There’s a scene in Six Degrees of Separation, where the Donald Sutherland character tells some friends at a party:
I remembered asking my kids’ second-grade teacher:
“Why are all your students geniuses?”
Look at the first grade – blotches of green and black. The third grade – camouflage.
But your grade, the second grade…
Matisses, every one.
Like art, science relies on a combination of understanding and curiosity. As we gain wisdom and experience over time, we should be better able to understand what is going on; but with time can also come cynicism and boredom, especially if one’s exposure to the subject fails to convey the underlying mystery behind the essential grunt work. So there can be a point of diminishing returns.
In art, if John Guare’s judgment is to be trusted, that point often comes between second grade and third grade. What about science, you are no doubt wondering? Eli Lansey has done the research, and has the answer to your question: between fifth and sixth grade. The same set of cool physics demos, presented to each class, was met with dramatically different responses; excitement and independent investigation from the fifth graders, blase indifference from the sixth graders.
Like any good scientist, Eli also has a theory about why this is the case. What is more, he has data to back it up! I won’t give away the theory, but it was inspired by classroom poster presentations that looked like this: