Zetsuen no Tempest Episode 04: Childhood and the Nature of Evidence

Young Mahiro and Yoshino in the hospital from Zetsuen no Tempest, Blast of TempestThere’s this great scene in  the fourth episode of Zetsuen no Tempest (going forward, just Tempest) in which Yoshino is (reluctantly) getting acquainted with Mahiro.  The latter is in the hospital due to being accidentally run over by a motorcycle.  Trouble is, Mahiro doesn’t actually believe that the wreck was an accident.  He postulates a cover-up meant to conceal the driver’s real motive of killing him.  Why does Mahiro think this?  What sort of proof does he have concerning the intentions of the biker?

He “felt” the bloodlust.

Mahiro does not see the face of the driver, nor does he know his identity.  There are no antecendent threats on Mahiro’s life.  In fact, apart from his intuition, Mahiro has no logical or empirical evidence to back up his assertions.  Yet, he and Yoshino do not act as if this is at all strange.  They proceed to gather the kind of evidence that will force adults to take Mahiro’s claim seriously, since they won’t act on Mahiro’s intuition alone.  I suppose it is the adults who are strange?

Some may say this is “just anime being anime.”  Perhaps the creators really were just cutting narrative corners and didn’t intend to communicate anything over and above the actual events of the plot.  However, I happen to think that this little scene conveys some interesting ideas about the nature of evidence, specifically how and why the criteria for what counts as evidence changes when children become adults.

Suggested Soundtrack for Reading – New Radicals “You Get What You Give”

Young Mahiro in the hospital from Zetsuen no Tempest, Blast of Tempest

This post is not intended as a value judgment concerning”who has it right” about the nature of evidence.  I am not endorsing any particular criteria or lamenting that some criteria or other are not used universally.  I am merely commenting on one aspect of what I see as happening during the transition from childhood to adulthood.

There is a specific, legal use of the term “evidence” which refers to anything used to show the truth or falsehood of someone’s claim.  Here, I will use it to mean that which counts (for normal, rational beings) as justification for believing someone’s claim(s) to be reasonable.  My assertion is justified as rational if I have good evidence to support it.  This begs the question, “What are the criteria for evidence, anyway?”  The answer, perhaps unsurprisingly, is that there are several  answers.

I will parse some into two groups:  internal criteria and external criteria.  This division is based on whether access to the evidence is private (internal) or public (external).  Internal criteria for something to count as evidence include: intuition, a certain mental state or set of mental states, and some internal experience or other.  External criteria include:  valid (or, optionally, sound) logical arguments, cogent (or, optionally, strong) logical arguments, and empirical data.  These lists and the groups they belong to are not meant to be taken as exhaustive or authoritative.

Now, back to Tempest.  Mahiro and Yoshino clearly see internal criteria as valid.  Mahiro ardently believes he is justified due to his intuition, and Yoshino seems to believe likewise.  However, though he feels he is so clearly justified, Mahiro also feels the need to find evidence that satisfies external criteria because these are the criteria that adults, i.e. those who get stuff done, accept.  Why does what counts as acceptable evidence change from childhood to adulthood?  I have a couple of ideas.

I think that the younger a person is, the more likely they are to heavily lean upon internal criteria, simply due to the fact that they aren’t well acquainted (at least consciously) with external justifiers.  Establishing what are and are not good rules of inference can be a bit of a tricky business.  Then there is the matter of sorting logical fallacies from deductively sound/inductively strong reasoning, a process that many adults have yet to complete.  So, there’s a lotta trial and error going on here (though, once again, not necessarily consciously).  Of course, then, it makes sense that kids would foster a reliance on intuition or internal experience.  It seems plausible that this could originate from, say, a process of reverse engineering; they select what they believe to be paradigm examples of good evidence and take their internal feeling(s) about these examples as indicators of what counts as evidence.  The idea isn’t that children reject external criteria, it’s that they view internal criteria as equally valid and perhaps also as more reliable.

Mahiro explaining to Yoshino in the hospital, from Zetsuen no Tempest, Blast of Tempest

The world is smaller when you’re a kid.  I don’t think that there is a lot of truly global thinking going on in a normal child’s brain.  Babies are, naturally, completely self-focused and their sphere of care and attention slowly expands over time.  The age of the boys in this scene of Tempest is one in which their world, what matters to them, consists of their family, friends and maybe their local acquaintances (guy who runs that shop!  heeeeeyyy!).  Smallness of one’s world is relevant to the discussion of evidence in that, when your world is small, the need for everyone, those inside and outside of your world, to approve of your claim(s) as reasonable is not felt as strongly.  Often times, family and friends don’t even need a child to bring forth evidence that meets external criteria.  They believe her intuition and never ask for anything more.   So, we can see that children might not develop the sense that there are requirements for evidence that go beyond their own internal criteria.

Here, I come to what I believe to be the most interesting reason that standards of evidence change with age.  Children are more in touch with their own feelings than adults are with theirs.  This is a sentiment which anime directors such as Hayao Miyazaki have expressed through their work.  If you haven’t noticed, kids are really, really good at concisely and effectively expressing how they feel.  They might not even know the name for what they’re feeling or how to talk about it, but they sure can get it out there.  The need for a filter or check point between our feelings and our actions doesn’t arise until later on.

As we grow up, we find that we need to filter our feelings and sort them into groups such as ‘OK to express aloud,” “Not OK to express aloud,” “Not OK, period,” and “I dunno what the hell this is, and I don’t have time to think about it, so I’mma shove it down.”  How to act appropriately becomes more important than being in touch with your self.  Gradually, the connection between our feelings and our understanding becomes more and more static-full (some even sever it).   With effort, adults can re-train themselves to better understand their own feelings, but this takes time and energy.  To be clear, I am not condemning the concept of public behavior; I think decorum is quite valuable and necessary.  However, I do think that something can be lost when we make no effort to understand ourselves.

The upshot of this point is that if adults do not understand their own feelings, it is easy to see how they do not put a lot of stock in things like intuition.  Naturally, people will be skeptical of a process that (a) they cannot “see” or access and (b) they cannot execute themselves.  Children, on the other hand, possess a much tighter connection to their feelings, so if they observe another child who makes sincere claims based on intuition, they can more readily sympathize.  Adults will probably say that such children are simply naive, but maybe this is just the difference between internalists and externalists about evidence.

Zetsuen no Tempest Episode 04: Childhood and the Nature of Evidence

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