Inside the baby mind
Jonah Lehrer, Boston Globe, April 26, 2009
This fascinating article discusses recent discoveries scientists have made about the brains of babies. Babies–surprise, surprise–are easily distracted. What I did not know is that toddlers learn 10 new words every day and that, “it typically takes significantly higher concentrations of anesthesia to render babies unconscious, since there’s more cellular activity to silence.”
Adults, I learned, are not better than babies at paying attention. The opposite is true; adults are better able to ignore the periphery while children digest a broader spectrum of sensory inputs.
This new understanding of baby cognition, and the peculiar ways in which babies pay attention, is also giving scientists insights into improving the mental functioning of adults. The ability to direct attention, it turns out, doesn’t merely inhibit irrelevant facts and perceptions – it can also stifle the imagination. Sometimes, the mind performs best when we don’t try to control it.
If we could learn to temporarily shelve our focus and allow our minds to wander like a child, keenly attuned to the world around us, we might be able to reach a level of consciousness that would permit us to discover creative solutions to perplexing problems.
At such moments, she suggests, we need to think with the innocence of an infant – to release the reins of attention and look anew at a world we’re still trying to understand.