Into the Minds of Babes

“The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives.” ~ Albert Einstein

My thoughts on our recent consideration Living from the Inside Out have continued to evolve and I was thrilled to receive a link to a fascinating TED talk from a friend who knew I was following out this line of thought. Professor Alison Gopnik of the University of California at Berkeley presented this talk at the recent TED Global 2011 and I know that you will find her discoveries to be insightful and thought-provoking:
http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

While we’re on the topic of the cycle of life, I cannot help but note that our modern view of time, that is, that time is linear, is a relatively recent phenomenon. For many thousands of years prior, time was seen as cyclical. The ancient Greeks, for instance, generally saw time as a circle, where “ages of mankind” repeat themselves over the course of large periods of history. If you study the rise and fall of empires throughout recorded history, it’s easy to see why such a view would prevail, not just in small pockets of time and people, but in the consciousness of all of mankind over large spans of time.

The present linear conception of time gained sway in medieval times, and many scholars argue that Augustine of Hippo’s treatise, The City of God, set the form in which the cement of our present view cured. The Christian view of an irreversible progression from Creation to Judgment dominated early European history and despite the best efforts of the great thinkers of the Enlightenment, it continues to condition many of our present day thoughts on time.

In my view the cycle of life, the circle of life, need not be as linear as we tend to make it. We need not abandon strategies that served us well in our youth, such as the one that Professor Gopnik outlined which allowed us to learn at a mind-boggling pace in our youth, just because we have moved on in years. Of course our minds do change and refine over time, and we obviously develop the ability to narrow the focus of our attention over longer periods of time as we grow older, but is it wise to bury old approaches simply because we’ve developed new ones? Are we so “above” the past that we cannot employ old strategies just because time has progressed?

You may recall the song recorded by Doris Day and Frank Sinatra entitled “Young at Heart” from the album of the same title released in 1954. I believe that there is inestimable value in maintaining a part of you – in both heart and mind – young and supple. Old age tends to crystallize things: fluid ideas become rigid opinions, elastic fascia becomes hardened and restrictive and so on. In many cases, it is not old age that does it per se, but the beliefs that we hold about aging.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter as well as strategies you’ve employed to stay young in heart and mind. We can help one another in this regard and more than that, we need one another in this regard. Truth and beauty are so vast, so profound, yet we tend to view them through an increasingly tightly focused lens as we grow older. Sometimes zooming out opens more doors to understanding than zooming in.

Fairy tales can come true. It can happen to you. If you’re young at heart…

8 thoughts on “Into the Minds of Babes

  1. Colin

    That was a great video. The graphic where it showed the more dispersed form of learning that we have at an early age was really fascinating. I agree with you that we should not necessarily give up our earlier forms of learning as we age, physiology notwithstanding. I’m sure that we can take the lesson that was so obvious in this video and apply it to other areas in our life. Unfortunately, many people walk through life neither with the laserlike focus that an adult has available, nor the absorption ability of a baby. To have both would definetly mean we were living an uncommon life!

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  2. David R

    Interesting research! Relaxing the linear logic that tends to govern our ideas of cause and effect can open the door to an understanding of the magical ways life works to accomplish its ends. Relative to children in particular we can see how insensitive our established approaches have been, and it is tragic to see the results, but no doubt the same principles apply to any number of areas. There is design in development, intelligence in the unfoldment of things from one stage to another. Our thinking processes themselves have been victims of the failure to understand these things, and so some rebirth is needed there. Profound starting points here.

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  3. Coco

    I looked at the time it would take to listen to the TED talk and thought for a minute I didn’t have the time right now. I’m so glad I did. This is one of those posts that open up a whole new avenue of consciousness. I love to learn and I appreciate the challenge to a conventional school of thought.They’re not always found to be incorrect but it is exciting to see an aperture for a new idea or piece to the puzzle of the grand scheme of things.

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  4. Kimberly

    Excellent TED talk. Makes me think of all the children I see in our schools that are on “focus” drugs. It seems we may be short changing them by inhibiting their expansive learning cycle. Her idea that children are not malfunctioning adults is one I’d like to spread the word about…they’re children and it seems there’s more to that story! Thanks for the post, I’ll share it.

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  5. Ricardo B.

    This brings up many many points to consider…..rigidity goes along with infallability; the moment we think our viewpoint on anything is without question is the moment we excessively narrow our focus and thus our interpretation of the world ceases to become accurate. Perhaps that’s what the term narrow-mindedness attempts to describe.
    What’s helpful in science is what Professor Gopnik describes in the scientific method, where a hypothesis is formed – an idea about how something may work – and then tested against the available conditions to see if the idea holds true. Typically a hypothesis turns into a theory if it cannot be disproved over time, which is much different than trying to prove the idea, for you may accidentally set up the conditions where the hypothesis is more likely to hold true rather than seeing the areas where it doesn’t. I’ve heard this concept being called ‘cherry-picking’.
    I have found that helpful to me, to see where there are gaps in my thinking, reasoning and feeling instead of quickly jumping to solidify my position on a given subject. I’ve observed how I’ve made that mistake in the past many times and thus learned that it’s best to take a stance of humility before the vast sea of knowledge and wisdom.
    So, staying young at heart, in the spirit of this post, would mean to consistently put yourself in situations where you don’t know what’s going on and you are forced to learn and adapt to this new environment and even be humble enough to ask for help and direction if needed. This could mean learning anything new or it could mean travelling to a foreign country or it could mean visiting a new park nearby, or eating a new cuisine, whatever. Basically, be wary of falling into predictable routines that may serve to simply reinforce your existing thoughts and beliefs about the world. Senses are dulled with hard routines, and conversely sharpened with novel ones as your adaptive physiology is kicked into high gear. Be willing to entertain contrary ideas and savor them as you would a good meal to see if there is anything of substance. Learning is a joy, and we should find a way to use our newly acquired knowledge to somehow enrich our worlds – that would be ideal.

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