Baby Science!

Today my daughter is two months and one day old. Somehow all three of us are still alive, still sane, and even thinking that this might just have been a good idea. Especially as the little bird becomes more and more aware of the world around her. In the first weeks home there were really three states that she would exist in: sleeping, eating, or crying. Sometimes she could multitask, eating or crying while sleeping. But there wasn’t really a state of being awake, not actively eating, and not crying either. You know, that state that most of you reading this blog exist in for vast swaths of the day. I’m doing it right now.

The purpose of life can boil down to just one question: what do we do during these periods where we’re not eating, sleeping, or crying? It’s when we work, when we engage in recreational activities, and when we strive to obtain what we’re going to eat the next time we eat. The world exists to bombard us with ways to occupy this time. It always has. It always will. But what if you’re a baby?

I’m in awe of what the little bird can find interesting. Everything she sees is novel. What sort of miracle is a wall? They’re absolutely massive and provide so many things to look at. Oh, sure, that one spot just three inches to the left of your monitor might look identical to the spot a foot above. It’s the same color, the same texture. But, my god, it’s the same color and the same texture! What sort of witchcraft is that? There are times that she can keep herself awake just looking at things.

She’s starting to understand that the world around her isn’t just random splotches of color. There are things in the world. The challenge now is determining which of these things is another person. In doing so she has derived, from scratch and with no prompting, the scientific method. Test, observe, retest, correlate results. The test involves smiling at things, something she’s getting very good at. The smiles are fleeting, I haven’t gotten one on camera, but they’re amazing. Her hypothesis: the blotches of colors that are there to help her will smile back. So she’ll smile at us. She’ll smile at the cats. She’ll smile at the walls. She’ll smile at random spots in the middle distance. She correlates all those results, then keep smiling at the things that react to her smiles. It’s a brilliant little survival mechanism. Be cute, and continue being cute to the things that respond positively to it.

At its heart, that’s also the scientific method. And it really drives home how elegantly simple the scientific method is. Now, we create more robust and complicated hypotheses that are then worried over by tests far more rigorous than being cute at things (though that would make the Higgs boson hunt more interesting), but at the base level it’s the same. Interact, observe, then do it again until the results are significant. What’s spectacular is not the method’s simplicity, it’s that it took so long to codify it. Sure, we’ve been using this method since the 17th century, but we also didn’t fully utilize it out until the 17th century! When every baby ever born knew it innately, but then forgets  it. Think of it. All of modern science built out of a childlike sense of wonder, a wonder I hope my daughter never loses. Never entirely. Just like I hope she never gets tired of smiling at me.

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