Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Mind of a Child

If you're a parent and/or a thoughtful person (in the sense that you think about things, not in the sense that you don't ask your impoverished grandmother to pick up your lunch tab for you), you may have wondered what babies think about.

I certainly do. Chloe emerged two months ago. She sleeps, eats, and ensures that her excretory system is in good working order. She waves her arms, clenches her fists, wiggles her fingers and toes, and kicks her feet vigorously. She looks at things around her (especially lights and other bright things). Sometimes she frowns; sometimes she smiles. Last week, I discovered that if I caught her eye (harder to do than it sounds) and grinned, she'd smile, too, and even laugh. Sometimes she cries, and occasionally she out-and-out screams.

And that makes me wonder. What's going on in her brain when she does all this? Does she think "I wonder what that light is for?" "I wonder why I can't get any milk out of Daddy's arm / the chair / the carpet / my hand?" Does she even realize that the hand is hers? Does she experience life like the sperm whale in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?

I have a theory: that being born is kind of like being shown onto the deck of the U.S.S. Enterprise. "Here's your ship!" the attendant says, and then walks out, leaving you with no crew and no instruction manual. So you spend the next four or five years pushing buttons and pulling levers more or less at random, trying to figure out what to do in order to reverse the polarity on the deflector array or reprogram the warp nacelles or something. Occasionally you figure out that this sequence of buttons does this thing, and eventually, everything works so well that you can't remember not being able to do things (like we are as adults). But in the meantime, the captains of the vessels around you have a good laugh at your expense as you beam the mess hall into space, shoot yourself with your own phasers, and commit other various indignities.

The real kicker is that once Chloe's old enough to actually tell us what she's thinking, she won't be able to remember any of it. All we can do is hope that she gets control-savvy enough to manage the waste disposal sooner, rather than later.


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