall. After a little bit of concern, all the kids had something in another room to do, and I managed to adjust him back up, secure him, and go into another room myself. When they returned, they were all abuzz with how he had leaned down all by himself, and gotten up all by himself, etc… I suggested perhaps the Santa had helped him up. Very seriously, they looked at me and said “Dad, that’s just a stuffed Santa”.

Now I realize that people see agency in non-living things, but it was amazing to see the same done on such a selective basis. Now sure what it means, except that I have no idea how they perceive the world.


About brianblais

I am a professor of Science and Technology at Bryant University in Smithfield, RI, and a research professor in the Institute for Brain and Neural Systems, Brown University. My research is in computational neuroscience and statistics. I teach physics, meteorology, astonomy, theoretical neuroscience, systems dynamics, artificial intelligence and robotics. My book, "Theory of Cortical Plasticity" (World Scientific, 2004), details a theory of learning and memory in the cortex, and presents the consequences and predictions of the theory. I am an avid python enthusiast, and a Bayesian (a la E. T. Jaynes), and love music.
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3 Responses to Santa and other delusions

  1. Steve Winsor says:

    Brian, are you seriously saying that Santa Claus is only a myth? Shame… Good thing physicists are not in charge of this world…what a bloody boring and bland place it would be.

    I’ll give you credit, though…you did suggest to the kids that Santa had helped the Elf…blue star for you. 🙂

  2. brianblais says:

    Actually I didn’t say they “Santa had helped”. I said “perhaps Santa might have helped”. I put the idea out there, to see whether they thought it was plausible, not as a statement of fact. Even with Santa I find it hard to deliberately state things I know are false.

  3. Steve Winsor says:

    In our quest to be ‘human’, we must at times compromise our positions and beliefs that temporarily violate our closely-held principles. Brian, by perpetuating the myth of Santa with your children, you are proving that indeed, you are human. I did have my doubts there for a short while. 🙂

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