I have just listened to a brilliant TED talk about what it’s like inside the mind of a baby. The talk is by Alison Gopnik, professor or psychology and philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley. Prof Gopnik is the author of The Philosophical Baby and The Scientist in the Crib. In a nutshell, she says that being a baby is like being in love in Paris for the first time after 3 double espressos. In other words, it’s outrageously fantastic, but probably likely to keep you buzzing and wide-awake at 2am.
The minds of babies are like the ‘research and development division of the human species’. They equip themselves for the future by taking in as much as possible about the world before they grow up and become independent. They are like extremely sophisticated computers, wired for holding and gathering knowledge and information. Babies and young children constantly conduct their own scientific experiments through their natural and curious exploratory play. Their consciousness is expansive and each experience is an opportunity for new growth and learning.
Babies and young children are designed for learning and they do so constantly. Prof Gopnik gives an example of an experiment with 18 month olds. These toddlers have learned – over the course of about 3 months – how to figure out when someone else prefers broccoli to crackers. These tots will actually offer the broccoli to the other person if it has been made clear to them that broccoli was that person’s preference. At 15 months, the tots couldn’t comprehend that anyone would actually prefer broccoli to crackers. Although they gave it some time and thought, they mostly offered the crackers to the broccoli-lover (at the age of 15 months), apparently in disbelief that this strange food preference could actually be true.
You have probably noticed that babies often flit like butterflies from one thing to another, taking in information about anything and everything. They haven’t yet learned how to focus on one thing and screen out everything else. Their minds are open, creative and flexible, offering an impressive context for new learning.
These insights make me question the fact that we put so much energy into imposing our strict adult rules on very young babies. I do realize that an important part of a parents’ job is to teach children about the laws of civilized society. But perhaps sometimes there might not be enough awareness about the miracles that are happening each moment inside of a baby or young child’s mind.
Please share your thoughts about this and watch Prof Gopnik’s TED talk if you get the chance.