an infantologist writes

an online discussion of whether all babies are cute lead to a friend stating this

Who said babies are interesting? They need to get out more….

The possibility of life on Mars is interesting, something that dribbles a lot and craps its pants all the time, is not.

But some of them are definitely cute.

I had to respond:

Babies have to be among the most interesting things out there. some tiny microbes on mars might be diverting for a while, but people are much more fascinating and we all started life as babies.. arrived without a fucking clue about anything and had to spend a lifetime learning about the world.. the process continues throughout life but it is at it’s most intense in the first year and a bit of life. and what you learn there sets up everything that comes afterwards.. before you can learn even the most obvious things we all take for granted, you have get to grips with some very sophisticated and subtle first principles: gravity, solidity of objects and their continuity in time, sense of self and some perspective on your relationship with ‘others’, what language is all about, etc.

and they are not just little rational calculators experimenting on the world to discover how and why it works.. they have to learn through a haze of confusion.. it is often said that the experience of being a baby is like a strong acid trip. I think that’s probably not too far from the truth.. and it’s a trip that just doesn’t stop and where you have no prior experience of what ‘reality’ really is to guide you. so imagine being dosed up on acid and being plonked in the martian equivalent of downtown bombay.

To take an example from my own research.. I am attempting to discover the origins of concept formation in infancy. How do babies learn to find patterns and regularities in the world.. all these small furry animals are dogs, those ones are cats, this one specifically is Spot and this one Felix and collectively they’re all pets. And they’re also mammals, animals, things you might expect to meet in the home or see in cartoons. But what do dogs have in common? even adults can’t really tell you.. there are some features (fur, tail, black shiny nose ) but lots of these are common with lots of other types of things and they aren’t all present all the time.. mostly we just ‘know one when we see one’ and we do that effortlessly.. precisely because of all the learning we did in that first year and half. sorting, classifying making sense of the world.

And having got all that sorted, you now have to learn to classify people, food, toys, furniture, vehicles, emotions, abstract relations. And all this while trying to learn a first language from scratch at the same. Gosh, it’s complicated being a baby. No wonder they’re bursting into tears all the time.

About caspar

Caspar is just one monkey among billions. Battering his keyboard without expectations even of peanuts, let alone of aping the Immortal Bard. By day he is an infantologist at Birkbeck Babylab, by night he runs
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