Thursday, November 22, 2012

Cooing or Calculating?

I have been around babies a lot, and one thing I have concluded is that they are not given enough credit. They are not considered to be capable of a thought process until way after they have grasped speech, and the ability to talk is certainly not the first indication of intelligence. 

Way before their "goo"s and "gaa"s become more decipherable, infants can comprehend quite a bit. Baby talk gets on my nerves since replacing "r"s with "w"s does not exactly make the English language easier to grasp. 

No one wants to think that their shmoopsie poo is plotting world domination (like a certain animated toddler I know), but we should be able to accept the fact that those leaking bundles of joy can be quite crafty.   

"Oh, he's just a baby, he doesn't know what he's doing," is the excuse mothers give to their frustrated older children who complain the little one took their toy. I think he does know very well what he is doing. 

This past Sunday night was a fascinating 60 Minutes segment on babies. 

John Locke's premise of tabula rasa, the blank slate, has been accepted for the most part by the science community, that we are born dry sponges, soaking up all we need to know after exiting the womb. But studies being done prove otherwise. Very young infants, even as young as three months, actually possess a basic sense of morality. Yet there is also a predeliction for bias.
Even adults prefer the company of those who have even the smallest of shared traits. Babies are no different. They actually have a liking for those who mistreat the "other." 

So much for "You've Got to be Carefully Taught." No wonder we have such difficulty with sinas chinum—we are programmed not to welcome all within our circle. Perhaps that is why it is so hard for us to shake free, divvying up all the fellow members of observant Judaism as those who are like us and those who are not, while in fact we are all really the same. 

These studies show that as children grow up, they have been taught further kindness and generosity, rather than evolution's claim of "survival of the fittest."

I used to be adamant that it is all "nurture," as Roger and Hammerstein posited. We are taught, I would insist. Then I had many nieces and nephews that exhibited behavior not that of their parents, but of the great-grandparents they never knew.

Nature counts. Bummer.          


Sporadic Intelligence said...

Just watched the 60 minutes clip - Facinating!

When they started talking about how children get educated and cultured and they're not so selfish and bigoted anymore, I kept thinking "wait till they're stressed and caught off guard", and then Bloom said what I was thinking, no matter how sophisticated we are, in times of stress we revert back to our "baby" selves.

Makes you think again about "Eisav soneh l'yaakov" and how secure are we in America.

FrumGeek said...

Just a side thing, I'm pretty sure Stewie gave up on world domination years ago. Now he's just gay.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Just because they're short, bald and incontinent doesn't mean they can't manipulate intelligently.
And the incontinence is a plus. After all, if you're watching the big game and have had 15 beers and nature calls but you just don't want to miss a moment, a diaper becomes a real plus...

PremonitionsofanAfterthought said...

there's a huge debate whether language or cognition develops first. Since we, as adults regularly use language to reason- many believe language must develop in order for thinking to exist. However- observing babies, and observing autistic children (read Temple Grandin's Thinking in Pictures) offer proof that cognition can. and DOES develop prior to language. Language is just how we organize and make sense of our thoughts. But- it isn't a prerequisite.

Princess Lea said...

SI: It all comes back to the story from, I believe, the Rambam: a cat remains a cat. Yet there is the other side, where we can overcome the more unpleasant aspects of our natures.

FG: But he's still craftily evil, right? I don't watch him regularly (but the Star Wars episodes left me a laughing puddle on the floor).

MGI: It's the perfect cover: Who would suspect the baby?

POAA: Most definitely. The nephews never talk as early as the nieces (boys are so lazy) but they definitely understand you.

FrumGeek said...

Not so much anymore. Slightly hateful, perhaps, but no longer evil.

Princess Lea said...

No longer evil? Then what's the point?

Lost and Found said...

I plan on watching the 60 minutes piece, but I was under the impression that Locke's theory had already been challenged and modified years ago.

The more time I spent with my own family and families of friends the more I felt that it was a combination of both nature and nurture. Too many inexplicable characteristics and traits to explain away as being solely one of the two.

Princess Lea said...

In some cases, like my niece, she is indubitably the reincarnation of my Zeidy. Her upbringing doesn't seem to be having much affect at all.

In her brother's case, however, he has been strongly modified by nurture.

It gives one the willies both ways.