Evil is for children too


The witch- Albrecht Dürer

The problem of evil is probably the most disturbing issue that human beings have to face. What is evil and where does it come from? Do we deserve it? This type of questions haunt us all of our lives, and the way we deal with them will most certainly define who we are. It is not often that we come to think about our first contact with this matter: I don’t mean experiencing real evil, but rather, how we came to know its existence in the world. In most of the Western world, this comes through fairytales.

The stories that we grew up with are the ones that the Grimm brothers, Christian Andersen and Charles Perrault wrote based on European oral tradition. Yet, through time they have been modified and censored to suit the current public. Is it perhaps that children nowadays are more sensitive to cruelty, in other words, to the problem of evil? However, haven’t there been many complaints from parents about videogames and movies making children violent and tolerant towards brutality? The concern about what the young should know and think is continuously present in society because adults are aware that the stance that one takes about the problem of evil is crucial in order to shape morally responsible people.

What can indeed be tricky is deciding what to include and what not to include in children’s stories. Often, extreme censorship is lead by parents who enjoy economic stability and to whom poverty and hunger are far an issue, and who want to protect their babies from learning that the world is not all unicorns and bubbles. Denying evil to children is quite problematic, since it is a matter that all human beings have to face and think about.

It is fine to include a wicked witch or a bad wolf in fairytales; these characters will introduce children to important human questions.


P.S. The fact that most villains in traditional fairytales are independent women is another interesting topic that may be considered in another entry in this blog.


Mind the (mental) gap.


If I told you that your mind was full of gaps, you might think I’m just being rude.
But in reality, you have trillions of them inside your brain.

When I say gaps, I don’t mean physical holes in your brain, I mean synapses.

Synapses are connections between two brain cells. It is when one cell “talks” to another. If these brain cells or neurons, don’t communicate, they wouldn’t be useful at all.
This is why it is fundamental that you have little spaces where they can exchange information.
But it doesn’t all just happen randomly. Neurons don’t just phone each other up to spill their secrets, they use electricity and chemistry as their language. And every synapse happens in an organised way:

1. An electrical impulse travels down the longest bit in the neuron, called the axon. This electricity is called an action potential, which is created by an imbalance in charge outside and inside the cell.
The electricity shoots down this line jumping between insulated bits until it reaches the axon terminal.

2. The electricity reaches then end of the axon. At this point, chemicals which are stored inside the cell are launched into the gap between the neurons. These chemicals are called neurotransmitters.
They can either have an excitatory or an inhibitory effect on a neuron. In other words, they either stimulate or calm
the neuron.

3. The neurotransmitters travel through the gap between neurons towards the neuron on the receiving end. Where specific receptors are waiting for them.

4. The chemical messengers will dock on receptors specific to them. Many of these receptors need to be taken up in order for the neuron to receive the message. This is called an activation threshold. If the minimum number of neurotransmitter molecules do not find their way across the gap, then no signal will be detected by the neuron. Synapse

This all happens to allow you to have thoughts, memories and to move. As you read this, new synapses are forming in your brain, allowing you to recall this in the future.

Synapses are so important to our cognitive processes and yet most people ignore how they work.

So next time you feel like you have too many things missing in your mind, remember that gaps are what make up your knowledge.


CrashCourse Anatomy and Physiology video on synapses: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VitFvNvRIIY
Neuroscience for Kids synapse explanation: https://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/synapse.html
Alzheimer’s Association “Brain tour”: https://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/synapse.html